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.
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.
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.
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.