“Running” From an Ultra Marathon Runner’s View

When considered from different aspects running is the most basic way of movement form since the early ages with a unique culture of its own. We had an interview with Elena Polyakova who is one that carried the flag of the running culture to different parts of the world, with difficulties and pleasures of competing in the ultra marathon.

There are no athletes in Elena Polyakova’s family, she had an innate interest in sports accompanied with the support of her teacher. Once she started jogging as a hobby she completed her first semi-marathon in 2006, however an accident she had became the turning point of her life. She was not able to move for 3 months due to the fracture in her ankle but she became more motivated with the will to achieve when she began running  upon recovery. Polyakova who is an achiever praised by many completed the most difficult tacks with the love of athletics within. This love in return makes her one of the most successful ultra marathon runners in a short time.

Can you tell us who you are please? How did you begin running and how did you manage to set your system in line?
I was born in Russia I spent my childhood in a small city. I began sports at a very young age, I was an energetic child who liked to run, my friends and I would always run around racing each other where we lived. My favorite subject in school was Physical Education and my favorite class was when we had discipline cross races. My P.E. Teacher invited me to the interschool races, I could not show the performance they expected of me at the race, but I was so tired that when I came hope I slept immediately. I wasn’t very fond of racing back then. A few years later when I was studying hard to graduate from school and also rehearsed my part for the school play with military theme. I started jogging very early before the lessons. When my teacher saw my disciplined effort, he asked me to join the races, when I returned with medals from the races, my racing career began. I also have a cup in body building in the city that I grew up. When I had to choose between the two sports I chose running. In my senior year in school I thought I would attend either military school or the sports academy but I found myself at the Moscow State University Pedagogy department and I never regretted my decision. I studied Physics and English for 5 years, I was an intern at school and at this point apparently my pedagogy career had ended even before it began, I found myself working in a 5 star hotel in Belek and I built a career in the tourism sector for many years then in 2011, I realized it was time for a career change. I moved to Istanbul from Antalya. I think one should do the job that one loves, and this is what I am after at the moment. I run, do yoga and draw. My love for athletics has always been there, in 2006 I ran my first half marathon, in 2007 my first marathon and in 2011 my first track and also my first ultra marathon and left my successful career in tourism which I had built in many years to draw myself a new career path. I completed 38 ultra marathons since I began. I cannot imagine my life not running anymore and I get my best ideas when I’m running.


How and when did you decide to run the ultra marathon?
In 2011 at the Runtalya I was given a bag with the brochure of Lycian Road Ultra Marathon (LYUM) and that is when I realized this could change my life. As a matter of fact I really think that there is a mystic aspect to such things, because I’m always given brochures at races and throw them away but I kept the LYUM brochure, I moved my house at the time and did not throw the brochure but took it to my Office and started to think whether I could do it. In July I visited Cirali and there saw the signs for “Lycian Road” and knew it was a sign for me, but still had my doubts. Could I manage to complete such a challenging race? I decided to send an e-mail to the organization though I was scared but also excited and decided to act according to the answer I received. In the meantime my friends thought that this was a crazy project. I decided to participate in the marathon taking into consideration the answer of the organization and former participants. That was when the fun began! Training and equipment hunt. I spent all my off-days shopping for equipment. As I have been a life-long “competitor” I started serious training, ran everyday and one month to the race my daily distance was over 150 kilometers. I tried to train in difficult tracks such as fields, beaches, and sand. Once I ran from Belek to Antalya. In fact as I trained I was trying to persuade myself saying that the more I trained the easier the marathon would be for me, some days the training was very difficult. Waking up early or training after a long and tiring day at work was difficult at times, to motivate myself I would treat myself to pizza after a long and challenging track in training. I ran with my back-pack 3-4 times a week, I would have a few water bottles and heavy books in it. In my first trial with the back pack my legs almost failed to carry me but I had to get used to it, I had no choice. I would choose the lightest equipment in the market when shopping, because I had to carry everything in my back pack all through the race, I ran around all Antalya as I was shopping for equipment and even beyond Antalya at times, I ordered some equipment from Russia and Istanbul. Those who saw me outside thought I was out to conquer a fortress. My life started to orbit the LYUM. All the conversations we had in the Office was about the marathon and they even started saying “jut get on with it and be back”. I did not understand how months flew when I was running. Then the race began! The start was a little difficult for me because we began racing the mountains and soon started climbing, as I was thinking how this race would end while we climbed we started climbing down, I was very happy. I started having fun as I started to imagine the pleasure I would get from climbing down after every up hill.  In fact it was impossible not to enjoy the unique nature. The turquoise and Safire colored sea, emerald green and silver mountains. When I made it to the finish of the first stage I felt like I was the happiest person in the world and decided that I could do this. I remembered the preparation and effort I had until then, it was worth it indeed without a doubt. After all the preparation and training all there was left to do was to run and enjoy the event. Challenging and beautiful tracks followed by the tent rest every night and chat with lovely people for a whole week was fun. And finally the finish line, it was one of the best times of my life it was difficult but also fun and it was a wonderful week, an amazing experience. So I could not hold back anymore: Atakama Desert Ultra Marathon  (6 stages, 250 km) 2012, Iznik Ultra Marathon (126 km) 2012, International 2nd. Cekmekoy Ultra Marathon (60 km) 2012 and RunfireCappadocia Ultra Marathon (6 stages, 244 km) 2012.



What is the difference between Ultra marathon and Normal marathon?
A Marathon is 42 km 195 m. In Ultra marathons there are different distances ran beginning  from this length, the different stages could be 50 km – 100 km – 170 km even 340 km and more. There are single stage ultra marathons, you take off from the start and reach the finish line in one go and then there are the multi stage  ultra marathons they take a few days to complete (generally a week) these have a new start, new race and new finish line to complete every day. Ultra marathons are ran in different places and different grounds, they can be in the city, parks or in the fields, desserts and mountains. I prefer to compete in nature because that is when you experience the journey within and run for pleasure.

Why do you carry a 10 kilo back-pack?
In most races I have the mandatory equipment in my backpack. For example in multi stage ultra marathons you need to have your outfit, food, tent, sleeping bags and the equipment you will need during  race in your back pack. The more you run in ultra marathons you learn to pack lighter. You learn to choose lighter equipment and balance it.

What are the benefits of sports and marathon running? What do you keep in mind as you train for marathon?
Running gives the feeling of freedom. I am definitely happier when I’m running. The running training, cycling, strength exercises are all parts of the whole. Nutrition is of great importance during this period and I do not have a diet, I eat everything within a limit. I eat a lot of fruits, vegetables and drink water. I try to keep a balanced diet; I eat what I always eat. I do not go on diets that would shock my system. I work on different strengthening exercises depending on the track, surface and the altitude the race will take pace.


You are not only racing when you run. You are free in nature and the city when you are running, what or where is it that has most affected you when running?
Among places that I love the most in Turkey are the unique Kashqar Mountains, fairy tale land Cappadocia, emerald green and turquoise Lycian Road.  In foreign lands those that have an influence are the Atakama Desert, the Sahara Desert, Zugspitze Mountain, Canary Islands and the Pyrenees. This is the best part of running; feeling that you can achieve and know that you are free and strong. Doing all this in the middle of unique nature is unbelievable.

What do you think about the status and future of athletics in Turkey?
It is developing just like it is everywhere in the world. Especially in the last 3 years there seems to have been noticeable growth. However as our starting point is behind others we are still far away from meeting world standards. The number of races held are parallel or even better than this development.

There are requirements such as health report and other procedures for the Ultra marathon. I can say that people who run these distances are not capable through genetic advantage they are born with, anyone that trains consciously and improves his abilitie gradually can achieve the targets thatonce seemed impossible, I can say that they can work hard to achieve it without looking for easy ways to do it. There are so many people who have the capacity to do this but are afraid to do it. We use our physical potentia so little, running will help develop one not only on a physical but also on a mental level. We are becoming to be more and more consumerist as a so ciety inevitably. We want to have everything easily, the fastest way we can, without much effort. At first glanc this is not a bad thing, but when we take a closer look, this does not make us happy; because the easier you get something the sooner it loses its appeal. Running means struggle and effort, believe me anyone who runs once experiences the change in their life.

‘’Inspiredby Run’’
“The style form of the passion for adventure, they were imagined and designed while running. Each on is a precious baby for me. I don’t just present the design, I offer a unique stor y, I try to reflect what I have been through at the ultra marathons, adventures. I can say that each has my heels’ grease. Almost all my designs were pictured as I was running.”


By: Dilara Gülşah Azaplar / Photography: Ian Corless / Sky Erciyes

*This article was  published in the  September – October issue of Marmara Life. 

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