Race Report: 2018 United Airlines New York City Half Marathon, March 18

On Sunday March 18 I had the privilege of guiding blind runner Jason Dunkerley in the 2018 United Airlines New York City Half Marathon. Jason has represented Canada at four Paralympic Games and won five medals. Read his race report here.

Credit-JohnLeTran

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Race Report: 2018 NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K, New York, March 4, 2018

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

The week leading into this race left me in a no man’s land of what to expect from this race, my traditional season opener. I’d run 16:35 in 2017 during my build-up for the London Marathon. What landed me in no man’s land was last weekend’s antics. It also  placed at risk my running with Jason Dunkerley at the upcoming New York City Half.

On Saturday evening I’d participated in my first indoor meet, at the Armory in the north west tip of Manhattan, in which I ran 5 x 200m as part of a 10 person 10K age-graded relay (I didn’t drop the baton as the results show). The following morning I ran 20 miles in the rain with team mate Flavio de Simone. Actually it was 19.83 thanks to Flavio working in metric and having us do 32K: I call this the “Italian Job”. On Monday, it left me with sore hamstrings that gradually recovered through the week. In most walks of life as we age we get wiser. This does not hold true with running.

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On the start line, after a 4 mile warm-up through Harlem from Marcus Garvey to the Armory, I was reasonably sure the hamstrings were set to race. Standing in the starting corral things took a turn for the worse. The elite runners bearing AA bib numbers were shepherded to the start line and told they would start ahead of the rest of us. The A runners , including my clubmates and I, started to roar in disapproval and a popular mass protest was on the cards. The AA runners took off and 40 or so seconds later, a random gap, we were off in hot pursuit.

The “AA” runners storming ahead: Brendan Martin leading

The opening half mile or so steadily climbs. I was fired up and was near the front of the pack. But as the crest of the first hill (see course map) approached I started to rapidly tire. To make matters worse the cold wind, not as bitter as in 2017 when wind chill was -15C but stronger and a headwind on the outward journey of this out and back course.

Over the next half mile or so, passing the mile mark at the summit of the course (in around 5:35 according to my Garmin: I ignored the clocks at the mile markers as they were only showing times for the AA runners) some 20 runners, including masters Guillermo Pineda Morales aka Memo (WSX), Peter Brady (CPTC), and team mates Javier Rodriguez and Matt Chaston, swept past. I was preparing mentally for one to forget.

Fortunately as we rounded the Cloisters, the half way point, I began to rally. We were now running with the elite women who’d also started 40 seconds or so ahead of us. I don’t mind confessing I enjoyed running with these top lassies. They rock. I rarely have the honor: in most races I’m a typically ahead of them from the gun.

The race takes a 400m loop around the Cloisters and then heads back up a 600m incline to the two mile point. This is arguably the toughest part of the course as it takes you back to the summit of the course. My Garmin showed I ran the second mile in 5:23. I edged past Peter as we entered the closing mile leaving me with just two masters runners, Mengistu Tabor Nebsi in 15:52 (WSX) and Memo in 16:15, ahead of me.

One might be orgiven for thinking that was plain sailing from here. The closing mile has one 200m incline but otherwise it descends the whole way. And we had a wind behind. But if you take your eye off the ball and the foot off the throttle droves of runners come past. So I stayed focused and kept charging. Just ass we crested the final hill and with 800m of steady descent left I passed team mate Harriott Kelly. I gasped that she was getting away from her rival for first place.

Harriott about to hit the tape as leading lady

After a 5:15 third mile, in a straight that feels like it’ll end in Battery Park, I crossed the finish line in 44th place, good for 3rd M40+ and 1st M50, in 16:35. This was one second better than in 2017 and gave me top age grade of 90.36%. Peter followed a few seconds later (in 16:38) and Harriott, first lady, soon after (in 17:23). I was first UA runner though this had more to do with the weakness of our open team and Javier’s poor health than my performance. It was enough to place me top of the UK 5K M50 rankings – for now.

Finish in sight

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800 metres to go with Harriott Kelly and Peter Brady (picture credit: Nigel Francis)

UA’s boasted a truckload of individual top 3 age group placers (not surprising given how we dominated the masters Oscars at the 2018 NYRR Club Night). They were as follows: Saudy Tejada, 3rd F35-39 in 19:32; Javier, 3rd M40 in 16:57; Flavio de Simone, 3rd M45 in a big PR of 17:08; Ellen Basille, 1st F45 in 18:52; Jennifer Amato, 2nd F45 in 20:35; Matt Chaston, 2nd M50 in 16:41; Fiona Bayly, 1st F50 in 19:16; and Dominique Saint-Louis, 2nd F50 in 20:07. UA placed 5th and 7th in the women and mens open teams respectively. But best of all we got 1st F40, F50 and M50 teams and 2nd M40 team.

Fiona Bayly

Flavio de Simone

Washington Heights 5K is affectionately known in local running lore as Coogan’s after the famous bar that plays host to the post race revelry. The bar recently came close to closure. It’s won a stay of execution. If it closed a part of New York would die with it. The race will live on regardless. It’s like no other. The field is deep, the course is hilly,  the weather typically cold and windy, and the neighborhood quintessential New York.

More than 5,000 runners completed the course. NYRR’s full story is here. First to cross the finish line for the men was Brendan Martin (NYAC) who finished in 14:50. I reflected on the race and noticed how such is its intensity I rarely have time to take in any of the neighborhood and local historical sites. One day Sham and I will walk around it to before it gentrifies. Before then I will run through New York with Jason.

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.

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.