Over the past 4 years, I have had the privilege to participate in many great running events in diverse geographies and of different sizes, ranging from 250km desert runs at the steppes of Xinjiang, to the sand dunes of Sahara, the narrow canyons of Petra, salt flats of Atacama, snow and ice of Antarctica and lately the 100mile mountain trails at the ferocious slopes of the Alps.
Yet, amongst them all, İznik Ultra has a unique place for me. In a matter of three years it has gone from 100 runners at its inaugural event to over 600 this weekend.
It was a promising start, the core team was experienced and they brought back what they had seen at other events. They worked hard at it and today the event has the potential to become a festival of trail running.
All the ingredients are there; a great course around a scenic lake, a host city with tourism in its core, local authorities greatly interested in the event, volunteers in numbers and the most impressive of all the villagers embracing the runners with kind hearts.
Back to the event report:
Simplest way, is a boat trip (www.ido.com.tr) to Yalova. Boat services from Istanbul are both good quality, reasonably priced and reliable. Use Yenikapı if you are arriving from Atatürk Airport (IST) or Pendik if you arrive into Sabiha Gökçen (SAW). Once in Yalova there are minibuses to İznik every hour.
I was fortunate enough to meet Faisal and Hanin in Yalova, who kindly gave me a lift to İznik. Faisal and Hanin, had just arrived the day before from Kuwait.
We arrived into İznik on Friday afternoon just in time to register and chat with a few friends before it started raining. It seems impossible to have a race in İznik without rain.
We checked into our apartments at Darka Holiday Resort (not the highlight of our trip). If you are planning on signing up for this event, book your room early (months in advance). Next year, there should be at least one more new hotel but with the increasing popularity of the event this may not be enough.
TIP: I hear booking.com somehow seems to have rooms available even when the hotels themselves don’t.
Shoes: I found my HokaOneOne Stinson Evos to be perfectly suited to the terrain, especially on the downhills.
Water: 1.5lt is enough, the only two points of challenge are from CP1 – CP2 it is challenging and long and then from marathon CP to 60km CP. However, on a cool day 1.5lt is plenty
Poles: Especially on the second climb you will wish you had them but that’s only 9km, do you really want to be carrying them the remainder of the 71km. I did not.
Backpack: As small and as light as you can get away with. The CPs are well stocked for food.
Clothing: It rains at Iznik, therefore a light but good waterproof will come in handy. It can also be warm.
This is a fun event. but it is also a 2 point UTMB event, therefore, it is anything but easy.
It has a comfortable start from Iznik’s centre. Flat for a few kilometres and then the first of the two climbs start. This is nothing to be terrified about, it is a relatively tame climb with 20km of undulating terrain once you reach its peak.
Enjoy the scenery here, this was my second time on the trail and I had to look at photos afterwards to appreciate the views of Iznik city and the lake.
One of the best parts of this trail are the downhills, they are long, not steep and on even surface. You can make up plenty of time on your way down.
The first downhill will take you down to the Lake level and only a few kilometres short of the marathon mark (there is a short, one of the few, tarmac parts of the race leading up to the marathon checkpoint at km 41).
The best part of this event are the spectators. At every village or city you go through all the locals will be out in numbers to support you, from the kids to grannies. The most enthusiastic of all are the grannies, each one personally cheering every runner that goes through their village.
Having made it to the 41km checkpoint, I was ready to call it a day. I had all the usual excuses ready… Nonetheless, I decided to take it easy at the CP, rest, eat and drink before I make a decision that I would regret.
During my procrastination, I ran into Bill Coyle who I had briefly met at Adım Adım’s regular monthly 6km at Belgrad Forest. We chatted a while and then I tricked Bill to take me along.
What follows from 41km CP is a hideous climb of about 700m. The previous time I had to climb this hill in pouring rain and on a muddy surface, literally on all fours at times. This year the rain was not far away hence the urgency to go up it quickly. Bill and I, at times in company with two Macedonian runners, push our way up the hill pretty swiftly, incentivised by the pending downpour and the tame downhill that would follow.
The rain caught up to us on the downhill but it never turned out to be what was forecasted for days before. By the time we got to 60km checkpoint we were in good spirits. We had already started 1.5km on then 0.5km off intervals down the hill. After the CP we continued with 1km on, 1km off. Something I had not tried before but it seemed to work.
The last 20km from the CP is almost flat, first through an olive grove and then along the coast of the lake. The one surprise of this stretch of the event is a river crossing. This, again, is not what it is made out to be. Due to the draught in the region this year there was barely any water to walk through.
In my opinion the event would have been a better one is it ended at the 77km CP on the lake, rather than at the city centre of Orhangazi.
I realise there might have been pressure from the local authorities (who were instrumental in such a successful event) to finish there. However, is also meant a 3km slough first through an industrial area along a highway and then through the recently dug up streets of Orhangazi dodging cars. Bill and I, ended up running an extra 2km as we missed a turn while trying to avoid getting run over by a wedding convoy.
Overall, a must do event, the organisation is professional yet with a very personal touch, the train is beautiful and relatively easy on the body, the locals have made the event and runners their own, more and more international runners are participating and most importantly the local authorities have caught onto the concept of activity based tourism and are supporting it.
Will I do it again? Certainly!