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The Time I Accidentally Ran a Half Trail Marathon in Cappadocia, Turkey

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Exploring Goreme, Cappadocia: Another World

After about 10 hours of intermittent sleep, my bus pulled into Cappadocia and I wasn’t sure if I was still dreaming. The rising sun illuminated dozens of colourful hot air balloons which hung suspended in the sky over Goreme’s otherworldly landscape. I hadn’t been this blown away by a view since I visited the Meteora in Greece. It was breathtaking. The terrain is covered with pointed rock spires, many of which have caves. My first day in Goreme was jam-packed. I met a friend and together we explored the Uchisar Castle, and Underground City, and rode horses around Love Valley. So, after a little sleep and lots of activity, it was no surprise that I couldn’t pull myself out of bed to see the sunrise again the next morning. Instead, I stretched and headed out for a short 4 km run to the nearest viewpoint–or at least it was supposed to be.

hot air balloons floating over Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey at sunrise
My first views of Goreme from the bus window

An Unlikely Coincidence

On my way out, I saw a few other people running with hydration packs but didn’t think anything of it. Besides, it was a beautiful place to run, with narrow dirt trails forming a web across the valleys and cliffside. I ran a few kilometres through Love Valley before looping back to the main viewpoint, where a small group of people applauded me as I ran by. I assumed they were just being kind and encouraging. I had grown to expect that kind of enthusiasm from other travellers. Then, on my way back to my hostel, people in neon yellow safety vests stationed at some intersections directed me to where to go. Still, I figured that perhaps there was some construction that they wanted me to avoid. When I got to the road, a policeman held the traffic so that I could run through. That was strange. I only really clued into what was going on when I was directed to an aid station with dozens of runners in fancy spandex running gear and bibs, and volunteers giving out free food and drinks. I just happened to go for a run during a marathon, and everyone thought I was a part of it, despite my lack of bib, vest, and shorts.

I asked around and found out this was the Solomon Cappadocia Ultra Trail Marathon with distances of 38, 63, and 119km. With my 5km run out of the way, I was just happy to take advantage of the free refreshments. That is, until there was a bit of a commotion and runners started to leave the aid station. I was just sitting drinking some Gatorade when some volunteers picked me up and gave me an encouraging push out the door. Everyone was just yelling “Come on, let’s go! It’s time to go!”. So, I started running. I figured I was a part of this now, and I might as well keep going and see what I can do. I joined a group of runners and felt good that I could keep up with or even pass some of them. That is until I found out that many of them had already run almost a full marathon. That made my pace seem much less impressive. Still, I was doing pretty good but wasn’t quite sure what the end goal was. I figured I would just run to the next checkpoint and get a ride back. As I ran further, the path narrowed and steepened until it was hardly wide enough for one person. Turning back was no longer an option. The terrain was brutal. Even the most experienced runners could not run on the frequent uphill sections. Five more kilometres in and my legs were still feeling strong. I was still passing people and started to develop an unbridled ambition to finish this thing. The run was a great way to explore Cappadocia’s valleys as well. When I finally got to the next water station, I had already run nearly 15kms. A sign there made me question every decision I had made to this point. It detailed the remaining distances for each of the three races–even the shortest trail, 38kms, still had 20kms remaining. I had no choice but to turn back, but now with something to prove to myself, I kept running.

runners taking part in the Solomon Cappadocia ultra trail marathon in Turkey
A section of the trail in Love Valley

A Race Against Myself

The last wave of runners was still behind me, and the rough terrain made it difficult to pass people, so I often had to run off the trail. Many people stopped to ask me if something was wrong, still thinking I was part of the race. Well, I felt like I was. I did my best to stop and cheer on each person as they ran by. This was the end of the pack, so people were really struggling, as was I. On the way back the strength in my legs started to give out, and my knees and ankles started to ache. I tried desperately not to stop running but had to walk a small part of the last five km. This was already the furthest I had ever run in my life by about 15 km, never mind the added difficulty of the rough terrain and constant hills.

Finally, I arrived back at the aid station where my marathon began, just as they were packing up. I guess they weren’t expecting anyone else. I checked my phone and I had run just over 24kms in total–just over a half marathon. I’m not sure how long it took but I held my own–not bad for someone with absolutely zero training. The volunteers were kind enough to give me the last of the food and refreshments before putting them away. I had no bib or finish line photo, but I had my photo taken with the race map as a consolation. The volunteers complimented me on the accomplishment and encouraged me to return next year to do the real thing. Maybe I will. Maybe this will be the start of a great running career. For now, though, it’s just another example of how going with the flow can lead to the most incredible unforeseen experiences, especially when traveling. It shows that the best memories arise out of the hardest challenges. It is a lesson to keep pushing yourself even when you feel like your body is breaking down because you are capable of more than you know.

runner poses at race finish line during the Cappadocia Solomon ultra trail marathon
My "finisher" photo at the aid station

dark haired man in orange jacket watches hot air balloons rise over Love Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey
The morning after the race, watching the hot air balloons rise over Love Valley

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