Looking Back on 2017, Looking Forward to 2018

by Paul Thompson

It’s that time of year again. When you push back a little, eat and drink too much of the wrong stuff, and for a while take your eye off the ball. It’s also a time when we take stock of the year just ended and start plotting the year ahead. I commit this to paper hence this blog post. It’s the first step to getting motivated for the long year of running ahead. My targets for the year ahead tend to get tangled up in New Year’s resolutions so there’s a risk they’ll last about as long. To around January 7.

So here I am on vacation in Singapore eating lots of local fare, drinking a few too many G&Ts, running sporadically in hot and sultry conditions (about 30C and 90%), and writing this post, as I’ve been doing in recent years, to help get me ready for 2018.

How then did I fare in 2017 on an actual verses target basis? After hooking up with coach Troopy in Boulder in early January 2017 I set myself a few key goals. First, a marathon PR of sub 2:29:56. I ran 2:31:45 in London in April quicker than 2016 but good for just 3rd M50. A month later I posted a 1:12:01 half in Brooklyn. These performances, along with a 32:44 at the Healthy Kidney 10K just before London and a 55:24 at the Bronx 10 in September, got me pole position in the UK M50 rankings and, I think, the US.

Second, a medal at my best distance, the half, at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Aarhus, Denmark in August. I more than found my match finishing 4th in 1:13:22. Overall Strava summed things up with this video (3,158 miles).

What then does 2018 have in store? In the coming few weeks I’ll check-in with coach Troopy and map out the season ahead. At this time I have two ideas. First, another crack at my marathon PR, either in the spring (I’m entered for London and Greater Manchester) or, as seems more likely, the fall (ChicagoNew YorkBerlin or Beirut). And second, to medal in the half marathon and / or road 10K at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga, Spain in September. A medal will demand a sub-1:12 / 33.

So that’s about it. I fell short of my goals for 2017 but received ‘consolation prizes’ in the shape of a fast 10K and half. And I’ve yet to set my goals for 2018. As its January 5 that means my 2018 New Year’s resolutions will last beyond January 7.

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Race Report: NYRR Ted Corbitt 15K, New York, December 9, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures Shamala Thompson, John Le Tran and Ramin Tabib)

I kicked off the week running in mid 50s F temperatures and bright sunshine on trails in Marin County with fellow Brit and former New York resident Antony Scott. I ended it, and maybe my racing season, duking it out with Urban Athletics team mates in low 30s F with snow flurries in Central Park. No guesses which was the more enjoyable. But the more rewarding was certainly the race which is held in honor of the father of US ultra running.

I’d not raced since the New Balance Bronx 10 Miler. That day I’d complained it was too hot. Since then I’d been on the road, flying around Europe and to the West Coast for work. I enjoy the travel. But it wreaks havoc with my running routine and dents confidence in my sense of  race preparedness. Landing in unfamiliar places with no running pals leaves me searching for green spaces on GoogleMaps and popular segments and heat maps on Strava. While traveling much time gets invested in figuring the when and where. The outcome can be less than ideal, like a park in the dark in Bucharest, other times near perfect, like the lake mid-day in Geneva or the sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge.

So here I was lining up for a 15K race. The route was the 4 mile loop, cutting across the 72nd and 102nd Street Transverses, followed by a 5 mile loop taking in the park’s  southern end (and avoiding the northern hills). I last ran this race in 2015 when I ran 50:25. Today I figured, with freezing temperatures and snow flurries, that I’d be happy with 51 and change. Urban Athletics M50 team had a lot to play for. Going into this my maths (math) had us finishing the season level with CPTC in the NYRR Club Standings if we won Ted  Corbitt. Our Women and Men’s Masters teams had already  accumulated enough points to win  their respective categories and a number of UA runners were in line for award nominations in 2018. So we had to be on our A game. Fortunately we had newly minted 50 year old Matt Chaston join Adam Kuklinski, Jonathan Schindel and I.

Matt (blue hat) and me in the starting corral

Soon after the gun went I settled in mid-pack with around 30 runners ahead of me. I quickly realized that the leaders had gone out hard, chasing, as it turns out, the event and course record winner.  I found myself running with team mates Javier Rodriguez and Jason Lakritz. Jason, who could have challenged for 50 flat, was essentially ‘on duty’ pacing us. I attacked the  opening miles, heading south down the east side, much to Javier’s angst. I was looking for 51 minutes so needed to run sub 5:30 miles. The first three miles per Garmin and Strava data were 5:28, 5:17 and 5:33.  5K  followed in just under 17:00. Up ahead there were 4 groups, the first dominated by West Side, the second and third by NYAC and then a duo from CPTC and DWTC.

 

Lead group includes fellow Brit Matt Gillespie (Henwood  Hounds)

 

Jason, Javier and I chase 4th group

We passed mile 4 in 21:34 and crossed the finish line, signalling a lap of 5 miles left to run. At this point I started to started to lose contact with Jason and Javier. I told them not to wait for me. In case that’s what they were thinking. As they edged away and we started tackling the rolling hills down the east side I started to feel the fatigue my body usually saves for the closing miles. I was now isolated. And stayed that way for the next few miles. I covered the 5th mile in 5:30, passing 5 miles in 27:04. On the long descent after the reservoir I rallied with a 5:23 6th mile and passed 10K in a little over 33:30. I had stopped losing ground to my team mates. They were just 30 metres ahead.

On the south end of the park, in the 7th mile, I started to close the gap on Javier and Jason. As I was ‘creeping up’ on my team mates, my cover was blown by former Warren Street team-mate Jim Stemm. He bellowed my name prompting Javier to glance back to see me coming. As we passed mile 7 in around 38:00, after a 5:30 mile, I regained  contact and suggested we work together to the finish. Javier was somewhat reluctant to accept the offer. He was suffering with a side stitch. For the next mile, which took in Cat Hill, we eased off slightly to  help him kick it into touch. Mile 8, 5:42, proved to be the slowest of the race.

Jason and I in the closing mile

One of the highlights of the race was passing Engineer’s Gate. UA cheerleaders led by Ellen Basile, Herbie Medina and Ramin Tabib, roared us on. It was a timely reminder coffee, ice cold beer (!) and bagels, with lots of bonhomie, would be waiting for us at the store soon after the finish. The snow started to fall faster. Realizing Jason was ‘waiting’ for us I decided to throw the hammer down. We gapped Javier. He was almost home but would his stitch was proving stubborn. I navigated my way across the line of lapped runners to the inside, turned the final left hander into the finish and crossed the line in 51:23, just behind  Jason. I was happy, relieved and cold.

Jason starts to sprint for home

I was 24th, 2nd masters and 1st M50. Javier came over the line in 51:32, a PR (Bob Smullen got one too). I recorded 2nd AG, just shy of 90%. Incredibly I was only 4th Brit! The best part of this race, like many  others, was hanging out in the finishing area as team mates and rivals crossed the line. We man hugged, fist bumped and congratulated each other on completing a long hard season: Peter Brady (1st M45-49 in 53:29), Brad Kelley (2nd M50 in 54:57), teammates Matt Chaston (3rd M50 in 55:17), Adam Kuklinski (6th M50 in 58:27) and Jonathan Schindel (9th M50 in 59:58), and DWTC’s Jonathan Kline (1st M55-59 in 56:42) and many more.

Matt and me in finishing funnel

Matt (right), Jonathan Kline (middle) and me putting on a brave face

Adam, Matt and I won the M50 for UA. Javier, Matt and I the same for the masters overall. The UA men’s open team were 5th.  Many of our women had spectated: our women masters had effectively won the season long championships in the Bronx.

The overall winners were Teshome Mekonen in 44:43 (event and course record) and Belaynesh Fikadu in 54:36. The NYRR race report is here. It was 2017’s final club points race of the year. The running community will celebrate the top runners and teams of 2017 at NYRR Club Night on February 1. Then we will discover if UA win the M50 award.

Women’s winner

Sham was there with warm clothes and warm heart, but not so warm body. After a short warm-down with team mate Alex Lorton the team retired to the store. There we got to meet Gary Corbitt, Ted’s son. As we mingled I realized, as team mate Paul Sorace said, that this was my family. My running family.  Some are closer, geographically, than others. I have running family members in Boulder, San Francisco, Kettering,  London, Huddersfield, Singapore, KL and elsewhere. Band of runners, brothers and sisters. As I close in on 52 I just happen to be one of the older brothers.

Ramin Tabib and me (top); Gary Corbitt and me (middle); and UA runners Stefao, Kieran and I on sale! (bottom)

Race Report: New Balance Bronx 10, New York, September 24, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

The past few years, 2015 and 2016, I’ve run this race the weather conditions were perfect. This year they weren’t. Far from it. This came off the back of another work trip to Europe, ending with a flight arrving late Thursday night at JFK from London Heathrow. I’d had an easy few days so felt rested and the body clock, on Europe time 5 hours ahead, meant I was wide awake, if not raring to go, at 5am.

But I went into this race with confidence riding low. I’d been well beaten in the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile, was carying a low level calf strain that had caused me to cut short a Mona Fartlek session on Tuesday, and considerable work travel that had gotten in the way of my usual run routine.

The last 8 days I’d been on a whistle stop Europe tour taking in London (twice), Munich (for Oktoberfest at this great joint), Brussels and Frankfurt. I got in some great runs including two from a Munich Airport hotel, this one where a flat iPhone battery caused me to run 5 miles overdistance. In just over 24 hours I drank 2 litres of beer, ate half a duck and ran 26 miles. I’m strangely proud of that ‘achievement’. That 26 miles got me to 70 miles for the week, the weekly target that’s eluded me for much of the past 4 months.

Right, back to the race. Sham and I picked up team mate Javier Rodriguez from Dobbs Ferry as we drove to the race from Peekskill.  Javier and I jumped out of the car at the junction of the Madison Avenue Bridge and I87 and ran the mile or so north up the Grand Concourse. We ran the first and last mile of the course, did a few strides, met up with Urban Athletics (UA) team mates and got into the starting corral. Then we were off. Along with 15,000 others.

I quickly settled into a group including Bobby Asher (VCTC) and Brian Leese (NBR). We passed the first mile in 5:15. My target was sub-55 minutes. That would demand an average pace of 5:30. But I’d not fully factored in the weather. It was in the high 70sF (25C), bathed in bright unforgiving sunshine on an exposed course.

I traded places with the group but some got away. By mile 3 I had settled into 5:25-5:30 pace. My group kept changing composition. Brent Frissora (NYAC), who I’d narrowly beaten when running 53:36 in 2015, cruised past. I tried to join his train. I did for all of a mile. I passed mile 3 in 16:20 and 5K in 16:55. At this point of the race I thought I might not be able to finish. I’d maybe gone out too hard.  A big group was chasing me. And the short climb out of the underpass around mile 3 felt like a mountain.

The end of the Grand Concourse came into view. I was now stranded and would be until I got back onto the Grand Concourse just shy of mile 6. I passed half way in 27:35. The long steady incline up the Mosholu Parkway from the Bronx Botanical Gardens to the Grand Concourse slowed me to a 5:47 6th mile. But any thought of stopping I’d flushed from my mind. Everyone was hurting. And I was needed for the team – open, masters and M50+. As team mate Paul Wong, a fellow Brit, had said the M50+ NYRR 2017 Club Standings were “as tight as an Arsenal shirt”: UA and CPTC were neck ‘n’ neck on 108 points, 84 less the worst two races.

Onto the Grand Concourse I was joined by a group of 5 including team mate Javier and top M40 contenders Guillermo Pineda Morales (Memo) and Klaus Kuorikoski (a new comer to the NYRR racing scene from Finland and racing for Henwood’s Hounds). I passed 10K in around 34:15.  A few of the group, including Memo and Klaus, opened a gap on me. I was now in damage limitation mode, just like in the closing miles of a marathon. Javi dropped off the back. I now had my sights on Klaus, who Memo had gapped, and Brent who was slowing down after opening a big gap on me mid-race. I knew that I was home and dry at around 8.5 miles as I passed Brent. From there it’s an ever increasingly steep descent to the finish line outside Yankee Stadium.

Finishing straight comes into view

I got into my stride in those final few miles. I was now catching the runners in front. I overtook Klaus but on official timing (cip to chip) we were level on 55:24. Good for 24th overall, 1st M50+ and 2nd M40+ (after Memo on 55:06). I topped the age grading with 89.65%. Sebastien was next UA man home, running 56:14 for 3rd M40-44, followed by Javier on 56.43 for 4th M40-44. That nailed the M40+ team for UA by over 9 minutes.

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Sebastien

Javier with Jamie Brisbois in hot pursuit

It was a good day for the Team UA. The W40+ (Fiona Bayly (1st W40+ in 61:46), Ellen Basille (2nd W45-49 in 65:40) and Cathrine Wolden (4th W45-49 in 66:49) won by almost 15 minutes, nearly 5 minutes for each of the three scorers. That leaves the M40+ and W40+ teams with almost unassailable leads in the NYRR 2017 Club Standings. The M50+ team (Adam Kuklinski (7th M50-54 in 63:38), Paul Wong (20th M50-54 in 68:25) and me) also placed first, and now have a narrow gap over CPTC in the 2017 club standings. Things were less rosy for the UA open teams (6th men and 8th women), depleted by injury athletes and those focused on a fall marathon.

The NYRR race report is here. Harbert Okuti of the Westchester Track Club broke the finish tape in 49:32, while Roberta Groner of the NYAC won the women’s race in 56:50.

Teammates

So it played out better than hoped. I had self doubts during the race. But those doubts were overcome by the need to do my best for the team. And I came away top of the UK M50 rankings for 10 miles.

Race Report: New Balance 5th Avenue Mile, New York, September 10, 2017

By Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

While I like to think I’m better than a ‘one trick pony‘, today I was rudely reminded that it’s a case of  ‘horses for courses‘ and the mile is not my course. I simply got soundly beaten,  by several lengths, by a mile specialist. In fact by the time we reached two furlongs to go, the final quarter, it was all over bar the heavy breathing. Right less of the horse racing analogy, more of my day out at the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile races.

 

Going into this one the writing was on the wall. It’s just that I failed to read it. Since March I’ve been having various issues with my right leg. In 2017 it seems I’ve had just about everything – ITB, then hamstring / glute and most recently shin splints – and yet for the big occasions I’ve been injury free, though sometimes underprepared. Recently my problems have ebbed away but my race sharpness has been eroded through lack of high intensity training and long runs. And so it all came to roost today.

When I first ‘settled’ in  New York and ran for Warren Street I used to avoid the 5th Avenue Mile. The distance did not appeal and I was not training for it, preferring instead to focus on preparing and racing 10Ks and half marathons. Then it became a club points race and ever since I’ve tried to compete whenever I can. But I’ve not adjusted my training. I last ran it in 2015. I clocked 4:45. I was hopeful of something similar.

After warming up with team mate Ramin Tabib I lined up with fellow male and female runners 50-59. There was some 500 of us. There was great camaraderie. Many if not most of us were sharing injury stories. It comes with the age. And trepidation about running our slowest ever mile. After all we ain’t getting any younger. And I got acquainted with some new competitors, not least Gerald O’hara who was edged into 2nd in 2016.  Gerry had a 4:41 indoor time to his name earlier in ’16. He was  the man to beat.

My goal was 4:50 but, more importantly, to compete. Being on the front row I got a clean start. 5th Avenue is a fast road mile –  dead straight, wide roadway, good road surface and gently undulating with a slight descent in the first quarter, slight incline in the second, and again slight descent for the second half. I ran alongside Gerry through halfway passing the first quarter mark in around 1:10 and the second in around 2:25.

I felt pretty good at this point. But then Gerry found an extra gear and went away. And kept pulling away. And all I could do was spectate. His lead had extended to some 30 metres by the three  quarter mark which I reached in around 3:40. I was now hanging on for second but the shouts for “Brad” were getting closer and louder. And so it was no surprise he tore past with a furlong to go. I sensed others were chasing me down but fortunately the finish line came soon enough.

 

I breasted the line in 3rd place in 4:53 (AG of 87.59%, the lowest of 2017), 9 seconds shy of Gerry and 3 behind Brad. Gerry was an emphatic winner. One year I have to train specifically for this and see what I can do. The time was good enough to top the UK M50 rankings but is way off what the top Americans  are running. In addition to Gerry, Todd Straka, USATF 2017 M50 mile champion who’d made the trip from Boulder, ran 4:29 in the open race.

I reflected that while running a half marathon I’m in some sort of zone, a comfort zone of sorts, for much of the race. Only in the closing miles do I start to grind. But in the mile I spend none of the time in that zone. I’m grafting from the gun.

The team excelled. Urban Athletics won the M40+ (Javier Rodriguez (3rd M40 in 4:29), Matt Chaston (2nd M45 in 4:33) and Stefano Piana-Agostinetti (4th M45 in 4:40)) W40+ (Fiona Bayly (1st W50 in 5:17), Jennifer Harvey (1st W45 in 5:22) and Cathrine Wolden (2nd W45 in 5:23) and W50+ (with two newly minted W50s Fiona and Dominique Saint-Louis (3rd W50 in 5:25) joining Ivy Bell (2nd W60 in 6:39)). In both open races UA finished 6th. In the overall, year to date club standings, UA lie first in M40+ and W40+   and equal first with CPTC for M50+ while in 4th and 5th respectively for open men and women.

Our M50 team (Jonathan Schindel (5th in 4:55), Paul Wong (14th in 5:09) and I) came second to a CPTC team led home by Gerry and Brad. UA’s W40+ were the standouts, winning comfortably. Again. And the W50+ most improved. Some UA runners logged impressive PRs including Ramin Tabib, Bob Smullen, Ivy Bell, Dominique Saint-Louis and Elizabeth Dellamora.

 

The many races making up the 2017 New Balance 5th Avenue Mile featured more than 7,500 runners, the largest field in the event’s 37-year history. The race’s professional athletes provided historic performances to match, with Jenny Simpson making it her sixth win and Nick Willis his fourth.

Now the mile is not my cup of tea. But the 5th Avenue Mile is. The venue is breathtaking: when else can you run 20 blocks down the middle of 5th Avenue ending at The Plaza? The occasion is spectacular: elite runners from around the world, the television cameras, runners of  all ages. But most importantly the New York City running community is in the limelight. And today some, like Mark Williams and Reno Stirrat, went from being virtual friends on Facebook to the real thing! So much better.

Race Report: European Masters Half Marathon Championships, Aarhus, Denmark, August 6, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures Shamala Thompson)

This race proved to be a humbling experience as I went in search of faster M50 runners and found some that were faster than me. Long ago I’d decided that while it was a nice accoloade to be crowned World Champion in the half marathon there were bigger fish out there and I had to find the opportunity to race them. The European Masters Athletics Championships (EMACS) in Aarhus, Denmark was one of them. Europe hosts a large number of elite masters athletes, perhaps more than any other region.

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The lead up to this race did not bode well. On vacation with friends in Boulder CO., three weeks out, I developed shin splints. A stint of timely altitude training quickly turned into a desperate attempt to shrug off an untimely injury. I managed to shake it and by race day was injury free. I was just short of that final heavy training load that was more to do with building confidence and sharpening than laying the basis for the race.

Aarhus proved to be one of the more difficult places to get to from New York. We flew New York to London, changed planes and touched down in Copenhagen. The next day we boarded an inter city train for the four hour journey to Denmark’s second city. While a pleasant enough city with great facilities, it begged me to question why EMACS opts for less accessible second cities: even British based athletes were unable to fly direct.

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The main drag in Aarhus

As the race approached and I tapered my shin splints improved markedly to the point that when doing fast strides on the eve of the race I could not remotely feel them. I have Heather North (Red Hammer Rehab) and Russ Stram (Runner Clinic NYC  to thank. That boosted my confidence enough to make me plan to run at 5:30 pace that would give me a 1:12 finish time, a time that should have put me in the mix for a medal.

On race morning I jogged to the start from the hotel, following the route the race would take in the final few miles. Ben Reynolds, annoyed and embarrassed to have just learnt his flight departure time meant he’d only have time to run 10K then bail out and head to the airport, and Steve Watmough joined me. At the venue we lined up for check-in, a rather pointless exercise designed to verify you were actually there and had pinned your numbers on correctly. It  was a scrum of athletes. After registering I  went through the final drill of strides and knee lifts.

The starting corral was packed and many (obviously) slower runners were in front, including M70 runners and women, stubbornly refusing to allow faster runners to move ahead. There’s a clear lack of common sense in some masters runners. At their age they should by now know better. As a result when the gun went I had a horde of slower runners to navigate. I could see my main M50 rivals, including the favorite with the fastest season’s best (SB) time of 1:09:31, Miguel Ángel Plaza Benita of Spain.

I weaved and jumped on and off the pavement as I desperately tried to close the gap to my main rivals. I passed the mile in 5:30 but the latter half of that was at 5:00 and I was still some 20 metres behind them. Ben cruised past me and I jumped on his tail. In so doing he helped me bridge the gap. Over the next two miles, each covered in 5:19, I managed to claw my way to the back of the pack that had all the M50 medal contenders – Benita, Luc Van Asbroeck (Belgium) and Mike Poch (Germany) – and fellow Brit Kerry-Liam Wilson (M45).

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Catching the leading masters runners at the 5K mark

 

At 5K, reached in 16:40, I saw Sham roadside taking pictures. For the next 5K the race would twist and turn its way through the city centre. The course boasted over 60 tight turns, more than any other race I can remember. It felt like we ran up and down every street like as if on a life size pin ball game. Into the mix was an uneven cobbled road surface encouraging regular hopping on and off the pavement in search of a smoother surface. My fourth mile slowed to 5:31. I slowly drifted off the back of the group. I was paying the price for trying to get in contact with my main rivals while battling with a strained quad. I had one last go at rejoining the group throwing in a 5:25 fifth mile. I failed. Fortunately the pain in other parts of my body smothered that in the quad.

As I passed mile five in 27:02, isolated, I was adjusting to the idea of finishing 4th. It proved hard to get motivated knowing 4th was perhaps the highest placing I could hope for. It would mean no place on the podium. The next few miles, with wind behind, I was able to maintain around 5:30 pace but the gap to the medal contenders kept growing. My motivation to run for the best finish time came from thinking I might be needed for the M50 or M45 team, the latter if we did not have a ‘natural’ team of runners aged 45-49 and so needed me to help them form a ‘composed’ team . Running for a team, whether it be Urban Athletics or Team GB, is another compelling reason to give your best. This was reinforced by spectators, Brits and locals, cheering “Go Great Britain”.

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Running on my own at mile 5

The course exited the town centre and headed north along a straight cycle path. Approaching the U turn around the 12K point I could see the top three M50 locked together duking it out without me. I was just the spectator. The next few miles wound their way around the newly developed waterfront. It had us running a few sections of gravel and jumping up and over some curbs. The flat course had promised fast times but this was undone by the numerous turns and varied surface. Altogether the course was not the best – spectator friendly, competitor unfriendly. And then there was the wind. Aarhus is popular for kite flying and wind surfing so this was no surprise.

The closing miles were mostly into a gale force head wind whipping in off the North Sea. Combined with the fatigue from my failed attempt to get on terms with the M50 medal contenders this weighed heavily on my splits. My 5:30 average for the first 9 miles, which had I maintained would have given me 1:12 and a shot at a medal, slowed to 5:50-55  for  each of the final 4 miles. I ran most of it chasing the coattails of an M35 runner. In the closing mile I caught a rapidly slowing runner from the open race that the EMACS squatted on. As the stadium entered my sights I ran hard for the best possible time in case I was needed for a ‘composed’ team (if there were insufficient M45 finishers to make a ‘natural’ team older runners like me can be co-opted to make up the numbers). Turns out I wasn’t. Team GB’s M45 team got silver while M50 came 9th.

Once in the stadium we ran clockwise for 300m finishing midway down the finishing straight. I crossed the line 4th M50 with 1:13:22. Benita won in 1:11:14 with Poch 2nd in 1:11:56 and Van Asbroeck 3rd in 1:12:10: the full M50 results are here and the overall race results here. My Garmin data tells the story. In marked contrast to my Brooklyn Half I spent little if any of the race in my comfort zone. And little if anything had gone to plan.

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Miguel Angel Plaza Benita, first masters runner about to cross the finish line

 

In the finishing area I got acquainted with the medalists and said I was looking forward to competing against them at the World Masters Athletics Champs in Malaga, Spain. The shin splints had been safely put to bed but I inherited a badly strained quad on the same right leg. After sharing stories post race with Team GB team mates and M50 runners I went to see if the highly professional GB physios  were on duty. Turms out they were. Paul Parkin had given me a flush, a light massage, on the eve of the race. Post-race Nicola Nicol did the same. Team GB’s physical therapy team are the business.

 

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Post-run rub down and chat

The race revealed that Europe was home to a number of M50 distance runners, some faster than me. I need to step up my game and find a minute if I’m to medal at the half marathon in Malaga.

Race Report: NYRR Queens 10K, June 17, 2017

by Paul Thompson (photographer Shamala was off duty)

I went into this event with trepidation – about whether I could get there and once there whether I could race well. Getting there proved easy as my best laid plans came to fruition. Getting a good confidence boosting race under my belt proved a tougher nut to crack. The silver lining lay in the way the race motivated me to ramp up my game leading into the half marathon at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Denmark.

In recent weeks I’d been travelling extensively throughout Europe for work. My employer is a tiny Brussels’ based association. No Brexit for me. I typically spend 2-3 weeks a time, 5-6 times a year, based in the UK with friends and family and sandwich together meetings and events to maximize the bang for the buck. This time, as my running log shows, for some 14 days I was working and running in Brussels, Vienna, London (ironically in Wimbledon running around the Common), Kettering, Warsaw and finally Berlin.

Richmond Park

Running in Richmond Park, London

Try as I might to maintain my running routine – including a 11 miles along the river in Vienna at 10 pm soon after touch down – eventually long runs and workouts gave way to steady runs and then no runs for two days in Berlin. For good measure I brought a cold back with me along with dirty laundry. The one positive was that Russ Stram seems to have sorted my hamstring tendinitis.

Getting to the race start line was always going to pose a challenge. I’d decided to use public transit. I boarded the train at Peekskill at 5:10 am, arriving at Harlem 125th Street at 6:10 am where I met Urban Athletics (UA) team mate Ramin Tabib. We boarded the M60 SBS to La Guardia, getting off at the furthest most stop at Terminal D. At this point Ramin had a rather skeptical but my iPhone helped us navigate the two miles – a useful warm-up – to the venue.

At the venue it was as if the entire NYRR running community, with all its clobber and paid parking of $25 to boot, had been accidentally teleported into Queens. Many Manhattan residents (sorry folks but I couldn’t resist this) seemed to be lost overboard, some 6 miles from the familiarity of Central Park. Queens is typically viewed from the ‘safety’ of their taxi or Uber en route to LGA or JFK.

At the venue – the 900 acre Flushing Meadows Corona Park – I seemed to have gained new found notoriety thanks to Will Sanchez. Will, a real connoisseur of the New York running scene, had invited me on his show ‘Gotta Run with Will’. The show was cut in early April just ahead of my running the London Marathon and went on general release in mid-May. I usually cringe at videos of my talking on camera but Will did a great job of making me look quite interesting. The phone hasn’t started ringing yet from Hollywood. I’m all set to guest star in a real life drama ‘Escape from Queens’.

Back to the race. My target was to run even 5:20 pace which would give me around 33 minutes. The course was about as flat as they come but included a number of sharp turns. The temperature was a perfect high 60s but the humidity was tropical. The first mile proved tricky to navigate as it was narrow and winding. I settled into a large pack which included team mates Jason Lakritz, Javier Rodriguez, Jamie Brisbois, Sebastien Baret (first race as M40+) and Aaron Mendelsohn. We had many for company including top masters John Henwood and Memo Morales Peres who I’d duked it with in Brooklyn.

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Promising start with John Henwood (left) and Bobby Asher (right) (Photo credit: Sam LaFata)

I did my fair share of the pacing. We navigated past the bunch of elite women who’d started out fast. The group was so large and tightly packed we kept clipping elbows and feet but fortunately no one tripped. We passed the mile mark in 5:20, some 20 seconds off the lead group. Midway through the second mile the roadway was water logged and left us all covered in muddy spray. We passed the two mile mark in 10:40. The group was working together, as though there were an unspoken truce.

In the third mile Jason threw the hammer down and the truce was over. The group went from close knit bunch to a long thin line, me nearer the back of the line. Sebastien and John had dropped away. Javier and Memo were up ahead, leaving me 3rd masters. I quickly came to realize this was going to be a hard day at the office, one for the team. I passed mile three in 16:10 and the half way in 16:41, 20 seconds slower than my last 10K.

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Losing contact with the group (Photo credit: Sam LaFata)

In the latter half I concentrated out damage limitation – time and place. I figured I could just about hold this pace and clock around 33:15. As we headed out to Citi Field (the last time I ran here in the NY Mets Run to Home Plate 5K in 2005 – won by John Henwood – it was Shea Stadium and Citi were a profitable bank) past the National Tennis Center the road was flat, fast and largely straight. Pity my legs and lungs failed to capitalize. I got to four miles in 21:30, the fourth mile of 5:25 being my slowest so far. But not the slowest. I held my pace for the fifth mile, passing five miles in around 27:00, and then started to unravel as I circled the Unisphere in the final mile. I covered the sixth mile in 5:30. Rarely do I close out a race with my slowest mile, except the marathon.

My 33:36 finish time was good for 1st M50, 3rd masters (after Memo in 33:12 and Javier in 33:21) and 24th overall. My age grade was 90.2%, 2% lower than my average for 2017 races, and second overall. I forgot to stop my Garmin. Some day I’ll remember. The heart rate readings were way off, likely due to my wrist band not being tight enough.

I milled around the finish funnel talking to rivals and team mates. Many of UA team had run slow times. We scratched around for an excuse and unanimously decided on the humidity. But then Ellen Basile breezed up to announce she’d smashed her 10K PR by over a minute. We were all very happy for Ellen but sad our excuse had been trashed.

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Discussing best excuse for a bum race

As NYRR reported this year’s race had more than 10,800 finishers, the most ever. Ayele Megersa Feisa of the West Side Runners broke the finish tape in 30:25 in a close finish over teammate Mengistu Tabor Nebsi. Belaynesh Fikadu, also of WSX, was the winner on the women’s side in 34:13, six seconds ahead of Roberta Groner of the New York Athletic Club.

UA turned in stella team performance. The men were 2nd in the open division (at the time of writing they were showing 4th since the NYRR results service was only scoring 3 runners rather than the 5 of Jason, Javier, me, Sebastien and Jamie), the women 4th (Harriott Kelly, Fiona Bayly and Ellen). Our W40+ team knocked the competition out of Citi Field: Fiona, Ellen and Cathrine Wolden won with over 16 minutes to spare. Javier, me and Sebastien won the M40+, albeit in less emphatic style. To complete the set (!) UA (me, Jonathan Schindel and Adam Kuklinski) won the M50+.

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Ellen shows up to blow away our excuses

43 UA runners towed the line, a large proportion of the total active membership. Many placed in the top 10 for their age group and there was some great packing: Jason (16th overall and 7th M25-29 in 33:07); Javier (21st overall and 2nd M40-44 in 33:21); me (24th overall, 3rd M40+ and 1st M50-54 in 33:36); Sebastien (27th overall and 3rd M40-44 in 33:57); James (32nd overall in 34:02); Aaron (6th M40-44 in 35:10); Harriott Kelly (7th overall and 2nd W25-29 in 36:23); Stefano Piana-Agostinetti (7th M45-49 in 37:30); Adam (4th M50-54 in 37:47); Jonathan (5th M50-54 in 37:53); Peter Heimgartner (10th M45-49 in 38:07); Fiona (1st W40+ and 1st W45-49 in 38:18); Ellen (2nd W40+ and 2nd 245-49 in 38:52); Stephane Bois (8th M50-54 in 39:23); Paul Wong (9th M50-54 in 39:45); Cathrine (5th W45-49 in 41:23); Jennifer Harvey (6th W45-49 in 41:37); and Jennifer Amato (5th W40-44 in 42:42).

So it was game, set and match to UA. Ramin was a wee bit disappointed, running oustide 42 minutes. As we left the venue to retrace our steps back to Manhattan via the M60 SBS most Manhattan runners were seen ‘legging it’ for the 7 train to whisk them back to their island. I’m sure they’ll look more fondly out the car window when stuck in traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway on their next ride to JFK. That’s it for Manhattan bashing. For now.

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Ramin and me waiting for the M60 SBS back to Manhattan

Race Report: Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon, May 20, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

It’s been barely a month since I ran the Virgin London Marathon so I stood on the start line – after an Amazing Race style expedition to get there – somewhat wary of whether I’d fully recovered. Turns out I had not fully, but had nearly. So here’s how it all went, by popular demand in fewer words than my marathon post.

I last raced the Brooklyn Half in 2006. Back then Sham and I lived in Park Slope and the race ran in reverse to 2017, from the Coney Island Boardwalk to the transverse in Prospect Park, and as such was a local race. Fast forward to 2017 and for those of us living in Northern Westchester, this was more like an overseas race. Sham and I drove to Marcus Garvey Park at 4:30am, parked, jogged to the nearby Harlem 125th St. 2/3 Station to board the 5:45am 3 train and got out at Nevins Street at 6:25am to jog the 15 minutes to the start area. The final hurdle was entering the start area. It was fortified.

Fortified start area

Back in 2006 this race was one of NYRR’s niche out of Manhattan races. Those living in Manhattan rarely ventured out of their borough except to get to an airport. And today many of them are still think that heading to another borough is like a foreign vacation. Being niche meant small and less competitive. I came 2nd in 1:10:43, the exact same position and time as in 2005 (fancy that). This race is now one of NYRR’s signature races. A monster race of 27,000 in two waves that has cult cache, a hashtag and Manhattan prices to match. It was nice to be back in my old neighborhood but I’d happily pass on the 3:45am wake-up and car loan scale entry fee.

Since London I’d kinda gotten back into the swing of things. After a few ‘recovery’ weeks I’d stepped back up to around 60 miles per week – with some easy tempos but no workouts or long runs – to ensure I could run something close to 1:13, enough to help pace, and if possible, beat, team mate Javier Rodriguez. For two of these weeks I’d been on vacation with Sham’s family in Singapore (with a side trip to Manila thrown in).

So having got through the security in the start area, here I was on the start line with UA team mates. The plan was to run together as far as possible at 5:30 pace. It was only after finishing that I realized that translated to 1:12 pace: my maths (math!) are not good during a race. I imagined us running like Eliud Kipchoge’s pacers only with no lead car, no rotation, no sponsors and no media. Let’s call it the sub 72 minute project.

And we were off. In the early stages team mates Harriott Kelly and Sebastien Baret were ahead. Barely 800 meters in I ran past and saluted M50 rival Brad Kelley. Brad almost jumped onto the sidewalk when he realized it was me. I was running in lockstep with team mates Javier, Carlo Agostinetto and Jamie Brisbois with Javi whispering team orders. Suddenly it was overcast as I fell under John Henwood’s 6′ 5″ shadow. Jason Lakritz was also up ahead but he, lucky for him, would not be able to hear Javi’s dictats.

UA’s Jamie, Javier, Paul, Carlo, Justin and Sebastien with Memo and John

The Brooklyn Half course ricochets and takes in some gentle inclines for the opening few miles before entering Prospect Park. It then takes in an anti-clockwise (counter!) loop of the road in the park. Contrary to course whisperer Javi, we were running faster than 5:30 miles until we entered the park. My Garmin had me doing 5:34, 5:25, 5:14 and 5:26 for a 4 mile split of 21:39. I shared some of the work at the front – met by “easy” whispers from Javi – but had that feeling it was going to be a hard day at the office. I was proved right.

Would the Men in Black be overshadowed by John (an All Black)?

In the park Jamie dropped away but Javi, Carlo and I, resplendent in new club colors of black and gold with dark shades to match (and superfluous given the overcast conditions and John’s shadow), had several uninvited interlopers for company – John, M40 runner Guillermo Pineda Morales (‘Memo’), a North Brooklyn Runner, and two runners each from Central Park Track Club and Dashing Whippets.

In the park I felt like I was back home. I used to train here 3-4 times a week while living on Park Slope. I’d also run 15:25 in a 5K race, a full circuit, back in 2006. So at 4 miles I knew there was a long steady drag looming that would slow us down. And it did. I clocked 5:39 for the fifth mile, passing 5 miles just shy of the crest of the hill in 27:18. At the ‘summit’ I lost contact with the group. The hard day had started. Early.

Temporarily losing contact with the group as we crest the climb in Prospect Park

The sixth mile along the top end of the park gently undulates. I reined the group back in and took to the front in my customary do or die style. Today it would be more do and die. The sixth mile was a pacey 5:17, assisted by a long steady descent, and we exited the park at mile 7 in 38:08, 22 seconds ahead of Javi’s goal.

Paul making his attempt to get to the front of the group

The next 5 miles along Ocean Parkway is perhaps the most boring section of any race anywhere. The roadway is huge: a central bidirectional avenue of seven lanes (the middle lane is for left turns or a painted median), two small parallel side streets, and two medians with trees, benches, and pedestrian paths. And it’s as straight as a die except for one kink.

For the first few miles the roadway was like the Monza race track. Newly paved it was pristine. But then it reverted to the usual shoddy New York City standard. The group held together except for losing the North Brooklyn and one Dashing Whippets runner. I had a brief moment in front. A final hurrah before the legs and lungs decided I was pretty much done. We clocked 5:27 for the 8th and 9th miles. As we passed the 15K banner in 51:00 I impressed Javi that he’d just logged a new PR: for me it was just 15 seconds shy of my last attempt at that distance, Gate River in 2016.

Soon after 15K, Memo, sporting his country colors of Mexico, jumped to the front and started ramping up the pace. Suddenly the group was strung out in a long thin line with me at the back and thinnest part of that line. The next few miles I was an increasingly distant spectator of the group duking it out. I covered the 10th mile in 5:26 and 11th in 5:27. John was about 20 meters ahead of me but the rest of the group edged further away. Javi pulled alongside Memo. And finally Carlo turned out the afterburners and opened a group winning gap.

As the end of the parkway came into view at around mile 12 I started to slow. I covered the 12th mile in 5:31. I had that feeling, the one I often get at around 23 miles of the marathon, that the wheels were starting to fall off and I have to switch from competing to surviving mode. The only consolation was that I had a little over a mile to run. And I was closing on John who was slowing more than me. As the course turned right off the parkway and with 800 meters left I caught and passed John. And he returned the honor in the last 200 meters down the boardwalk. The 13th mile was my slowest: 5:35.

The official timing had John on 1:11:58 (3rd M40-44) to my 1:12:01 (31st overall, 4th masters and 1st M50-54), though that 3 seconds flattered his narrow advantage. My age grade was 91.26%. Carlo, one week ahead of a big national ultra trail race in his native Italy, had blown the group away and recorded 1:11:22 (26th and 1st M35-39). Javi did enough to take 1st masters and 1st M40-44, his 1:11:34 a second ahead of Memo. His time was a massive PR, clipping 2:21 from his PR from the same race in 2016. So unlike Nike, UA achieved its goal – #wedidit.

In the final reckoning Urban Athletics had a great day with team placings of Open Men 5th, Open Women 7th, Masters Men 1st, Masters Women 1st and M50+ 1st. Top placers were Jason Lakritz (22nd in 1:10:35) and Harriott Kelly (6th and 3rd W25-29 in 1:17:31). Other top UA placings included Sebastien (3rd M35-39 in 1:13: 24), Matt Chaston (1st M45-49 in 1:16:06), Aaron Mendelsohn (10th M40-44 in 1:19:28); Fiona Bayly (1st masters women and 1st W45-49 in 1:22:06), Jonathan Schindel (7th M50-55 in 1:23:25), Adam Kuklinski (8th M50-55 in 1: 23:40), Ellen Basile (2nd masters women and 2nd W45-49 in 1:26:05, a 3 minute PR), and Jennifer Harvey (5th W45-49 in 1:32:16). The official NYRR story of the AirbnbBKHalf is here and my official pictures (bib #5434) here.

Harriet looking strong from the start


Jason in one of the lead groups

Post race many UA headed home to see to family duties. And many landed in the Coney Island Brewery. Some might still be there.The beer was great but like NYRR it came at Manhattan prices (fellow Brits still just off the shores of Europe, that’s $7 for a small pint, about 5 quid,plus the almost obligatory $1 tip for the ten seconds to pour it and hand it to you). My hamstring tendinitis, which Russell Stram treated on the Thursday before the race, held out but is sore as I write. It’s now time to plan my attempt to add the title of European Champ by winning the EMACS Half Marathon in Aarhus, Denmark in August, to go with the World gold I got last year in Perth. For now the time puts me top of the UK M50-54 half-marathon rankings for 2017.

Now about this promise to keep my blog posts shorter. Ah well, next time.