Race Report: 2016 New Balance Bronx 10 Mile, New York, September 25, 2016

by Paul Thompson (and pictures by Shamala Thompson) 

The Bronx 10 provided the pick up I badly needed. Most of 2015 I’ve been running with recurring IT band issues which, aside from some early season races the Greater Manchester Marathon included, has crimped my ability to fire on all cylinders. I’ve been racing but feeling I’ve not been able to dig as deep as I like and can. And yet this is the year I had pinned high hopes on – as a ‘new kid’ in the M50 age group, I’ve had designs on getting a medal for Team GB in the half marathon at the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMAC) (at the WMAC 2015 1:11:19 won the M50 half – see page 145 here).

But for me to stand any realistic chance of bringing home the bling I have to get close to my fitness of the fall of 2015. The Bronx 10 would be a perfect barometer. If I could get in the same ball park as the 2015 Bronx 10, when I clinched my highest ever age grade (AG) % running 53:36, then I was on track. Well I think my result confirmed I was. And for good measure I finished within sight of a world famous ball park – Yankee Stadium.

So as you can see much rested on this race. I risked ending the race with crumpled confidence or inflamed IT band or both. And that would have been even worse news for Sham, Urban Athletics team mates and fellow runners who’d have to put up with the long face and tales of woe. Coach Troopy, who I caught up with on a recent trip to Boulder CO., therefore suggested I treat it as a tempo. Sound advice but it would break the habit of a lifetime. I have always raced races.

Soon after the gun I got down to racing. In the first few miles, covered in 5:20 and 5:33, I was part of a big group full of familiar rivals including team mates Javier Rodriguez and Jason Lakritz. I sensed John Henwood was stalking us – his 6′ 5″ casts a shadow on par with the Empire State Building. And I was right.

img_9114

Opening stages surrounded by NYAC runners, UA team mates and Kim Conley.

We passed 3 miles in 16:25. A few of the faster members of the group, Jason included, edged away and I found myself at the fore of what was left of the group. We then turned left off the Grand Concourse. It was off the Grand Concourse that the course differed from 2015. A small section was removed and the distance added to the end so we could finish at Yankee Stadium (rather than adjacent to where we’d started as in ’15) on 161st Street. The net effect was a long gentle climb around half way and a steep descent to the finish.

img_9125

Steep descent to the finish line on 161st Street.

As in the ’15 race it was off the Grand Concourse that I started to test my fellow runners. I was forcing the pace, and enjoying it, and whittling down the group. At shorter distances I usually find myself the punching bag, hanging on as others do the punching. Today I was doing the punching and taking the gloves off. I passed half way, according to the NYRR results, in 27:27 (though my Garmin shows 27:07).

We were soon back on the Grand Concourse (which incidentally is perhaps the widest boulevard in New York). As we passed the six mile mark Javier pulled alongside and uttered something like “we’re getting away from him (John)”. Almost on cue I felt myself pass under a long shadow. John had regained contact. Like in 2015 I started to get in the groove along the Grand Concourse. I was fired up and feeling strong. It was time to rock. The masters title was up for grabs. I started to turn the screw and the mile splits started to fall. I was running alone by mile 7 and running close to 5:20 pace.

javijohnbronx10

Javi and John duking it out.

I kept hammering away and counting down the blocks. From mile 8 at the Cross Bronx Expressway it’s pretty much all down hill to the finish, gently at first but then a steep drop within sight of the tape. I crossed the line in 54:16, good for 15th place, first masters and top men’s age grade (AG) with 90.75%. Here’s my Garmin stats. Above all it was barely 40 seconds slower than my 2015 time and a second faster than my third place in 2012.

img_9149

Almost there.

The Urban Athletics open men’s team came a solid 4th while the masters men’s team (Javi, Aaron Mendelsohn and I) convincingly won, strengthening our position at the head of the 2016 standings with just three races left. Jason, Javi and Alex Lorton, final man for the five man team, got PRs though it did help that it was Jason and Javi’s first ten miler. Fiona Bayly was first UA woman in 61:40, good for 17th, first masters and AG of 89.96%.

img_9151

Javier is 3rd UA runner and 3rd masters.

img_9144

Jason is first UA runner in 53:26.

At the sharp end Tekeste Nekatibeb of the West Side Runners led the men’s field in 49:05 while two-time U.S. Olympian and New Balance athlete Kim Conley won the women’s race in 55:37. Almost 12,000 finished. Conditions were perfect – cool, still and sunny on a gently rolling course. For the UK I now sit at the top of the M50 rankings for 10 miles as well as the marathon. I now feel ready to race in a land Down Under.

img_9136

First man home.

img_9155

First woman home.

Race Report: 2016 Percy Sutton Harlem 5K Run, Harlem, New York, August 27, 2016

by Paul Thompson (and pictures by Shamala Thompson) 

Australians, coach Lee Troop (‘Troopy’) included, will tell you that us Poms are a whinging lot. On the post race warm-down some poor unsuspecting runners from Brooklyn Road Runners who chose to run with me got this whinging in spades. With a face as long as next week I waxed lyrical about how I was struggling to shrug off the effects of age and injury.

Going into this race coach Troopy had me tapering with reduced miles and easier workouts. We hoped this would allow my long standing IT band issue to gain some reprieve from 70 mile weeks packed with hard workouts. But as I warmed up – jogging from Marcus Garvey Park where Sham and I had parked the car to the start area near St. Nicholas Park – I could feel the now familiar nagging pain down my right thigh.

Barely half a mile into the race the course hits a steep ramp while turning sharp left then right in quick succession. At that point I found the power on my right side wanting. As I favored the left side I started to tire quickly and saw team mate Carlo Agostinetto and masters rival John Henwood slide past and quickly open up a gap. The gap kept growing as we made our way up a long steady incline.

IMG_8837

Carlo battling it out with Henwood (A3405)

 

By the right turn at the mile mark, reached in 5:15, I felt like my race – what I had to give – – was exhausted. I felt defeated, in sharp contrast to my last outings in Harlem in 2014 and 2015 when the mile was the point where I started racing in earnest. My target of 16 flat was already slipping away from me.

As the course gently rolled south towards City College – which incidentally is a particularly nice part of the course as you run along a shaded tree lined avenue lined with proud town homes – I was in damage limitation mode, working at minimizing the deficit to runners up ahead whom I usually beat or battle it out in the finishing straight.

IMG_8839

Just after the two mile mark

 

Soon after 2 miles, reached in 10:35 following a 5:20 mile, the course takes a nose dive, descending steeply and taking in a ninety degree left turn. The sharp descent proved particularly uncomfortable for my IT band. It was clearly unhappy at running fast downhill. Fortunately the descent is as short as it is steep and I was soon on St. Nicholas Avenue running north, hammering the half mile straight into the finish.

The finishing straight is for me the least enjoyable part of this race. Until at least I’m at the finish. It’s long, flat and for the most part straight as a die. I count down the streets – from 127th to 138th St.- and eventually, after what seems like a whole morning, I’m over the line.

IMG_8861

Suffering the long finishing straight

 

I rallied a little in the closing stages, clocking 5:12 for mile three and overtaking at least one runner. I ran 16:31, good for 32nd overall. John Henwood pushed me into 2nd masters but I was 1st M50-54 and top AG with 89.4%. It was a long way shy of my 16:17 at the 5K point at Gate River 15K earlier this year. NYRR’s video captures the race highlights.

A small contingent of Urban Athletics runners excelled. We managed to kill the men’s masters competition while Stefano Piana-Agostinetti, 1st M45-49 in 16:42, and Carlo Agostinetto, 3rd M35-39 in 16:01, ran PRs. Meanwhile on the UA women’s side Fiona Bayly ran 18:05, topping masters and getting a 90% AG, while Maggie Mircovich ran her debut for UA in 21:52 coming 2nd in W1-14.

IMG_8846

Jim Saint-Amour, anchor man for UA’s masters team running 17:22

So now you see why I’m whinging. As I warmed down I my IT band was sore and I started to wonder whether I’d run the World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth, Australia in 8 weeks time. If, however, I can quickly park this problem and rediscover the form I showed last fall when I ran 1:11 then a medal in the half marathon is on the cards. That’s a big if from where I’m (painfully) sitting.

Race Report: 2016 NYRR Team Championships 5 Mile, Central Park, New York, July 30, 2016

by Paul Thompson (and pictures by Shamala Thompson) 

This was my first team championship race in new team colors – Urban Athletics (UA). Unfortunately the extreme humid conditions, together with a recent heavy travel schedule and IT band issues that had trimmed both fitness and confidence, made this a race to forget. The one consolation is that many others had the same experience and as they say a problem shared is a problem halved. Interestingly the NYRR race report thought the conditions were OK: clearly their author did not run the race!

The past few weeks have proven one of the more challenging as far as running was concerned. I notched up over 50 hours of flying – to Kuala Lumpur and Nairobi – and this took its toll on my running routine. I’m no fan of treadmills in hotels, preferring instead to venture out onto unfamiliar roads and, hopefully, parks and trails. Kuala Lumpur (see here) and Nairobi (see here) were far from obliging.

Both cities are pedestrian unfriendly – a combination of heavy traffic, poor or non existent pavements, crowded postage stamp size city parks. I used to live in KL and in this blog post rated it on par with Singapore a few years ago but a recent spate of unchecked development has left it a permanent building site. As for Nairobi the best bet if you have time, which I didn’t, is to get a taxi to Karura Forest. Nevertheless I got in around 60 miles per week.

Right less of the whinging pom and back to the race. Sham drove us into the city and we parked up in south Harlem just above Central Park at W 111th St. and 7th Avenue. Parking, as always, proved hard to find and we ended up in a spot that was slightly sunken and had captured as almost much water as Harlem Meer. It looked a candidate for a sink hole.

I jogged to the start area where I saw team mates gathering. They were discussing ways of coping with the humidity and had just come to a consensus that going topless for the warm up might make a difference. After jogging around for a while and watching the elite women come in, including Harriott Kelly UA’s highest placed man or woman in 6th overall in 28:52.

IMG_8596

Stripping down for the warm up

Jonathan Kline had the honor, and did us the running community the honor, of singing the national anthem, just prior to the start. He then jumped in and ran it like the rest of us. I guess it was a different kind of warm up, stretching the vocal cords rather than the hamstrings.

I formed part of a phalanx of UA runners that ran the first mile of more together. For a while we felt like Team Sky in the Tour de France. For a while did not last as long as we’d have liked and I was no Chris Froome. Passing the first mile near the Great Hill in 5:13 I felt quite strong but the signs of slowing were ominous. The Great Hill counter clockwise is the toughest climb in the park and I was far from relaxed as we crested it.

IMG_8617

From left to right Shea, me, Jimmy (Javier behind), Greg Cass (CPTC) and Jason

In the second mile I found myself in a pack with old friend and foe and fellow M50 Jimmy Lynch as well as team mates Carlo Agostinetto, Jason Lakritz, Javier Rodriguez and newbie Shea Coltrain. The undulating second mile slowed me to a 5:29 mile, putting me outside of goal pace for a 26:30 finishing time. Around the two mile mark I started to come off the back of the group with Carlo leading the charge. The group now included fellow masters John Henwood and Peter Brady, both whom I’d beaten in the Retro 4 Miler.

The third mile offered some respite as it’s largely descending. I passed the third mile mark, just before the sharp left hander onto the 72nd St. Transverse in 15:57, making a 5:20 third mile. At this point Peter, fresh from 1st place 800m in 2:00 for M40-44 at the USATF national outdoors, stepped off the course apparently injured.

If the third mile was a respite, the fourth was a reckoning. I clawed my way up Cat Hill and by now my team mates, bar Shea, were way ahead. The fourth mile took 5:47, about the same as my average pace for the marathon back in April.

In the final mile, with all the hills behind me, I was able to lift the pace slightly. I edged away from Jimmy and started closing on a rapidly slowing Javier. With 800m left I was with Javier and had hoped to pull him into the finish. But then two guys, one a masters runner Guillermo Pineda Morales, jumped us and I had to slam on the accelerator to try and fend them off – which Sham’s photographic evidence below proves I failed to do, committing the cardinal sin of being overtaken on the finish line.

I crossed the finish line in 27:18 for 42nd place, first M50, third M40 behind John Henwood and Guillermo (though official results show me in front of him),  and first age grade with 88.16%. But it was the first time I ran outside 27 minutes for a 5 miler in the park. 27 minutes is the new 26 minutes.

The most enduring, and perhaps only, positive memory about the whole race experience was the incredible support from the female spectators, most of whom had raced before us. It was the first time I can remember, and I’ve been doing them since 2005, that the women raced first. So at the start, at the west end of the 102nd Transverse, and the finish – we were greeted (!) by a crowd of screaming women who, despite being exhausted from their own race, come out to cheer at full throttle. Indeed it was reminiscent of passing Wellesley College in the Boston Marathon only three times and with a cheering squad with much bigger lungs.

IMG_8657

Getting overtaken on the finishing line

I was fourth scorer for UA which bagged fourth place (the women 5th). Ahead of me were James Brisbois (26:43), Jason Lakritz (26:53) and Carlo Agostinetto (27:01) while behind me Javier Rodriguez (27:24), Shea Coltrain (27:39), Stefano Piana-Agostinetti (28:54), Jim Saint-Amour 29:00, Alex Lorton (29:13) and Fabio Casadio (29:26) rounding out the ten man scoring team. The masters team finished 1st, just like the women (led home by Fiona Bayly who at age 49 was first masters and first AG), comprising me, Javier, Stefano, Jim and Matt Chaston (29:44). The M50 team of Adam Kuklinski (31:25), Paul Wong (33:41) and I was second.

So all round a good day for the team despite many disappointed with their own results. Post race we retreated to the UA store for beer and bagels and any disappointment was quickly forgotten. The next day I got out and felt great, running a solid 12 miles. I spent most of the run thinking through how I can run at a faster pace than the day before for a half marathon in order to stand a chance of a medal at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth in late October / early November (I’m also entered for the 8K XC and 5000m). Hopefully by then my ears will have stopped ringing.

IMG_8639

Jamie Brisbois approaching the finish

IMG_8644

Jason Lakritz 2nd for UA

IMG_8649

Carlo Agostinetto 3rd for UA

IMG_8661

Javier Rodriguez 5th for UA

IMG_8663

Shea Coltrain 6th for UA

IMG_8673

Jim Saint-Amour and Stefano Piana-Agostinetto, 7th & 8th for UA

IMG_8676

Alex Lorton 9th for UA

IMG_8679

Fabio Casadio, 10th and final scorer for UA

IMG_8685

UA post race team photo

Race Report: NYRR Retro 4-Miler, Central Park, New York, June 5, 2016

by Paul Thompson

It dawned on me today, as I lined up and observed the retro paraphernalia – the sweat bands, psychedelic colors, the mini shorts etc. – that I actually experienced much of the retro era. For many it was something they’d read about like  a history lesson. For me, and other masters runners, it was something we’d lived through. And for a moment it made me feel sentimental and old!

IMG_7395

This race fell on Sham and my anniversary. At 6 am, in pouring rain, she was driving us (or was it me?) to New York. It’s amazing sometimes what our partners, consciously, do for us.

After Sham had set me down at Marcus Garvey Park I ran the 3 miles or so south down to the start on the East Drive at 68th Street. As I reached the Boathouse I saw Urban Athletics team mates headed north for a warm-up. I was already warmed up – the  weather was as humid as a sauna though not so hot – but jumped in. This would be my first time running for Urban Athletics (UA) – in the US at least as I’d premiered in the Greater Manchester Marathon. This was also my first race since Manchester in early April. I’d finished that marathon with a chronic calf strain: question was would it re-emerge?

On the start line I was some way back from my usual position near the front. As

IMG_7400

Retro lead car at the start line

well as hearing a rendition of the National Anthem we also heard a tribute to The Greatest. Muhammad Ali passed away yesterday. As I get older I’m finding that not only have I lived through eras like retro, I’ve also lived during the lifetimes of iconic figures who have had a profound positive impact on our lives. Bowie now Ali.They show us what’s possible.

Right back to the race. Within seconds of the starting gun I found myself passing the Boathouse dodging traffic thanks to starting deep in the A corral. Club mate Javier Rodriguez ‘s rationale for starting deep was that it would moderate the early pace and help ensure we run 5:15 miles and finish  in 21:00. But I found myself panicked into trying to make up for lost time and get into my finishing position! The net result was a 5:07 opening mile, a mile that takes in Cat Hill. Too fast. I’d pay for that later.

IMG_7417

Heading up Cat Hill

In the second mile fellow masters runners Javier, who had never beaten me at distances over  a mile, and John Henwood, who  I don’t recall  I’d  ever beat, joined me. We’d end  up duking it out for the rest of the race: another masters runner, Peter Brady, was also in hot pursuit. We traded strides, sparring running style. We passed the two mile mark in 10:19 making it a 5:12 second mile.

Bobby Asher, who looked like Freddie Mercury but was  hoping for Mark Spitz, breezed passed us during the third mile as we navigated the hills on the West Drive heading south. Fellow UA club mate Jason Lakritz, nursing an injury, caught us. Approaching mile 3 we had Greg Cass in our sights and he’d stay there. During the third mile I found myself starting to pay for the fast opening. We passed mile 3 in 15:47: the 3rd mile had taken 5:28, the slowest of the race due in large part to the hills and fast opening.

The final mile drops down to the 72nd Street Transverse. Javier started to open it up and stole a small gap on me. John had dropped off. As we took the sharp left hand turn into the finishing straight I was 5 meters shy of Javier but I appeared to be catching him. I didn’t despite a 5:14 final mile. Bobby, Javier, myself and Jason finished in that order, and with daylight between us, but shared the same time of 21:01 in the official results.

IMG_7464

Jason, Javier and Paul heading to the finish line

I  had hoped to get under 21:00 not least since I’d tapered and had been doing some faster workouts with UA. But hey I can’t, or shouldn’t, complain. I got 31st overall (though I  was 30th over the line but that’s chip to chip timing for you), second masters, first M50 and best age grade with 91.08%. This suggested I had recovered from my spring marathon ordeal though my AG scores indicated I was better at longer races. UA got 4th in men’s open: The NYRR race report reveals WSX winning with its 5th scorer running 19 flat. With Aaron Mendelsohn closing in 21:24, and like Javier getting a PR, we comfortably won the men’s masters.  My Garmin race stats are here.

After driving home and getting a quick shower, Sham and I  were holed up at the Taco Dive Bar having a celebratory brunch. Sham had a potent cocktail with her breakfast burrito while I had water paired with a stack of pancakes inches deep. A few hours later I was at JFK. There I had a  frustrating 4 hour wait on the runway waiting for my plane to Las Vegas to depart due to foul weather. I’m now getting accustomed to a few days in 110F.  This morning I got out at 6 to beat the heat. I ran an easy 6. It was 85F.

Race Report: Greater Manchester Marathon, UK, April 10, 2016

by Paul Thompson

Reason for Running

Eight years ago I ran the Boston Marathon in 2:38:52. The wheels came off soon after getting over the ‘summit’ of Heart Break Hill, just as they had at 22 miles in my two other marathons, London 2006 and London 2007. At the end I made one of those running vows – this was my last marathon. And like all running vows this was destined for the breakers yard. All it needed for it to give was self-discipline to slip, memory to wane, or curiosity to return. And so here I was standing on the start line of the Greater Manchester Marathon.

Having recently turned 50 I made another vow that trumped (that word’s on my mind a lot lately, hopefully not after November) the one I made eight years ago. To try and get a PR at the distance as an M50 (sorry British readers but masters has a far better ring to it than ‘veteran’, a term that conjures up images of those wounded in war rather than those that have mastered something). My PR, from Flora London Marathon 2006, was 2:29:56.

There was more to it than that. This was a distance I’d yet to conquer. My three previous attempts were poorly executed, a combination of irrational exuberance in the early miles and inadequate fueling. On all three occasions my race was ran, lost, at 22. I’d been defeated long before the finish line, the last 4 miles typically being a funereal march to just get to the end. I’d stopped competing with myself, with others, with anyone. Many of us have been there. Deep down I had to put that to rights. Or at least collapse trying.

Race Preparations

This time I had taken a few crucial extra steps (!) to maximize the chance of success. The main one being getting myself a coach who has a word class pedigree at marathon running and a philosophy that sits well with mine. Lee Troop. And to top things off, on the eve of the race, Lee revealed he’d finished 7th in the Commonwealth Games marathon held in Manchester in 2002.

This time round I was stronger, smarter, and better prepared than before. As well as Lee’s expert guidance since 2011 I’d been running long easy distance of 18-21 almost every weekend. This started more by accident than design, dictated by a Metro North train schedule for Peekskill to New York that left me with 2:30 to get a run done (with trains every hour of course I could have opted for 1:30 but then I needed to justify the 50 minute ride each way with at least as long a time running!). 26.2 was no longer intimidating. I’d also made regular visits to DrStu to keep me in running order and was popping some pills.

Heading into the race I made no secret I was doing it. And the words of encouragement – text, email, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Strava, even face to face – boosted  motivation, pressure (living up to their lofty expectations) and accountability (explaining to them should I fail to meet those expectations). Thanks to all of you that sent me words of encouragement and / or congratulation.

I had three targets – an “ultimate” one of under 2:29:56, an “I’ll take that” one of under 2:33, and an “I’ll live with that” one of under 2:36. Why more than one? Well we need a goal to stretch us. But then if mid-race we find it beyond our reach we need an anchor to help us get safely ashore. And if that goal is beyond us we need something else that will keep us motivated to finish rather than throw in the towel – in this case catch the Manchester Metrolink to the finish!

The final count-down to race day had gone to plan. Sham and I were in Paris the previous weekend so I spent a few days running there with my final longish run on Sunday on the trails of the Bois de Boulogne, catching some of the Paris Marathon. In the final week I clocked 56 miles and as I tapered, simultaneously reducing the load and intensity, my legs started to feel fresher and the IT band steadily improved. Sham made sure I also stuck to Lee’s fuel plan, gradually moving to a largely carbohydrate diet in the final days.

On the Saturday, the Thompson Clan – my brother Stephen, hoping to run 7 minute miles and smash his PR, his wife, Lynn, and two boys, our parents, and Sham – drove to the Didsbury Travelodge located in a Manchester suburb conveniently located at the end of a Metrolink tram line. That afternoon we did a recce trip in to see the start and finish area, half a mile from a Metrolink station and collect my race number.

Red rose, Lancashire's symbol from the War of Roses, on gate to Emirates Old Trafford, Lancashire County Cricket Club's stadium

Red rose, Lancashire’s symbol from the War of Roses, on gate to Emirates Old Trafford, Lancashire County Cricket Club’s stadium

Race Day

On Saturday morning, after an early breakfast of oatmeal and banana, Steve, Lynn, Sham and I rode the tram in and made our way to the start. I took a GU caffeine gel 30 minutes before the start. While thousands suddenly started descending on the start area it felt decidedly low key: no fencing in the runners and jostling for a good starting position. Athletes were casual and courteous. Altogether much less stressful than the Marathon Majors. The downside was that it did not have that big race feel. I was proved wrong.

IMG_7187.JPG

Runners arriving early at start area

This was my first race in new club colors. I’d entered using my UK registered club of Kettering Town Harriers but was wearing my new Urban Athletics vest. Ever since settling in the New World in October 2004 I’ve run, through mainly thick and some thin, for Warren Street but it was time for a new chapter in my running. A new club, a stronger vibe, greater ambition, and more resources in form of store base and potential sponsorship. As well as being one of the best teams in the New York area for men and women the UA masters men and women can be the best in the US. But the main thing was that many of my old Warren Street buddies joined me at UA.

In the closing minutes Sham called me over to get a picture with Ron Hill. An athletic icon, famous for breaking all sorts of records, who at 77 is still looking incredibly fit. There’s a campaign to get him a knighthood. No one deserves the accolade more given his accomplishments and what he’s put into the sport.

IMG_7203.JPG

Talking to Ron Hill just before the start

Race Start

Ron saw us off. The first few miles were out and back down a highway. By the second mile I was running with Michael Hargreaves of East Hull Harriers who was hoping to dip under 2:30. We passed the first mile in 5:28 and second in 5:29. As Salford Harrier Josh Tighe joined us I gently applied the brakes. But by 5 miles it was clear I was comfortably running 5:35-40 miles – ahead of my ultimate schedule but perhaps too fast for me to sustain.By this point I’d also come to understand what Lee meant by “Manchester’s roads are hard”. The stones laid down onto the tar are harder than the slick tar roads of the US.

IMG_7230.JPG

Trading strides with Michael Hargreaves of East Hull Harriers

From miles 5-10, through the suburbs of Stretford and Sale, I was isolated but running strong in the 5:40 range. Soon after mile 9, a heavily spectated section,  I took my first GU gel. Suddenly slowed by a sharp deep pain in my left calf, similar to a pain I’d experienced a month earlier in training in new training shoes. Within a few hundred meters I’d gone from running at 2:28-29 pace to facing the prospect of an early retirement. My sudden slowing to around 6:00 pace helped a chasing group of four, led by Phill Taylor, catch me.

IMG_7256.jpg

Mile 9 with chasing pack of four closing in

Half Way

I figured if I tough it out the pain might ease. And so it did, soon after settling into the pack of four who had joined me.We worked well as a group running at around 5:40 pace and taking turns leading. But at the half way point in Altrincham – the highest point of the course which the website boasts as one of the fastest in the world, faster even than Berlin and Chicago – passed in 1:13:34, Phill Taylor and James Turner broke away. I let them go as I was concerned I’d ran the first half 2 minutes faster than I should have.

By mile 14 I found myself once again running solo. I slowed slightly and downed my second gel. I was now running 5:50 miles. Pacing was starting to prove difficult: tiredness makes basic maths a challenge and I’d also inadvertently stopped the Garmin for a few minutes. At around mile 18 I found myself gently accelerating and through 21 maintained 5:40-45 miles. I overtook Phil Taylor who had got away from me exiting Altrincham. And a lady on the roadside shouted “Good run young man”. The best cheer of the race even if inaccurate.

Closing Stages

For the first time in my marathon running career I found myself enjoying it and confident of a strong finish.It did not last. At 21 I was again struck by sharp pain in my calf, only this time the left one. This forced a slowing in my pace as I again focused on running through it. I did  only this time there was no increase in pace. Deep fatigue was setting in and it was now a case of hanging on. The final few miles felt like hard labor. There was a head wind. My pace gradually slowed to 6:00 then 6:10 then 6:20. I was back in that zone – surviving as opposed to competing. I guessed I was on track for 2:33-35 but was almost past caring.

With less than a mile to go I got overtaken by a fast finishing Joel Jameson, a triathlete debuting at the marathon, but caught Michael Hargreaves (who would clock a PR but was clearly paying for a 1:12:30 first half). A spectator called out “you still have good form” which roughly translates to “you’re slowing but at least still looking good.”And then Old Trafford football stadium,  home of Manchester United, and Emirates Old Trafford, home of the Lancashire County Cricket Club (LCCC), came into view.

That final mile, a long straight ending right outside the LCCC, seemed to take a little longer, actually a lot longer, than forever. Eventually I passed under the finishing gantry with the clock reading 2:32:02. I was very happy, at least as happy as you can be after a marathon which leaves you so completely exhausted that there’s little if any energy left to celebrate with. Steve, pictured gallery here, went even better clocking 3:11:56, several minutes inside his previous best.

IMG_7308.JPG

The end is nigh

IMG_7324

Steve approaching the finish line

Race Analysis

I finished 14th of the 9,500 starters, the fastest M35 upwards. My time placed me top of the UK 2016 M50 marathon rankings, just seconds shy of the leading time from 2015 of 2:31:56. Manchester put on a great show – super fast course, enthusiastic spectators, relaxed atmosphere and even dry weather. Unfortunately there were baggage issues leaving some disgruntled.

Here’s the official review, race video, my official race picturesmy official results, the Garmin data (missing segment near mile 16 of 0.2-3 miles and forgot to stop the watch at the finish line), and Strava data (again missing segment but edited out the failure to stop the watch). My heart was unusually high in the first 10 miles but then moderated.

This is my last marathon. At least it might be. Somehow I need to trump Manchester. But maybe I’ll wait until Donald is behind us all. Either way I’ve ticked off one of my 2016 goals. Steve (pictures here) meanwhile said “there’s unfinished business”: he’ll likely aim to go sub-3 hours in 2017.

IMG_7336.jpg

Replacing calories and discussing with brother Steve what went right and wrong

Race Report: Gate River 15K, Jacksonville FL., March 12, 2016

by Paul Thompson

Like my last trip to Florida I was there to race. And like my last trip, for the Melbourne Half Marathon in February 2010 in which I finished 4th masters in 70:25 as part of the USATF Masters championships, the course and conditions proved more challenging than expected. In Melbourne high winds and high bridges slowed me down. Meanwhile in Jacksonville, host city to the Gate River 15K, hot and humid weather and a similarly high bridge, topped with ‘irrational exuberance’ in the first mile, undid my plan to eclipse the 50:07 M50 record set by Bill Rodgers in 1999.

Until coach Lee Troop suggested I run Jacksonville, Florida,  I’d never heard of the place. Google revealed it to be the largest city in the US by land area and home to some 850,000.

The race was the USATF 15K Championships for open men and women (but sadly not masters) so offered depth at the front end. The distance and timing, four weeks out from my Greater Manchester Marathon looked a good bet for a pulse check on how preparations were going.

But in the days leading up to the event things started to heat up. In New York temperatures edged up towards 70F. Not surprisingly in Jacksonville race day weather was predicted to be 80F and 90% humidity. The weather folk were, unfortunately, spot on.

Sham and I arrived at Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) on Thursday night. Thanks to Uber, for $19 we got a ride to our hotel located two miles from the start and finish area. The course actually went past our hotel at around two miles.If things weren’t looking good early on, a very tempting place to step off the course.

On Friday morning Sham and I ran around the vicinity of the hotel to take in views of the Hart Bridge. Conveniently located around mile eight of the 9.3 mile race the ‘Green Monster’ as locals call it offered a 20-30 feet climb according to the official route map. The route map, and my race profile per Garmin, were wrong about the elevation. The bridge’s elevation peaked at more like 150 feet. At mile 8 that would feel like 15,000 feet and be a heart breaker. After a few miles in the ‘hood we then ran  to the race Expo to get my number packet. Located at the Jacksonville Fairground the Expo was right next to the start and finish. It proved to be the end point for my day before run.

IMG_6740

The Fairground where the Expo and the post-run activities were held.

The elite race coordinator Richard Fannin had kindly given me a complimentary race entry. He was not at the Expo but rather at the Hyatt Regency hotel frequented by the elites. So after picking up what free stuff we could at the Expo, a rite of passage for us runners, and something I’m now well trained for, we walked to the hotel where there was a hospitality suite for the elite runners. Sham and I hung out there for a couple of hours, enjoying the snacks and drinks while contributing to and eavesdropping on running gossip with some of the organisers and elite runners. USATF TV were there doing  video interviews with the contenders. They overlooked me. Next time perhaps.

In the evening Sham and I had a pasta dinner, with salad and garlic bread washed down with a bottle of beer, for $17 excl. tips at a neighborhood family Italian restaurant. It was my kind of place – friendly service, and plenty to eat at a low price.Us runners are practical after all.

On race morning we slowly ran to the start area. Fog was lifting off the river revealing bright but unwelcome sunshine. I had tag number 58 personalized with ‘Paul’. I completed a few strides and felt sharp and rested after having tappered slightly. At 8:25am the elite women were off. At 8:30am we set off in hot pursuit. The elite field comprised some 30 younger athletes with 16,000 others in hot but ineffective pursuit. My plan was to run even 5:20 miles. With 20 second in ‘reserve’ for the bridge that would give me 50 flat.

IMG_6677

At the start with some of the young, elite runners.

This plan unraveled quickly, as quickly as I ran the first mile. The elites stole a lead almost immediately and I tried to settle into a small chasing group. Passing the first mile in 5:03 I realized I’d gone out too fast. I made adjustments as we crossed the relatively flat Main Street Bridge. I lost my group and passed two miles in 10:27 then sped up slightly and hit 3 miles in 15:44 and 5K in 16:30. My pace was erratic as I struggled to find my usual rhythm.

IMG_6686

Live telecast at the finish line of runners coming off the Main Street Bridge.

Mid race the course wound its way through an upscale residential district, many lawns adorned with Trump signs. Large canopy trees offered shade from the sun but not relief from rising temperatures. Locals came out in force to offer drink and encouragement. As I passed 10K in 33:34. I was starting to catch the slower elite women and wheel chair athletes. My Garmin was telling me I was running long (10-15 meters per kilometer) and my heart rate in the 185-195 range (it peaked at 197, higher than I imagined I could get it).

Then I was on the ramp of the Green Monster. There was no respite from the bright sun on the wide boulevard of off white concrete. The eighth mile was a steady grind to the mid point of the bridge. My pace slipped to almost 5:50: it felt like a crawl. The bridge had the worst kind of incline – long and an ever so slowly diminishing gradient to the crest – but then also the best kind of descent. I clocked 5:05 in the last mile, the men’s winner 4:07.The clock read 50:45 as I crossed the line. I was 34th overall and first masters. Analysis of the Garmin data proved I’d slipped off my 50:00 target in the second 5K, run in 17:04. By the time I reached the ramp onto the bridge I was already 30 seconds behind.

IMG_6724

Heading to the finish

After touring the fairground picking up free bites, beer (Miller Lite, not quite the craft ale after my Melbourne race) and other beverages we waited near the stage. We guessed I’d done enough to win the masters. While waiting for the awards ceremony I spoke with Alex Monroe one of Lee’s most talented younger runners. Alex was 7th, just 30 seconds shy of 3rd.

IMG_6732

Sham and I were on a tight schedule. Very tight. I was called onto stage as the MC announced “the winner in 50:45 in the masters age group from Peekskill, New York is Paul Thompson. I hope he does not mind me telling you that he’s 50!” We now had 45 minutes to jog the two miles back to the hotel (with booty of trophy, freebies and dhamaSPORT device handed to me by the CEO as I stepped off the stage), shower and pack before our Super Shuttle pick up. Barely an hour after I picked up my trophy we were at JAX. While I failed to break Bill’s M50 record the race confirmed my marathon preparations were going well. We also set a new PR for race venue to airport.

IMG_6773

 

Race Report: 2016 Gridiron 4M, New York, February 7, 2016

by Paul Thompson

Today was my first race as a M50. It was also the first time ever, or at least as far as I can remember, that I was on the start line having not adjusted my training in preparation for a race. Quite the reverse. I did a long easy, or as easy as I could make it, 18 miles the day before. And it was the first time I completed a race having wished New York Road Runners (NYRR) operated a double dipping awards program. I’ll come back to that later.

This race was not on my bucket list for 2016. The USATF Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon (the M50 title I coveted was won by Carl Combs) was but the logistics – 5 hour flight then 3 hour drive – together with flight and hotel costs ruled that out. So with Bend out of the reckoning I had no viable excuse when team mate Carlo Agostinetto started press ganging his Warren Street team mates into running this race in the hope of picking up some team prize money. His methods proved very effective. Pretty much the entire racing team towed the line having gone to great lengths, and no doubt great ‘cost’, to get ‘leave’ from partners.

I explained to coach Lee Troop that I’d like to do this one “for the team”. He said OK. But there was a catch. First he suggested I make it part of a long run but eventually he settled on my running at least 1:45 the day before. In the early miles I thought about not racing but imagined Carlo’s disappointment so I focused on putting as much easy into that long easy run as I could and worked on managing expectations. My slowest time for 4 miles in the part was 21:11 on a hot September’s day back in 2014. A personal worst was on the cards.

I rode the train in to Harlem 125th Street from Peekskill. My driver, manager, cheer leader, bag carrier and photographer (hence no pictures for this post except for MarathonFoto!) wife Sham was in Singapore with family seeing in the Lunar New Year following a work trip to Bangkok. I then ran over to the Upper West Side to drop my bag and collect team mate Aaron Mendelsohn. We ran to the start picking up team mates en route.

The weather was near perfect. Still, bright sunshine and a few degrees above freezing, quite unusual for early February in these parts. Standing waiting in the starting corral for the gun I tried to seek some place in the sun. I only had a vest, shorts and gloves. And then we were off.

My new Garmin got to tell the story and passed it onto Strava. Three runners stole a big lead within the first quarter of a mile. Meanwhile team mates Carlo and Sebastien Baret and I chased 4th and 5th placed Bobby Asher and Tesfaye Girma. We caught them during the undulating first mile heading south down the West Side Drive. I passed mile one with Carlo in 5:21. We traded places – we may be team mates but we typically compete hard against each other – in the gently descending second mile. We passed the second mile marker in 10:34.

As we crested the high point of the 72nd Street Transverse I opted for the Denver Broncos channel owing to my liking for Boulder (for those that did not run please see the NYRR race report for an explanation). As did Carlo. And as we ascended Cat Hill Carlo started to edge away. I was running strong but I had no gears or speed to respond with. I covered the third mile in 5:29 and Carlo stole 5 seconds. He went on to rob me of another 4 seconds by the finish line. He posted 21:15, close to a PR, while I breasted the tape in 21:24, a PW.

In the finishing channel Carlo and I waited for the team. They all followed in quick succession – Sebastien Baret (21:38), Fabio Casadio (22:20), Aaron Mendelsohn (22:23) and Alex Lorton (22:37). All six of us either won our age group or else were in the top 5. But more importantly we were top team and NYRR owed us $500.

Now back to the double dipping. Were NYRR to permit double dipping my net worth (can’t you tell I’m an accountant) would have increased $425 ($100 for 5th overall, $150 for 1st 40+, $75 for 1st M50 AG and $100 for my share of the $500 team prize) in 21 minutes. That’s a great hourly rate. Unfortunately NYRR applies the following rule: “Unless otherwise noted, runners with multiple eligibility will be awarded the highest prize money amount only.” So I’ll have to settle for $250 – or $150 as likely the whole team will get to blow the $500 on beer.

The big consolation of the day, after a warm down, was being treated to a slice of chocolate brioche by Aaron and his fiancee Aviva. We might spend our $500 on these.