1 Kasım 2015 Pazar

The North Face® Cappodocia Ultra Trail Race Report


‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.’
Haruki Murakami, What I Talk When I WasTalking About Running

-Who are you?
-I am no one.
The Force Awakens, Star Wars

It was July 2012, this month, Temmuz  in Turkish its name comes from the Babylon’s fertility Goddess Tammuz who is the mother goddess of the procreativity and feminity: - also known as Istar, Diana, Anna, Meater... These lands, where early Christians escaping from the cruelty of Roman Soldiers could easily dug underground cities, churches and houses, and easily hid and took refuge in its complex tunnels...Fairy Chimneys, if you look at them from far away, they looks like naked, pale human body which were shaped by wind, rain and snow. When wind blows and hits their surface its sounds like songs of fairies and they look like coming from out of this world. This region and fairy chimneys shaped from times volcanic eruptions of Hasan and Erciyes Mountains' ashes. Cappadocia means ‘land of the beautiful horses’ and it was July now  and the sun was shining on this barren land.

It was hot, scorching hot. I was here to run to fire ‘Runfire’ Cappadocia and for the first time in my life I run/walked around 240 kilometers between 9th to 16th July in a five stage ultramarathon the longest stage of which was 89K and we had to carry all our essential needs in our backpacks.

Now I was in these lands again, for another race. This time the weather was cool and the sky was sharper. Autumn was slowly and silently progressing with the sounds of yellowed and browned leaves hitting the ground and the last efforts of the ants collecting winter supplies...


Me and my wife Güldan came to our hotel Amor Cave at Ürgüp with an Argeus shuttle which was waiting us after our flight landed to Nevşehir Airport via İstanbul. After we settled in our room we went to the registration center at the Ürgüp Culture Center. After registration, we took a look at the race fair stands and ate something. After a chat with Cemil (Gökçe), Aykut (Çelikbaş), Derya (Duman) and his wife Arzu who took wonderful photos during Aladaglar Sky Trail, we participated in race briefing and pasta party and retired to our hotel room. At around 21:00 I was asleep but after I woke up around midnight I couldn’t manage to get a deep sleep and during these half sleepy hours I got cramps at my calves and I was worried.

After an intense training period, I couldn’t have a rest even if I haven’t been running for five days, and I was feeling it. After I got up, I drunk a mix of carbohydrate, electrolyte and protein with water, took my backpack and went to the race start. I gave my dropbag and started to wait. After the start, I ran with Caner (Odabaşoğlu) for a while. As he knows my fast starts he told me “don’t go fast, we can run together for a while and then you can go fast” but the complete opposite happened, he disappeared away and we met again after the race at massage room.

The mix I drunk was making my stomach upset and tiredness was hindering my running and the water I drunk abound was floating in my belly. I was bloated. The rain was started and I wore my rain coat with the help of another runner carrying my backpack. When I arrived at İbrahimpaşa Checkpoint I only stopped to got my bib number scanned. We were passing by the places where I run 3 years ago July at Runfire Cappadocia, and my brain connecting these new places with the old sketchy images I had in my memory. When I arrived at the road to Uçhisar Checkpoint I remembered this image clearly, I thought ‘we descended from here’. I drunk a few sips of coke, ate a piece of cheese and left after grabbing a pack of tahini halva.

 Photo, Organization

-I was raised to do one thing but I have nothing fight for.
The Force Awakens, Star Wars

Last Sunday, I have had my last 14 km walk with my wife at another mountain in Izmir Nif Mountain name of which comes from 'fairy' word in Greek Nymph and same day I did a very high paced 36K bike ride and after that began tapering and waiting for the Cappadocia Race. Having met Serkan and Sertan brothers at Aladağlar Sky Trail suddenly made this race special for me.

We were passing places which look like tunnels with apple and quince trees covering the sky and we were running on the meandering trails under the rain with Ferda (Falay) and several others. I slid on a makeshift (primitive, crude) wooden bridge even if I was cautious after seeing a runner fell down on his bottom while passing it. Later, I learned that here someone fell down and broke his arm.

While I was running in the water-filled trails, I saw a runner taking photos of the fairy chimneys. Later on I saw the same guy again, met him and we ran/walked together a couple of times until the end of the race and talked about a lot of subjects from politics to religion.

Alan Wood was an English man from Leeds who is living in the Netherlands. Just before this race he had finished 178 km at Ultra Trail Mount Blanc. Meet Alan, because we will come across him again later on.

It was nice to see Aykut (Çelikbaş) at Göreme checkpoint and to give a short interview to TRT sportscaster whom we travelled together from Nevşehir Airport to Ürgüp with his wife and 11 month old son Karya Ege. I had another interview with him at Ultimate Cunda race. Now, I can say that I had my share of 15 minute fame that Andy Warhol was talking about.

I left the checkpoint while Alan was changing his socks. I was passing through a part that I remember clearly from Runfire Cappadocia race. It was very tragicomic to get a tea offer from the owner while passing through his tea garden. Someone I met while passing through tree covered trails after the iron ladder climb asked my name and when I said my name he said he knew me because he was training with Cafer Dalar from Eskişehir whom I met at Kaçkar Ultra Trail.

Emre (Singer) had pain. I asked him whether he had a painkiller and he told me ‘My father was a pharmacist, and he didn’t let me’. I told him that I have painkillers and gave him a Majezik. Asked him ‘do you have water?’ He  had run out of water. He took the pill with couple of sips of my water. ‘What do you do?’ he asked ‘I am a primary school teacher’ I said. ‘I always thought that you were a writer’ he said. I left Emre there but we met again at Çavuşin and I also met his wife, his mother and father there. Lastly I saw Emre just 2-3 kilometers before Ürgüp and he told me ‘If it wasn’t you I was gonna call my family and tell them to come and pick me up, now I’m gonna finish thanks to you’

I was feeling OK thanks to coke I drunk when I started to climb up one of the steepest climb after Çavuşin. I had my strength and I wasn’t rushing since my plan was to finish 110K. At Akdağ checkpoint I came across with Harun (Alışır). First I knew him from Strava then we met face to face at Ultimate Cunda and today we had a small chat before the start. He was one of the victims of the wooden bridge I mentioned earlier. He told me that he had a very bad fall and hit his head. We started a very long conversation and it carried us to the Ürgüp checkpoint. Harun was originally a tennis player and he rose to second place nationally. Later he gave up sports and started to smoke and one day his daughter told him ‘Daddy you smell awful’ and he quitted smoking and started running. He called his wife and told her that he was getting closer. He wanted to cross the finish line with his daughter Defne. While he was crossing the finish line, I passed to the dropbag area reserved for the 110K runners, changed my top and socks. Harun came with his daughter Defne, his wife and one of his friends. I met with them. I told Defne that I was a teacher, because I knew that she just started first grade. As a teacher I always make positive discrimination towards girls, because I know that if women are oppressed and backward the society is rewarded with darkness.

Harun And His Daughter, at 60k Finish 

I was at 62K Ürgüp checkpoint with 8:32 time. After I ate some pasta I left Ürgüp among 60K finishers, commotion of spectators and unconcerned, oblivious, meaningless glances of the people with a mental image of a my childhood western movies’ ‘lonesome cowboy’ and thinking everything and not thinking anything at all ‘mental set’ of which I set to finishing only.

-Nothing will stand in our way, I will finish what you started.
The Force Awakens, Star Wars

Second 48K part of the journey was starting again from the race start. From the mistic, fairy places like Alan called some of them as ‘cockrocks’ this time we will be running in the heart of the Anatolian steppes which was completely different than the Fairy Chimneys. I saw Sertan or Serkan Girgin at a crossroads. We had a small chat regarding their latest decision (to withdraw from the race organization). He said ‘You should focus on your race, we will run together again’. I said ‘Respect’ and left. There were no one in front of me at the beginning but later on I caught up with three runners and one other runner caught up with me. I only knew one of the runners Dağhan’ı (Kurtgil) from Aladağlar and I saw one of them before but haven’t met. The runner who caught up with me was Dennis from Belgium.

Denis and Me

-There were stories about what happened.
-It is true, all of it.
The Force Awakens, Star Wars

 Denis was living in Brussels and this was his first ultramarathon. He goes to work by bike. He asked me why the villagers we were passing by were looking us inexpressively. He told me that in his country in these kind of races everyone gave their support to runners and naturally the conversation turned in to the EU membership of Turkey. Very politely he said he was not the expert but he thought that Turkey should not be in the EU. I said that emotionally I also believe that we should not be in the EU but realistically I said because of our democracy, population and and our level of cultural and economic development and because of the Islam it was not possible for us to become an EU member.

Unlike Turkey, as a runner my performance was better than a European, Dennis so I left him there and I met another runner who was clearly a foreigner with long blonde hair and his tallness. His name was Benjamin. He was a Danish. I asked him ‘ Are you a Jewish’ with a smile. He said ‘No’ with a smile and ‘if you knew my first name you would definitely thought that I am a Jewish, because my first name is David’. Actually, a few generations before, he was a Jewish from his grandmother’s side but he was an Atheist now and a journalist in Denmark on politics and international relations. He mentioned his nausea and stomach pain and I told him about the reasons why we feel nauseated during long runs which I learned last night from Aykut (Çelikbaş) who had the same experience during his 240K Spartathlon race. ‘Our brain directs all its energy to the running (body parts), however when we eat our stomach also needs energy but amygdala of our brain is more rational than limbic system because it works in automatic pilot and it doesn’t allow our stomach to work and makes us puke’. I left Benjamin after giving him an antacid Renie tablet and asked him whether he needed anything else. Meanwhile my Belgian friend Denis caught up with me again. While we were running on a plateau with a view of sunset among clouds and getting closer to the Plateau Checkpoint there were two runners – a man and a woman – in front of us. When we caught them up I learned that one of them was Alan and the lady was Lucja from Scotland who run together with Mahmut (Yavuz) a fomous ultrarunner in Kalahari Desert. The darkness had fallen and we’ve started to use our headlamps. 

Sunset From Plateu

Alan and I left Plateau station after drinking coke and eating cheese. Alan had passed me at Karain Village descend. The ascent after Karain Village was so steep that I saw my calves were shriveled like paper because of cramps. From the moving lights behind me, I could see that some runners were coming. While approaching to Karlık Checkpoint I saw a white light and heard the noises calling ‘here here’. Later I realized that these were youngsters or villagers. They were having fun.

A man first I thought was a villager said (in English) that the next station was 200 meters ahead. Even if I got a bit confused, I knew that I will see Aykut (Çelikbaş) there because I made a comment ‘87K is guarantee just to see you there’ to his Facebook post and it was a nice surprise to see also 62K finisher Cemil (Gökçe) which felt like seeing an acquaintance in a foreign land. Before I left I asked, and Aykut the told me that I was the 46th at the race.

Aykut (Çelikbaş), Mert (Derman) and Caner (Odabaşoğlu) are three of the important ultra-marathoners of Turkey who run, read and share (their experiences). I was such a ‘lucky bastard’ that I shared a tent with them during 2012 Runfire Cappadocia Race. This time I started the race with Caner and met with Aykut second time as a race volunteer and meanwhile Mert was in another race Gloria Ironman 70.3 in Antalya swimming, cycling and running.

After I left Karlık, I saw two cars descending while I was climbing up to a hill. I reached another plateau after running-walking on a dirt road for a long time. There I could see the lights which first I thought the headlights of others before me but as it turned out to be the Plateau Checkpoint with the lights of tents and burning fire. I thought instead of coming here from a direct short cut we did 15K more by running up and down on the hills. While following a drive way, I quickly turned around as soon as I realized that I could not see the reflective sign posts. This must be the point where some runners lost their way and turned back again to Plateau Checkpoint. Alan was just behind me and I warned him about the trail. Alan and I met again and during last 5K we run together. And just like I did at İznik Ultramarathon 136K I run at an average of 5.40 pace at the last 4K of the race passing the mental fatigue threshold.

-The dark side, the Jedi, they are real.
The force Awakens, Star Wars

The descend from here was sparse in terms of sign posts and unpleasant in terms of landscape. When we reached the Mustafapaşa Checkpoint we joined among the runners who were eating and chatting in a fly infested cafe. I left with Alan without delay after only drinking coke and getting some cheese. There was a gendarme with a gun at the end of the village. Alan asked me why the gendarme has a gun and I said ‘This is Turkey’. Alan and I talked about why I run and why he runs and about UTMB, about my ‘dream city’ London, about politics, war and my endless curiosity about ‘human nature’.
When I asked about 178K UTMB he said he finished around 33 hours and told me how he had hallucinations and cried. We were at a river bed and maybe because of the scarce signs or because of my fatigue I started to get confused. At this part of the race I run with the help of the course map which I’ve uploaded to my Suunto Ambit 3 Peak watch just before the start and learned how to use it from Aytuğ (Çelikbaş), the brother of Aykut. Thanks Aytuğ.

I left Alan behind and I asked two runners ahead of me if they needed any help. They said ‘Go go’ and lastly I passed Alişan Kayabölen who I met later at massage room after the race. I run non-stop until the outskirts of Ürgüp where 4-5 volunteers were met me. Then I slowed down at the next hill and when I passed the road where our hotel is located and which we passed twice today, I passed the finish line among ‘bravo Yücel’ cheers. I hugged my dear wife Güldan who was finished her first 36K race. It was over.

My Result

-The force, it is calling to you.
-Just let it in.
The force Awakens, Star Wars

In this report I shared lines from the of Star Wars, The force Awakens trailer which will be at cinemas on December 18th. Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings are two epic movies which help me to escape from the real world and at the same time help me to understand this world and the humans. From these movies, I learned the complexity of the human nature and how the societies are divided and dragged into war by the ‘force’ that govern them, how good can be bad and bad can be good. In every one of us, there is a Gandalf against Saruman who is trying to destroy us and there is an Anakin Skywalker carrying the childhood innocence of  the Darth Wader. None of us are purely good or purely evil. There are only moments where we destroy purely good and purely evil.

I run, because I met nice people in this relatively lonely world or maybe because I can see and show the beauty of the reciprocal dependency

And sometimes when I am running;
‘and because now it is night
and in the darkness the world is more ours,
much more closer,
much more smaller
and because at these times of the day
the sounds about us, about our home and our love
come from the ground and from hearts’ *

I am running.
I will run.
Thanks The North Face Cappodocia, thanks Serkan and Sertan Brothers, thanks Argeus and the volunteers, this would be impossible without them...

*Nazım Hikmet
Kuvay-i Milliye Destanı (Epic of National Resistance)

Translated by Güldan Kalem
Thanks :-)

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