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OK this blog is a bit of a sob story. About me and my estranged relationship with running. And how to avoid realizing the prediction of my mate Karl Mobbs who penned the cartoon below in my 30th birthday card (from 1995!).
When did I last race?
It’s now three years since I lined up in a ‘real’ (or what us Brits would call ‘proper’) race. By proper I mean one with a number pinned to my chest, starters gun and finish tape, and fellow competitors in the flesh rather than online.
Some of you may be wondering why I’ve not raced since. Actually I have completed two ‘events’ that many don’t consider count as proper races – the Bushy Park Run on 28 December 2019 (my 53rd birthday) in 16:55 and the British Masters Virtual 5K Relays on 20 June 2020 in 16:47 (on the North County Trailway, the only competitor logging a run outside the British Isles).
For most of the past few years I was saved from having to make excuses for my lack of racing. The pandemic truncated the race calendar for long periods. But now the pandemic is behind us, or rather we are kind of ‘living’ with it or trying to forget its there, I have some explaining to do.
Well I’ve not retired. At least not yet. But I’ve gotten close. Very close. And I keep getting closer. I have not been able to race for love nor money. At least not been able to race at a level I would have been happy with. And those that know me know that I’m hard (impossible) to please.
What’s the problem?
Since late 2019 I’ve wrestled with a nagging and debilitating injury. Essentially left leg glutes that fail to fire with all sorts of knock on effects like tight hamstrings, swollen knees, and exhausted quads. An injury that I’ve thrown every at. You name it I’ve tried it. The physical therapy, the stretching, the rolling, the resting, the strength work, the icing, the acupuncture etc. An injury that has crimped my training and crushed my spirit. But an injury that has not killed my love for running and racing.
For most the past three years I have continued, as far as possible, to train. In late 2020 I described Running Through a Pandemic. For much of 2020 and 2021 I trained with the inaugural Abbott World Masters Marathon Champs in London in mind (after three deferrals these took place in October 2021). My running log shows for much of this period I averaged 50-60 miles per week with long runs and workouts.
In late summer 2021 my resolve finally buckled. I told Coach Troopy that I’d forgotten what it was like to run pain free, that every mile of every run, no matter how ‘easy’ was not actually easy but hard and uncomfortable. Slow without the easy. I reluctantly scrapped plans to run London and dialled it back. And my log shows that in late 2021 and during 2022 the miles have slipped away and long runs and workouts are almost extinct.
I have ‘flirted’ with the dark side (aka cycling) – thinking I might make good at duathlon like my old mate Dave Smith. Right now I’m cycling more than running. But cycling, or a hybrid, is a poor substitute. It’s a great way to stay fit and ‘socialize’ with fit friends but the feeling, the buzz, just isn’t the same.
Why is this such a big deal?
I have enjoyed years of injury free running. It’s been a huge source of pride, satisfaction, and joy (as well as pain and diappointment!). Through running I’ve experienced many amazing places and met many good people. I’ve won countless accolades. And as my mother use to say when the chips were down, “there’s always someone worse off than you.” So why is this such a big deal. Well it’s because running is what I do and a runner is what I am. And for that reason I’ll keep on wrestling with it.
I am, still, a runner. Just.
Antony Scott, President, Founder and Head Coach of Marin County Track Club (MCTC), asked me some questions about running through the pandemic. The picture was taken by my wife Shamala.
Describe your training through Covid-19 and the main challenges
Going into lockdown I was coming out of injury. As my physical therapist (PT) James Lynch said in February “you’ve got a whole lot of issues”. And for most of 2019 I’d gone from one ‘issue’ to another and raced just twice. As lockdown loomed I was also in the final phase of preparations for the inaugural AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championship race that was due to be held as part of the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon in late April 2020. At 54, oldest in age group (AG), and ‘not firing on all cylinders’ I was glad to see the race deferred to 2021 when I’ll be 55 and so ‘young’ for my M55-59 age group.
So these past 6 months my focus has switched from scrambling to get ready for a spring marathon to simply maintaining base fitness and using running as an anchor of normality during a crazy time, a way to get away from the madness. I enjoy running with others, especially long easy ones where we can debate war and peace, as well as competition which gives me targets to shoot at. The main challenge was adjusting to running solo for months on end with practically no competition. I’ve stuck to Coach Troopy’s weekly schedules.
With no access to my PT who I’d been seeing regularly just before lockdown I’ve resorted to DIY TLC, largely band work inspired by Stephanie Bruce on her YouTube channel.
How long were you not able to train in your usual group?
I live in Peekskill, 40 miles north of New York City, work remotely and usually travel a lot to and from and within Europe. So the pandemic did not totally upend my routine. It was just the trips to Europe for 1-3 weeks a time every other month that fell by the wayside. My last group run was in Central Park on 15 March 2020. At the end we said our goodbyes and their was an air of inevitability – that we would not be doing another group run for some months. And so it proved.
I’ve run just 3 times with one other person in 5 months. My sojourns to Europe, where I typically run alone but get to run in a variety of places, have ended – for now. I’ve maintained weekly volume in the low 60s, built around 2 workouts, a long weekend run and a mid-week semi-long (see log here). I’ve spent more time, usually recovery runs, on local trails, to avoid other people and get other to parts other runs do not reach.
What has been your mindset amidst the global pandemic (has it affected you negatively or have you remain in positive spirit)?
I think like most runners I know it’s ebbed and flowed. One week I feel lousy and demotivated with no mojo. The next, possibly triggered by a better than expected workout, I snap back and regain the mojo. Right now I have it, after recently running a 2 mile time trial in 10:20 and a 17 mile run @ 6:25 pace, but by the time you read this I may not. Importantly no matter how demotivated I’ve felt I’ve talked myself into getting out and getting it done, no matter how mediocre the Strava data looks.
You were scheduled to compete in some key races over the spring and summer. Could you tell us a little about that?
Well as I mentioned previously the cancellation of the 2020 London Marathon and World Masters Athletics (WMA) Champs 2020, originally planned for August in Toronto, has forced me to focus on 2021. And in 2021 I’m 55, a spring chicken for the M55-59 age group. So my sights are now firmly set on making hay at the London Marathon on October 3, 2021 and the WMA 2021 tentatively planned for next summer in Finland.
While I miss competing I quickly adjusted to train solo only mode. But then in May virtual races, essentially self-timed time trials, became flavor of the month. Initially I could not see what all the fuss and fanfare was about. However, my UK based brother Stephen peaked my interest and convinced me to run for my UK club Kettering Town Harriers in the UK National Masters Virtual 5K Relay. I scoped out a flat course and on one hot and humid morning ran 16:47, good for 8th M50-54. Virtual races can never beat the real thing, as they are just a time trial, but it was good to compete with others in some way. I rarely get to run ‘in the flesh’ British Championship races but being virtual meant I could do it anywhere, anytime over a 7 day period.
With no races on the calendar, how have you been able to stay focused (what targets/ goals have you set)?
My focus is now on 2021 when I will be 55. I have no plans for 2020. While the WMA in Finland in August 2021 and the London Marathon in October 2021 are way off they’re enough to ensure I don’t lose interest and come off the rails. In Finland I have in mind a medal in the half marathon to go with the silver I got in WMA 2018 – I’ll need me to run around 1:14. And in London, assuming its also the AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championship I hope to be top 3 in the AG. To help stay motivated I’m keeping a close eye on my main rivals on Strava.
Has the pandemic cloud provided any silver linings for you?
Yes, many. First, as I explained previously was not ready be competitive as a 54 year old in London and Toronto. I am now able to focus on 2021 when I’m 55, youngest in the age group. Second, lockdown has encouraged me to explore my local neighborhood, especially the trails, and I’ve discovered to great new places to run as a result. Third, my wife Sham and I did a staycation in early August in Ithaca, gateway to the Finger Lakes, where I got some great mileage in on these rail trails like this one.
Fourth, thanks to Strava I have gained some new running mates – in particular, Tram Cranley (Bethesda MD), Sam Lagasse (Ithaca) and Frank Filiciotto (Peekskill) – and formed Peekskill Community Runners. Fifth, I’m not flying regularly to Europe so the old body, especially the glutes and hips, is not complaining as much. Sixth, I’ve had some extra time to invest in TLC and for the first time since late 2018 I’ve been injury free for more than 3 months. And finally, I have some time to write this article.
by Paul Thompson (and pictures by Shamala Thompson)
We run in interesting times. While much of my life has been turned upside down this past few months there has been one constant. My running, my wife’s support of my running and virtual coaching from Troopy.
My last run with other people was this long easy one on 15 March 2020 in Central Park. It was my usual gig – train from hometown of Peekskill to 125th Street Harlem, 2+ hours on Central Park’s trails, grab coffee and toasted cinnamon raisin bagel, and then board train home. That day six of us rendezvoused at Engineers’ Gate. We exchanged elbow bumps. We sensed we’d not be running together again for some time. We’ll run together again but until we do I figured I needed to race.
So here I was at 8:45am earlier today all set to race. Only a virtual race. The British Masters Athletics Federation (BMAF) Virtual 5K Relays. As a 54 year-old, turning 55 this December, I was running in the M45-54 category for Kettering Town Harriers, the UK club I joined in 1984 and remained a member of since I left the UK in 1998.
My brother had persuaded me to run. I’d have happily waited until I turn 55 (I’m entered for the postponed London Marathon on 4 October but doubt it will go head and, even if it does, I may not make the trip). Ironically I have lockdown and virtual races to thank for presenting me the opportunity to run a BMAF race – I’m rarely in the UK around the time of their ‘real’ races and BMAF are open to you running anywhere!
Virtual races add an extra dimension to ‘real’ races. You get to choose when and where to run, provided you satisfy criteria like start and end in the same place and get it done in the ‘window’ of 14-20 June (the deadline for running being 12pm midnight GMT on Saturday 20 June). I chose to run a section of the North County Trailway – out and back from the parking lot at Route 117 heading south. The trailway is paved, largely flat and straight, and much of the course in the shade of trees.
I recceed the course by running the whole course as my 5K warm-up. I sensed a gentle incline for the first 600m, as the trailway rose above the nearby Saw Mill Parkway, and then flat through halfway. At the half way point I left a water bottle as a marker. Weather conditions were far from ideal – hot and humid with the temperature around 80F / 27C. Pedestrian traffic was light, mainly cyclists of all shapes, sizes, ages and gear from Tour de France to kid basket.
And then I was off. I got stuck in from the get go, setting out at 3:10 minutes per kilometer pace (I reset my Strava to metric as I was running a 5K not 3.1 mile race) – around 5:07 minutes per mile pace per this – before easing back and passing 1K in 3:15. I have a Garmin 235 but its GPS ‘gave up the ghost’ a few months back so I was recording using the Strava app on my iPhone. My target time was 16:30-40 and 3:20s would get me home in 16:40. Hence, I was fixated on my Strava app’s showing an average pace of sub-3:20. Recent training – 60+ mile weeks with two workouts and a LSD – suggested this was possible. I was injury free though recovering slowly from workouts.
The expected flat ‘main course’ middle portion of the race was actually a gentle descent from 600m through halfway (and so gentle uphill for the bulk of the return leg with a slight descent in the last 600m). I’ll blame that optical illusion on the lockdown or an early symptom of some virus (I did not wear a mask by the way).
I ran the 2nd km in 3:19. At the turnaround – a sharp 180 degree which felt like I turned on a penny – my iPhone showed 8:12. But the writing was on the wall. Not only did the course climb slightly, contrary to what I had expected, but I was also paying for an exuberant start and creeping humidity. My 3rd km was 3:23 and my app was now reading an average pace of 3:20. My 4th km was 3:25 and the average read 3:21. With a little bit of uumph I did the 5th km in 3:20 to get home in 16:47.
I was toast. I stumbled into the shade and caught my breath. My Strava data reveals I ran a fraction too far (5.02km) but in a real 5K I’d have likely run even further as we all tend to run slightly off the optimal racing line. The full individual results for M45-54 are here. Stephen, my younger brother, ran 17:08 and buddy ‘Rocket’ Ron Searle ran 20:36.
I was 8th M50 of 674 runners. The fastest M50 times were recorded by Mark Symes in 15:41 (World Masters Athletics 1500m champion at the WMA in Malaga in 2018 – see page 119 here) and Tim Hartley in 15:45 (multiple BMAF champion for 5K, XC and 10K and M50 winner of the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International 2018 where I’d come 8th). Five M55s and M60 Tommy Hughes, multiple world record holder at age 59 and 60, were also ahead of me. The official BMAF race report is here.
Kettering Town Harriers (KTH) had 21 runners. The team results are as follows: M45-54 9th of 117 teams – myself, Steve, Phil Brigden (17:11) and Phil West (17:46); M55-64 34th of 76 teams – Bruce Whitehead (20:03), Ron Searle (20:36), and Pete Goringe (20:40); and W45-54 66th of 111 teams – Trudi Pike (23:43), Karen Albery (24:06) and Nicola Speed (24:09).
Some 4,144 men and women aged 35 and over entered, over 3,300 competed, over £12,000 ($15,000) was raised for MacMillan Nurses charity (runners made a charitable donation in lieu of race entry fee).
So there you go. My first virtual race. The after effects – tired muscles, aching joints – are anything but virtual. Just like the good ‘ole days. We are on our way back. For now we’ll have to make do with virtual races. A good backup but not the real thing.
by Paul Thompson (picture Shamala Thompson)
I’m not known but my spontaneity but I had no intention of running this race until 2 hours before the start. Infused with morning coffee on a wing and a prayer I decided to join my brother Stephen and wife Lynn on my second race of 2019 and first ever park run. It seemed a perfect way to start my 54th birthday. And the perfect place to run my first park run, Bushy being the birthplace of park runs.
The build-up and preparation for this race was far from ideal. Sham and I were in London for a 3 night stop over en route back to New York having been out in Singapore for most of December (incuding trips to Colombo and Tbilisi). On the Thursday morning I ran 13 miles in Singapore’s signature 33C, during a solar eclipse, and boarded a flight to London later that same day arriving at before day break at Heathrow some 13 hours later. After checking into the hotel at 8am Sham and I did a shakeout run in Richmond Park, my favorite place to run and an inspiration to David Attenborough. That evening we had a family dinner at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant.
2019 has been my least active year for racing since I can remember. Bushy was my second race of the year, the other race being the 2019 New Haven Half Marathon on 2nd September. While my memory ain’t what it was that’s at least 20 years. This time last year I was looking forward to running the London Marathon in April but piriformis syndrome struck in early February on my first long run. I was unable to resume normal training until late May. After New Haven extensive work travel got in the way of high intensity training So here I was pscyhing myself up for race two of 2019.
I jogged over to the start from our hotel in Kinsgton upon Thames. After a 4 mile warm-up, including some strides, I was all set to go bar a slight tightness in my left hamstring. My plan was to set out easy and then, depending on how I felt, either settle into a tempo run or go for it.
I stuck to plan. For a short while. I covered the first mile in 5:38 and yet was passing runners moving through from around 12th to 5th. Then I got caught. That changed things. My race instinct kicked in and I immediately stepped up my pace to fend off the interloper and set about chasing two runners some 20 metres in front.
Bushy is flat and, aside from a few tight turns and some soft ground (most of it is unpaved), and fast. In the second mile there were long straights with some paved surfaces. Inow had the bit between my teeth and enjoying running fast. I clocked 5:11 for the second mile. in so doing I caught the two runners in front and successfully fended off the interloper.
Into the third mile I dug deep and clocked 5:12 despite occasionally losing traction on the soft surface and having to navigate some puddles. I finished in 16:55 for 2nd (the 2nd placed guy some 5-7 seconds in front of me was scratched from the results for not being registered) out of 1358 parkrunners. That was enough to win the M50-54 age category and secure the highest age-graded score of 90.05%. Steve was 2nd M50-54 in 18:28 while Lynn recorded her 2nd fastest in 26:13. Full results are here. The official Bushy parkrun race report kindly notes my first outing.
The feeling at the finish reminded me why I do it. It felt good, real good, especially when I put the pedal down. The hamstring held up and the race was a welcome introduction to park running. I will surely do more. And 16:30 should be possible on a fast paved course without jetlag.
In 2019 for perhaps the first time since joining the masters ranks I failed to get in the top 3 in any of the UK masters rankings lists. My best effort was equal 6th in the half marathon. In 2020, despite being the elder statesman in my age group, I plan to put that right. The London Marathon, which includes the inaugural AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championship race, and the World Masters Athletics Champs in Toronto (XC, 5000m, 10K and half marathon are on the program) beckon.
by Paul Thompson (Photos by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)
Well this race was a long time coming. Almost a year since my last injury free race, the Bronx 10 in late September 2018 (in November 2018 I ran the British and Irish Masters Cross Country Champs unaware I was nursing a broken shoulder). And of all the days I chose to make my comeback it had to be Labor Day. It turned out to be hard labor. But let me stop laboring that point and get to explain that year out and the race.
My Year Out
The past year consisted of 3 phases. The first phase, what I called pain in the shoulder phase, was 2 months of intense PT rehab through December and January to get the shoulder back to normal, in terms of movement and strength, during which time I built up my mileage by end of January to 70 miles per week, all set for the 12 weeks through to the 2018 London Marathon.
The second phase, what I call pain in the arse phase started in early February. In the closing miles of my first long run as part of my London campaign while in Singapore I noticed a sharp pain in the butt and hamstring brought my 20 mile long easy – as easy as it can be in 32C and 90% humdity – to stand still. It took a while to figure out it was piriformis syndrome rather than high hamstring tendinitis. This phase lasted to the end of May. The piriformis proved stubborn but not as stubborn as me.
By early June I was back to normal training mileage but without the speedwork. This marked the start of the third phase which ended on Labor Day. I call it the hard labor phase since it was all about getting back to the normal routine including getting reacquainted with time in the hurt locker. On Labor Day I spent 1:14:33 in that locker.
Going into the race I was cautiously optimistic. A 20 minute Mona Fartlek, in which I covered 3.53 miles at an average pace of 5:40 mpm, the farthest and fastest I can remember in the 3 years I’ve been doing them, gave me confidence. But set against this was the fear the piriformis would reemerge: its still lurking albeit only rearing its head during intense workouts . And this was the longest time ever between races since I started running seriously in my early 20s. How would I take to racing again.
Sham and I, with running mate Mo’ath Alkhawaldeh and his wife Maira, had driven up the day before from Peekskill. After picking up race numbers – having switched from the USATF 20K National Championships to the half marathon that starts with and shares the same finish line but includes a 1.1K ‘detour’ at around 11 miles (course map) – I grabbed an early dinner and settled into my bed early at a rather unkempt La Quinta Hotel (never again).
The alarm rang at 6am for the 8:30am start from New Haven Green, barely a mile away. I had my small bowl of oatmeal and coffee and then jogged to start area, picking up Mo at another hotel en route. Conditions were favorable, for the time of year. It was slightly overcast, a little breezy, quite humd and in low 20sC / 70sF.
The great thing about this race is that being a USATF National Championship it has quality and depth at the front, and feels like an occasion, but has none of the heavily regulated corral arrangement of a NYRR race.
New Yorkers make for such a stressful final countdown to a race. After a 3 mile warm-up I lined up about three rows back. I now run for 212 Track Club (#212TC) but as I’d yet to get a vest I decided to race in my Team GB masters vest.
My plan was to settle into a group with some of the leading women and run 1:13:30 to top the 2019 UK and US half marathon rankings for M50-54. And sutre enough soon after the race started I was running alonside a group of some dozen women (see picture below), including 2018 champ Sara Hall. Turns out most of this group would end up finishing in front of me, at least in front of me at the point when I had to add the 1.1K detour.
It felt great to be back at it. And it showed in my fast start, clocking 5:20 for the first mile. Realising this I then tried to make some adjustments, slowing down slightly but not much as I was keen to stay in contact and work with a small group. I reeled off miles in 5:30, 5:32 and 5:34, passing 5K in 17:00 and 4 miles in 22:00. The course was fast – flat, long straights, few turns and good road surface. And I was happy racing for the first time in the Hoka One One Carbon X having been using the Adidas Adizer Adios since 2016 (though the Carbon Rocket may have served me better).
Up ahead of me was NYAC runner Jerry Faulkner running with Katie Newton – and even further ahead Michael Cassidy, who I used to trade strides with in NYRR races when he was slower and I faster, duking it out with Mo’ath. I passed mile 5 in 27:40. My mile splits were now slowing slightly – I clocked 5:39 and 5:42 for 5th and 6th miles, passing 10K in 34:40. I caught Jerry and Katie. Jerry dropped off.
Along the long straight tree-lined Chapel Street heading east to wards the city centre I worked with Katie (see picture above) chasing the pack of women some 100 metres up ahead. We ran miles 7, 8 and 9 in 5:39. I was now outside my goal of 1:13:30 and hurting. During the 10th mile, that ends near the high point of the course at an elevation of 140ft (verses 50ft at the start / finish area and 5ft at mile 9), I started to crack. This is unknown territory for me at point in a race: typically I’m either holding pace or accelerating slightly.
As I ascended the hill, most appropriately on English Drive, Roberta Groner, the 41 year old masters standout who will run for the USA at the marathon at the upcoming World Champs, caught me. We worked together and crested the hill. The 10th mile had taken 5:48 and I passed mile 10 in 56:05. But as we descended Roberta stole a lead. While I had to conserve a little, as I had my 1.1K detour coming up, if I was doing the 20K she’d have beaten me.
As the 20K runners made a right just before 11 miles I turned left. Just before the turn I saw Mo, leading the half with me in 2nd, pass in front of me having just done the 1.1K detour, a straight out and back before rejoining the 20K course. That 1.1K included a steady descent followed by a steady ascent. I was now treading water, in survival rather than competing mode as I typically find myself in a marathon. I’d covered the 11th mile, largely descending, in 5:40 but the 12th in 5:55. I was glad to rejoin the 20K runners. The 3rd place guy was some distance behind me.
The last mile felt like a procession, a slow funereal one, despite being flat and straight. I was focused on limiting my losses and hoping to get as close to 1:14 finish as possible. I ran mile 13 in 5:52 and crossed the line in 1:14:33. This was 2nd place after Mo with 1:08:48. Race results are here (and 20K, won by Leonard Korir and Sara Hall, here) and my Gamin data with splits and heart rate here. It gets me =5th in the UK M50-54 rankings.
Overall I enjoyed being back racing and relieved I got this one under my belt. I was back doing what I love, maybe a little slower than I’d like but unjury free and hungry for more. Perhaps I pushed too hard in those early miles.
I now look forward to the 2020 London Marathon and World Masters Athletics Champs Toronto 2020. The inaugural AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championship race will be part of the London Marathon. While I did not qualify via the rankings system – based on finishing places in 2 major marathons over the past 2 years – I will able to compete for this as I’m in the race.
This race has left me as tired as if I’d run a full marathon. Tired enough to prompt me to take today off and instead write this! Needless to say the tiny bottle of champagne I got for being first masters, and the one Mo gave Sham as he’s teetotal (see picture below), have already been consumed.
by Paul Thompson (Photos by Shamala Kandiah and Mala Gehri)
A few years ago, on the occasion of my wife Sham’s 50th birthday we were in Europe visiting, running and blogging our way through Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava, Salzburg and Innsbruck. This year we were back in Europe to celebrate her and her sister Ramola’s birthdays with their cousin in Thun, Switzerland. Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB), with its great mobile app, got us from place to place on time – give or take a minute. On the way out we had a one night layover in London. On the way back we both flew into London and while Sham then transferred to a flight to New York I headed to Brussels for work. The runs are here (June 8 to 17) while the links in the text below are to 3D videos.
We landed in London after a red eye from New York and a few hours later were settling into a friend’s place – Nial, wife Kieko and son Sean – near Wimbledon Village. After a mid afternoon easy run through Wimbledon Common to Putney Heath and back we cracked open a bottle of Opihr gin that helped us get a good night’s sleep.
The next morning I met Peter Clarke and pack of elite masters runners including David Smith, Paul Cheetham and Simon Baines at Robin Hood Gate for a lap of Richmond Park and the Common.
Our second destination was Geneva. After a short flight and 10 minute Uber ride we were at Sham’s friend’s place in Prévessin-Moëns, a village just across the border in France. We opted not to run the following morning but rather wait until we arrived in Berne, the Swiss capital. We’d have a chance to savour the countryside around Geneva on the return leg.
Berne was wet and cold. Berne is a beautiful human scale city. Once the rain abated Sham and I stepped out. Our run took us along the river which was bulging with snow melt from the mountains of central Switzerland to the south. One could feel the force of the torrent. From the river we passed through the Old Town, a parade of historical buildings, and then the government quarter. I added a few miles by popping into the forest immediately to the north of the city centre.
We arrived in Thun after a short train ride from Berne Where Sham’s cousin, Mala met us and showed us the way to their place. Mala and Swiss hubby Adi live in a duplex apartment at the top of a 5 storey building on the central pedestrianized shopping mall. They have an incredible view from their balconey of the city’s castle which looks like it’s lifted straight out of a fairytale. Sham’s sister’s family – Ramola, Kevin and daugther Eloise – arrived in the evening. That day I decided to rest and enjoy the pre-birthday drinks and view.
The next morning I ventured out for a mid-week semi-long run along the shoreline of Lake Thun (Thunersee). While much of the run is on a paved path alongside the road the unobscured views of the lake and mountains were a perfect backdrop.
The following day I got my run in on the way back from a trip to Lauterbrunnen and Mirren – in a valley at the heart of the Swiss Alps – by train, cable car and hike. The hike culminated in amazing views of the Eiger and Jungfrau.
(Photo Credit: Mala Gehri)
I stepped off the train on the way back to Thun at Spiez . I ran 8 miles, with a few short diversions, back to Thun. While mainly alongside a road, descending gently, the run’s closing few miles took me through the picture postcard lakeside parks of Bonstetten and Schadau.
The next day we were back in the mountains this time at Beatenberg. And again after a bus, cable car and hike started my run from a cable car station on the way home. While the others descended via cable car to the Thunersee and owards to Thun via boat I ran the 12 miles back to Thun. The route was mainly a small side road that followed the mountainside and slowly descended before I took a small detour to walk across a spectatular panoramic footbridge. The descending allied with hot weather took its toll. I crawled into Thun and dipped my feet in the ice cold river.
The next day I ran easy with Sham through the parks of Bonstetten and Schadau. My plan was to recover for a long run the following day. It seemed to work. Early Sunday morning, a few hours before we caught the train to Geneva, I ran along the banks of the River Are north towards Berne for 7.5 miles before turning round and retracing my steps. It was a key test for my Hoka One One Carbon X. Fast paced long runs were their forte. The shoes passed with flying colours: 6:40 pace felt effortless. Unfortunately the sole unit was showing signs of wear from offroad running.
Our final night of our Swiss vacation was spent again with Sham’s friend Laura in Prévessin-Moëns. The following morning, our last of our vacation in Europe, we went out for an easy run along the farm trails around the village. It was little more than a shakeout after the previous day’s fast paced long run.
The holiday was a crucial test of my recovery from piriformis syndrome. I logged 63 miles and two 1:40 runs. Troopy had me down for two workouts – tempo and fartlek – which I deferred a week due to some bruising around my ankles. I last raced in November 2018. This is my longest period of no racing since arriving in the US in 2004. If all goes to plan I’ll be ready to pin on a race bib in September.
by Paul Thompson
So today I was at the London Marathon Expo with running buddy Flavio De Simone and his wife Kate. While they collected their numbers I was deferring my entry to 2020. This Sunday morning I’ll be spectating rather than running it. London is calling but I have a pain in the arse which has wrecked my 2019 plans. Those plans centered on trying to emulate London 2017 when I ran 2:31:45 and then running the Berlin Marathon in September in a bid to top the M50 rankings in the Abbott Age Group World Rankings.
Jamie Lopez, Katharine and Flavio De Simone seeking PBs of around 2:45, 3:40 and 2:35
Those that have suffered from piriformis syndrome know the choice of words is apt – metaphorically and physically it’s a total pain in the arse. It’s the main reason I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve had nothing to brag about, but lots to whinge about. This year look set to rival 2013 when I was knocked over by a cyclist and was forced to take 6 weeks off running altogether to allow my broken scapula to heal. I opted to save you the whinging. Until I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. I think I see some.
So what’s the story this time? And what have I learned, if anything?
Onset of Injury
The injury struck just as I was ramping up for the final marathon training block. By end of January, some 13-14 weeks out, I was back in full training mode following 2 months of intense rehabiliation following breaking my shoulder on 9 November 2018. By the time I landed in Singapore in early February in time to celebrate Chinese New Year with family my shoulder was 90% right and I was all set for full marathon training. Or so I thought.
After spending a few days accimilatizing to the tropical weather I slammed in a 20 minute Mona Fartlek, took a day off and then ran 20 miles off road in 88F / 30C and 90% humidity. In the latter stages of the long run I could feel encroaching pain in my butt and hamstring. I’ve not been right since.
Diagnosis and Treatment
I have had no shortage of well intentioned and expert advice and help. Soon after the issue first arose I saw physiotherapist Mok Ying Rong at the Rehab Lab in Singapore who focused on trying to correct my gait. On arrival back in the US I then saw acupuncturist Russ Stram at Runner Clinic NYC and had weekly sessions of massage and active release therapy with Tom Nohilly But it took several weeks to determine whether I had high hamstring tendinitis or piriformis syndrome. The symptoms are similar.
It’s not the first time I’ve had this. Back in 2013 I was grappling with it when I was knocked over by a cyclist and broke my shoulder. After six weeks forced rest the problem disappeared without trace. Hopefully this time I don’t have to wait for a cyclist to knock me over.
After spending several weeks fighting it and getting increasingly frustrated eventually I found some rhythm to my daily routine. Today that daily routine comprises an hour of cross training – a mixture or ART focused on the hamstrings, foam rolling the upper leg and lower back, and general hip and leg strengthening (quad, calf, gluteal muscles, hip abductor) – and running 30-60 minutes 5 days per week with the rest of the time on the static bike for an hour as I did this past week.
While I’m not out of the woods yet I’d like to figure out what caused this. Only then can I avert a repeat. Unfortunately, the list of possible causes is as long as my layoff and like my layoff the list keeps getting longer. Contenders include a wearing new running shoes (some Hokas instead of adidas Adizero Boston, my go to shoe these past few years), new Loake suede ankle boots (my brother Stephen helps make them), number of long haul flights in coach / economy, lack of icing legs post run (prompted by the cold winter weather), and that old chestnut – lack of regular TLC.
But the root cause might well be the accident in which I broke my shoulder. Friends in the know who I’ve consulted online reckon the accident may have knocked my back out triggering a chain of events culminating in my injury.
I’m afraid I’d like to think I’ve come out of this business wiser but suspect not. I’ve been reminded how poorly I respond to injury. It’s taken me far too long to diagnose and get into an alternative exercise routine. But I think I’ve gained some patience. I was starting from a very low base.
My plan is to be done with this before the Brexit impasse is resolved. So that gives me until 31 October at the latest. I’m hopeful I’ll be firing on all cyclinders come June and then do the half marathon, 10K and 8K cross-country at the European Masters Athletics Championships 2019 in Venice on 5-15 September and / or the Berlin Marathon.
In 2020 I aim to compete with the top masters from around the world as they converge on London for the Abbott World Marathon Majors Age Group Championships. This Sunday I will be watching the world’s greatest marathon and tracking closely top masters athletes Lee Aherne (M50), Stephen Watmough (M55), Flavio (M45) and Kate De Simone (W45), Rob Downs (M55), Jonathan Ratcliffe (M50) and Jamie Lopez (M45), amongst others. Right I’m dialling off here.
by Paul Thompson
Reflecting on 2018
The year just ended proved a mixed one for running, one in which I achieved some but not all of my 2018 goals. I plumbed the highs and lows, from a world medal through to tripping and breaking my right shoulder and, consequently, failing to run the 6 NYRR races necessary to get nominated for the 2018 NYRR Age Group Awards.
Rather than run a marathon, I decided to focus on winning a medal at the World Masters Athletics (WMA) Championships in Malaga, Spain in September and logging some fast times, hopefully sufficient to top the UK and USA M50 rankings for 10K, 10 miles and half marathon. For the most part I succeeded despite lots of work travel to, from and within Europe.
Things started well enough. I ran 33:10 in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in April. That would be good enough for topping the 2018 UK M50 10K rankings. But then in May at the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon I passed 10 miles in around 55 minutes flat and 200 meters later pulled up nursing a hamstring tear. In the early summer plenty of TLC enabled me to mend and prepare for the WMA.
At the WMA I ran a poor tactical race in the 10K road race and finished a disappointing 4th with a mild hamstring strain to boot. I bounced back to snatch a silver medal in the half marathon a week later. And then soon after returning to the US rocked the New Balance Bronx 10 Mile logging 54:29, enough to top the UK and USA M50 rankings.
In the final quarter of the year things went awry. I tripped and fell while running the Lake Garda bike path in fading light. I was left with a badly bruised right arm and thigh. Barely 9 days later I ran for England in the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International and was a sluggish 6th and last scorer. On arrival back in the US an X ray revealed I had a fractured right shoulder, a non-displaced humerus. Since then I’ve been seeing physical therapist Miranda Lyon at the New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital and doing lots of home exercises.
Learning in December that I’d failed to win nomination for the 2019 NYRR Age Group Awards was disappointing. Since turning 40 I have won every year bar one when an accident got in the way of my running the required 6 races. In 2018, I ran 6 races but 2 of these was guiding visually impaired runners – Paraolympian medalist Jason Dunkerley in the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon and Jared Broughton in the Achilles Hope & Possibility 4M. In the half I had no race tag, just a guide bib, so was excluded from the results. That left me a race short. But I’d not have it any other way. Guiding Jason was awesome, on par with my best races of 2018.
I learned a lot in 2018. I think. First, recovering from serious injury, such as my hamstring tear in May or fractured shoulder in November, demands patience and plenty of TLC. Second, staying fit and fast in your fifties demands a range of ingredients. Training is important but then so is mindset, diet and strength exercise. So one year on I’m a year older and, maybe, a few days wiser.
Looking Forward to 2019
As for New Year’s resolutions it’s more of the same. My main aims are to run a spring (London) and autumn (Berlin or Montreal) marathons, top the Abbot World Marathon Majors for M50 and qualify for the World Masters Marathon Championships in London in April 2020. Running two marathons in one calendar year will be a first. The risk of injury or illness looms large. In my wife and coach Lee Troop I have the best early warning stystems. The work starts here. And this week I’m on track to run 70 miles.
by Paul Thompson
Team GB team mates, from England, caught me in a moment of weakness at the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMAC) in Malaga. They ganged up and unilaterally decided I should seek selection for England for the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International in Swansea, Wales on November 17. As it turns out I was due to be in Europe for business from October 16 to November 20 so I had no good reason not to.
The main challenge to gaining selection was not so much having a solid case. I had just gotten a silver medal at the WMAC in the half marathon and was at the top of the M50 UK rankings for 10K and, afer the Bronx 10 a few weeks later, top for 10 miles. The challenge was navigating the selection process which hailed from a bygone age – post a letter of application with a self addressed envelope. Imagine in the age of driverless cars.
So barely two months later here I was crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales with Simon Baines, one of Team GB’s top M45 runners. I had bumped into Simon while running in Richmond Park, with Peter Clarke and David Smith, near the start of my trip and he had kindly invited me to ride with him to Wales.
It was a great privilege to be selected to run for England. It was my first time having narrowly, and annoyingly, missed out on selection some years before when I finished 2nd M40 at the BMAF to Ben Reynolds. Unfortunately the stars were far from aligned for this race.
Almost 5 weeks into my trip to Europe I was tired, from some 20 flights, out of my routine, out of practice from real cross country racing, and, as I would soon discover, carrying a torn rotator cuff. The injury resulted from tripping in fading light while running on a cycle path on Lake Garda a week earlier. And then there were my ill-fitting spikes falling apart at the seems. They’re now in a Welsh landfill. So I had plenty of excuses not to run but instead chose to use them as excuses for not running well. In short my expectations were low.
My main goal was to run hard, ensure I did not hit the deck and excerbate my injured shoulder, and, if possible, finish as one of the 4 scorers. The day started out overcast and damp but then brigthened up such that by the time the race started we were bathed in sunshine. My race was the second of the day. I lined up with male and female runners from ages 50 to 64. I stood alongside Tim Hartley, the race favorite who’d picked up a silver medal at the WMAC for 5000m, and the rest of my England M50 teammates. And then we were were off, sailing down a 400m hill, with 4 laps of 2K to tackle.
I had a brief moment of exuberance but then quickly dialled it back. Northern Irish runner Steven Cairns led the charge with England team mates Tim Hartley, Phil Leybourne, and Andrew Leech, who topped the M50 half marathon rankings with 1:11:59, in hot pursuit.
This was my 5th outing on the country since 2004. And this course, unlike the one in Boulder I had excelled on while picking up medals at the 2014 and 2015 USATF XC Nationals, was a true XC course. Twisting and turning, continuously undulating, and occasionally heavy underfoot. When I last lived in the UK in the late 90s XC was my forte and I reveled on this type of course. Now I was a novice, running wide, losing traction and steadily losing places. I was overboard without a lfe jacket. Up the creek without a padle. You get the idea.
By the end of the second of four laps I had settled into 9th place – behind all five England team mates as well as lead runners from Northern Ireland (NI), Ireland and Wales. The top three of Hartley, Cairns and Leech had a big lead. Over the next lap I consolidated, overtook Welshman Jeff Wherlock, and then started to chase Dermot Hayes (NI), Mark Symes, 1500m gold medalist for M45 at the WMAC, and a fast slowing Leybourne.
On the final climb of the final lap, with 600m left, I had all three runners in my grasp but they all proved to have faster finishes. So 8th M50 in 28:06 it was with all five England team mates in front, albeit three of them less than 16 seconds ahead. I was deeply disappointed and dissatisfied even though I had my excuses.
Post race I warmed down with Simon Baines, who’d run well in the M45 race, and Tim Hartley. Back at my hotel I sought comfort in bad food and drink and analyzed the race. XC and road are very different. It’s horses for courses and this was not my course. Once a good XC runner I had now totally converted to road. In road races I get into my groove and grind it out. On the country I simply failed to find any groove.
A comprehensive suite of pictures by Robert Gale are below.
That evening I attended the presentation dinner. England won all categories bar one. I collected a medal, my first representing England. Long overdue. The drink helped drown my sorrows and even got me on the dance floor. Sunday morning I ran with England team mates Stephen Watmough (11th M55), Andrew Leech (3rd M50) and Nick Jones (3rd M40) along the Swansea seafront. A perfect end to a not so perfect trip to Wales.