By Ian Corless
Surrounded by eight countries, the Republic of Turkey is ideally located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia; it’s a country of significant geographical importance. On arrival in Istanbul one is immediately aware of the country's Muslim population, literally a mosque is every two to three hundred meters apart. The mosques are only outnumbered by satellite dishes, a sign of the times maybe?
Over populated, busy, noisy and chaotic, Istanbul is an assault on the senses. It is a place of great beauty.
It’s my third time in Turkey to work on the Iznik Ultra. The race has grown over the years and in 2015 they have more races, more runners, more support and more journalists. Caner Odabasoglu, the race director, has raced in Chamonix several times and it has clearly influenced him… he’d like the Iznik Ultra series of races to be the ‘UTMB’ of Turkey.
Iznik, formerly known as Nicea, is situated on Lake Iznik in the province of Bursa some 2.5 hours away from Istanbul. Renowned for olive trees and beautiful ceramics, racing in Iznik (for me) is all about combining a city break holiday in Turkey with an opportunity to race an ultra in a country still in its infancy in regards to running.
Macedonian King Antigonus I Monophthalmus founded Iznik in 4BC. Nicea was an important center in Roman and Byzantine times. It has witnessed some key moments. In 325 AD, the great council of Nicea was called by Constantine the Great and this saw around 300 bishops from around the world attend. In 787, another council was held to deal with iconoclastic controversy. The Seljuk Turks captured Nicea in 1081 and renamed it Iznik. In 1331 it was besieged and conquered by the Ottoman Turks who built the Green Mosque.
This Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influence has left several monuments for the tourist. The City Walls at 14,520 ft. in circumference, an ancient theater, the Yenisehir Gate, St Sophia Cathedral (Orhan Ghazi Mosque) and the Green Mosque (Yesil Camil) named after the green tiles that adorn it. Iznik also has an archaeological museum that has mainly Roman antiquities and glass.
Using the lake as a backdrop, for the first time in its history, the 2015 series of events ran in a counter clockwise direction. It was a logical decision… now all races finish in Iznik, next to the lake and the race is starting to have that race village feel that Caner Odabasoglu desires. He is getting there!
Turkey is not known for ultra running. Despite its geographical location, its history and the multi-cultural influences placed upon it. Ultra is a sport for the few. Runners such as Mahmut Yavuz, Elena Polyakova and Aykut Celikbas have pioneered the way and they are loyal to Caner and the Iznik races. Last year I invited Jo Meek, Robbie Britton, Marcus Scotney and Tracy Dean to the races. They dominated the 10k, marathon, 80km and 130km distances. 2015 would prove to be a similar story with Donnie Campbell and Zoe Salt winning the 130km events in style.
But Iznik Ultra is not only about ultra running, it is about motivating a population to see the benefits of what ultra running can bring. The Turkish people are so accommodating, friendly and warm. They embrace a sport that they know nothing about and welcome it with open arms. The appreciation, the applause and the accolades that the local communities provided throughout the race route are incredible.
Starting at midnight, 10am and midday, the respective races of 130km, 80km and 46km have now made the Iznik Ultra arguably the most significant series of races in Turkey.
The sun gods came out and allowed Iznik and the surrounding area to shine for all events.
Scotland’s Donnie Campbell and the UK’s Zoe Salt dominated the 130km event with two stunning performances. Donnie led from the front and extended his lead step-by-step as the race unfolded. Local talent Mahmut Yavuz tried his hardest to close the gap but Donnie was just too strong. Ever present Aykut Celikbas placed third after placing second in the 2014 80km event.
Zoe bided her time in the female event and eventually took the lead around the 65km mark as Mariya Niklova started to grind to a halt. Looking composed and relaxed, Zoe pulled away and not only won the ladies race but also placed fourth overall. Mariya struggled in the latter third of the race and lost huge chunks of time to Zoe, she did manage to hold on to second place though ahead of Ingrid Qualizza.
In the 80km event, Asics runner Emmanuel Gault produced the race we all expected and dominated over the undulating trails and route as he traversed his way back to Iznik. Girondel Benoit placed second and Tanzer Dursan flew the Turkish flag for third place.
Placing 6th overall and first lady, Alessia De Matteis from Italy dominated the ladies race ahead of Elena Polyakova and Coraline Chapatte from Switzerland.
Jose De Pablo (Depa) looked impressive throughout the 46km event and showed his true marathon form and speed to win ahead of Raidlight CEO, Benoit Laval. Duygun Yurteri placed third. However, post race Jose was added time penalties due to breaking mandatory kit rules. His time penalties relegated him from first to third.
Caterina Scaramelli from Italy ran a close contested race against Filiz Cancilar and Martine Nolan (Ireland) in the ladies race but held on for victory.
If you are looking for a new race experience in an exciting place, you could look no further than combining a race in Iznik with a two to three day city break in Istanbul. I can’t wait once again for 2016 to come around.
Full results: 130km HERE, 80km HERE and 46km HERE.
Donnie Campbell 13:23:50
Mahmut Yavuz 14:31:20
Aykut Celikbas 14:48:29
Zoe Salt 15:14:37
Mariyla Niklova 19:29:45
Ingrid Qualizza 19:43:49
Emmanuel Gault 6:45:25
Girondel Benoit 7:26:10
Tanzer Dursun 8:40:36
Alessia De Matteis 9:03:53
Elena Polyakova 10:48:57
Coraline Chapatte 11:34:37
Benoit Laval 4:19:03
Duygun Yurteri 4:28:15
Jose De Pablo 4:28:29
Catarina Scamelli 5:03:44
Ziliz Cancilar 5:04:55
Martine Nolan 5:09:44