Arriving in Istanbul was like a breath of fresh air compared to Kathmandu, where I’d just come from. I hadn’t realized how much I missed being around water, but setting eyes on the Bosphorus was like greeting an old friend. I felt lucky to have a whole month here and even luckier to have found my apartment. It was next door to one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, the Galata Tower.

The tower could easily have been Rapunzel’s residence. It’s a tall, round, cobblestone tower with a steep conical roof that stands alone in the middle of a charming town square. In the evenings, hundreds of people gather around it to play music, drink, and hang out with friends. Every night was like bohemian festival, and I loved coming home to it. I loved the mornings even more, as I’d gaze out my window as the sun was coming up and see a castle spire set beautifully against the sunrise. If ever I felt like a princess, it was in these moments.

I had a few days before starting work at my law firm, so I spent them walking around the city and writing in various cafes. One of my favorite cafes was this little corner store several stories above street level. It had a window seat covered in lush pillows. The windows were opened to the street so you could see passersby down below. I spent hours in that shop before pulling myself away to explore some more. I walked down to the Galata Bridge, where dozens were fishing and spending time with their families. I walked over to the spice market on the other side and then on to Sultanahmet, known as Old Istanbul. I wandered back across the Galata Bridge at sunset, stopping at a touristy, overpriced place to eat along the way—but the amazing view made it worth it. Istanbul seemed to be just my speed.

Work turned out to be a great setup as well, as my daily commute took me down the famous Istiklal Street, where hundreds of cute stores and restaurants sell everything from Turkish delight to high-end art. If the Galata Tower hosted a bohemian festival every night, then Istiklal hosted the pre-party. As I neared Galata along Istiklal, I’d start hearing the music as the energy lightened my heart. I loved that this was part of my day-to-day. It reminded me to slow down and live more fluidly, not always needing to make the most of every moment.

One weekend, I visited the Prince Islands one weekend, just an hour or so off Istanbul’s coast. It felt like going back in time, as there were only horse-drawn carriages and bicycles on the island we visited, no cars. The Victorian-era architecture only added to this, as did the pastel-colored ice cream shops and trinket stores. My friend and I rented bikes and took a tour of the island. It turned out to be so small that we looped around the whole thing in an hour before heading back to catch our ferry.

My birthday arrived towards the end of my stay in Istanbul, so I decided to start a tradition of running my age in miles. I wanted to make sure ultrarunning stays a part of my life since I’d come so close to giving it up after the Rouge-Orleans race in Louisiana. I made a pledge to myself to keep the tradition up until I turn 50, figuring I might want to re-assess at that point. This time around, I was turning 26. The greatest challenge would be waking up and hitting the road by 4:15 a.m., since I had to be at work by 9:30 a.m.

After making it out of the house, albeit half asleep, I crossed the Galata Bridge then took a left to run along the water. I knew I could follow this road about as far as I wanted, which made navigating the route easy, so I turned my attention to the world around me. A funny collection of people were out in the dark of early morning. Many were fisherman getting a jump on the catch, but some were clearly just coming home. The night owls stumbled home as the early risers stumbled out of bed. There were far more people out than I’d expected. The street lamps lit up one lens on life after another, putting my own life in focus. Of all the people I could have been, parents I could have been born to, countries I could have grown up in, careers I could have chosen, I’d ended up here.

I started thinking about my Mom, as I often do when I think of how I arrived where I am today. I wondered what it would have been like if she had been there in Istanbul with me, spending the month together like we did in Seattle while she was battling cancer. She was always one for celebrations, so we probably would have had big plans for the evening, maybe visiting a Turkish bath and then checking out an amazing restaurant. It wouldn’t have mattered what we did, I realized, just that we were together. Wanting to drown out my increasingly melancholy thoughts, I turned on the audiobook Sophie’s Choice and tried to refocus on enjoying the morning.

When light started breaking over the horizon my mood rose with it. I reached my turnaround point and calculated that I’d have to run nine-minute miles all the way back to make it to work on time. I’d have to run even faster if I stopped for water or food. The going was easy, except for a few dogs. Two of them stood in my path, growling and barking while staring me down. I tried to go around and give them as much clearance as possible, but they followed me, so I had no choice but to simply run by. I couldn’t tell if they were more bark than bite, but I was about to find out. As I ran closer, one of the dogs backed off and the other came forward. I jumped at the brave one and yelled, “Bad dog! No! Go!!” The dog backed off just enough and I passed by, praying that they wouldn’t get any bright ideas and follow me. Luckily, they stayed put.

The view across the Galata Bridge upon my return was magical. Seagulls floated in the wind above dozens of fisherman while the sun sparkled on the water. Istanbul appeared weighty and adorned with tradition, but light with creativity and freedom at the same time. Domes and towers of grand mosques dominated the skyline. In between these were vibrant communities of people from all walks of life. My first birthday run of what I hoped would be many was now history, and I was just in time for work!

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