“I don’t want to die here,” Taner Damcı remembers saying to himself in China’s Gobi Desert in 2005. It was the longest, hottest day of a 250-kilometer ultra-marathon, and Damcı’s good fortune had led him to a truck parked next to a salt mine in an otherwise vast, empty desert. “I got under the truck and slept in the shade for six hours,” he continues.
“And I decided to quit the race.” When he woke up, the sun was lower in the sky; he felt better and continued running. He completed the race ahead of most runners.
Damcı, 44, is a professor of endocrinology and metabolism at İstanbul University’s Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty. He is built for endurance. Growing up in Zonguldak, he ran track and played tennis and basketball. As a student at İstanbul University in the 1980s, he took up mountain climbing. His medical residency absorbed all his time and energy for six years, but in the ’90s he began training again. He ran his first 42-kilometer full marathon in close to 3 hours 15 minutes.
Running city marathons, however, held little appeal for Damcı, so he set his sights on the 2001 Marathon des Sables in Morocco. As the event approached, he doubted his endurance and increased his runs abruptly from 25 to 50 kilometers each day. Within four days his knee was injured, and he stopped running completely in the last month before the race. With the help of friends in sports medicine, he recovered, went to Morocco and finished the 250-kilometer marathon without pain or injury. He was lucky, Damcı admits. Many runners without Damcı’s constitution — which he calls his “genetic tendency for endurance” — would suffer additional injury after such a short period of rehabilitation.
Damcı is careful now to increase his pace and distance gradually. The runner’s tools — the heart, lungs, muscles and ligaments — need time to adjust and become strong. He describes marathon training as mental strategy. “Because,” he explains, “You need to adjust your pace, you need to know when to force and when to slow down, you need to know to drink water, you even need to know how to step on the ground.”
To reduce stress on his knees and ankles, Damcı has discovered ways to change his running position during long runs. For example, he says, “If running on [a] flat surface, on asphalt, you always do the same motion, which puts pressure on the same point in your knees and in your ankles.” Instead of running with the same step for the entire run, he advises, “If you just change the angles of your step, you change the pressure points, and this relieves the pain and the risk of injury.” Damcı continues to run long distances, week after week, year after year, without pain. It’s remarkable and enviable.
He also favors cross training. “I discovered that biking is very good for resistance training,” Damcı notes. In addition to biking 25 kilometers each week, he also lifts weights.
Do his work and training schedules leave time for rest? Damcı claims that six hours of sleep is enough for him, but he also knows when to take a break. “If you don’t want to run, don’t run. Give yourself a couple of days to recover.”
Running in İstanbul
Running on average 20 kilometers four to five days a week, Damcı trains most frequently in the Belgrade Forest. The wooded grounds of the Bakırköy Asylum are, he comments, “One of my favorite places.” He also likes the forest in Florya. “Very rarely I run by the Bosporus, because it’s concrete — I don’t like it.” If time is limited, he resorts to a treadmill or allows himself to run as short a distance as five kilometers.
In 2004, Damcı completed his second desert marathon: 250 kilometers in Chile’s Atacama Desert, in the Andes Mountains, 2,500 meters above sea level. “[It’s] like running on the summit of a mountain,” he observes, as he recounts another adventure. He tells the story of losing his way on the very first day, which forced him to swim in an ice-cold river. Then, on the last day, he ran out of food, but managed to finish 27th out of 90 participants.
The experience in Atacama gave birth to this endurance junkie’s next big challenge: launching Turkey’s first ultra-marathon. “In a desert night it came to me,” he recalls. “If I can organize an ultra-marathon in Turkey … the Lycian Way is the best place … it’s an ancient route with ancient cities.”
The Lycian Way
Three years later, in 2007, Damcı teamed up with his friend Gökşin Ilıcalı of Argos İletişim to plan The Lycian Way Ultra-Marathon (http://www.lycianwayultramarathon.com). Working with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Turkish Track and Field Federation, they have scheduled the race for Oct. 4-12. The course will cover 220-250 kilometers of the 500-kilometer Lycian Way, passing through the ancient cities lying between Fethiye and Antalya. “It’s marvelous in every aspect,” says Damcı. “Excellent flora … and a very demanding and challenging route.”
In this first year, Damcı expects 100 participants, but this could grow to 300 in coming years. The bar for participation is high. Participants must be in top condition and able to run an average of 50 kilometers a day, carrying their own food and equipment (water is available intermittently along the course.) The entrance fee of 2,000 euros is another barrier. Damcı explains that this fee covers pre and post-marathon hotel expenses, insurance, campsite service, etc.
Is it not boring to train for these 250-kilometer endurance tests? Not for Damcı, who explains: “I listen to music. I think; I plan. Most decisions that I make when running later turn out to be the right decisions. I like running.” Dr. Damcı’s favorite running music is that of Ana Gabriel of Mexico.
Posted by Stuart Barrington