Monthly Archives: February 2012

Boulder to Boston

by Paul Thompson

This past weekend was the first time I’d trained in Boulder with anyone else. Sure Shamala and I often start out together but typically next see each other at the end of our run, often at our favorite post run coffee venue, the North Boulder branch of Spruce Confections (the scones, especially raspberry-cream cheese, hit the spot after a hard run).

My sparring partners were Fabio Casadio and Sebastien B. who’d come to Boulder to get in some hard training at altitude as part of their build up to the Boston Marathon. Fabio and Sebastien are hoping to break their PRs of 2:42 and 2:29 respectively. So for 4 days we went at it hammer and tongs – until we could barely stand anymore let alone run.

We did most of our running on the North Boulder trails. They offer undulating off-road running with breathtaking (what breath there was left to take) vistas of the snow sprinkled Flatirons, mountains which visually define Boulder. The sun shone and the skies were a perfect blue. Temperatures were often in the 40s. But when the wind blew the windchill took it into single digit fahrenheit.

Here’s a blow-by-blow account:

Day 1 – steady 10 miles –

Day 2 AM – steady 6 miles –

Day 2 PM –  4 mile fast tempo with warm up and long warm down –

Day 3 – 13 mile steady run –

Day 4 – 14 mile steady run –


Boulder with the Boys

We are back in Boulder for a few days. this time with two of Paul’s Warren Street running mates, Sebastien and Fabio. Paul’s been extolling the virtues of the Boulder trails and now they’re going to experience it for themselves.  So it’s just me, three running addicts and four days in Boulder. And when obsessive runners get together in Boulder it’s quickly becomes boot camp at altitude. In the last three days the boys have racked up 40 miles and they still have one more long run planned. (Paul’s will be giving details of the runs they did in his next post. )

Boulder had been hit with one of its largest snow storms a few weeks ago and we didn’t know if the trails would still be covered by snow and ice.  New York winters have gotten us used to not being able to run off-road once there have been a couple of big snow storms. There had been some snow on Wednesday night and the foothills  had a coating of white. We found the trails, however, generally clear bar the odd icy patch.  I managed to take a few photos on the Wonderland Trail which was good because the next day it had all melted away!

The Foothills with a dusting of snow

I had decided to try working remotely so spent more time with my computer than outdoors on Thursday and Friday. But with New York two hours ahead of Boulder I could still get out for a run before dark when things at work slowed down. Friday late afternoon I headed toward Boulder Reservoir on the North Boulder trails. It was perfect conditions both for running as well as taking photos and I could feel myself quickly slipping into a Boulder state of mind.

Lake on the way to Boulder Reservoir

Blue skies and cylists are part of the Boulder landscape

This stand alone hill can be seen from most of the trails in North Boulder

Why Do We Do It?

by Paul Thompson and Shamala Kandiah Thompson

Paul’s Answer

It happens more often as I get older, when injured, when confidence is ebbing, when something is weighing on my mind, when performance is flagging.  Asking myself ‘why do I run?’ that is.

It’s a question I try to avoid. But often it comes to me at those low points – like when a run in the wet and cold, after a long day in the office, is in the way of instant gratification in the shape of a soft sofa, fast food, and trashy TV. Or when someone, generally a non-runner, pops the question.

The answer is the holy grail of runners. When asked I usually rattle off the oft quoted reasons – well-being, fitness, stress relief, self-meditation, etc. Sure these matter. But the ‘real’ reason is more like ‘I have to run’.

That ‘have to’ feeling comes from the way running is part of who I am. And from the search for those magic moments when during a run I enter the ‘zone’ of exhileration helped along by an endorphin rush – having overcome the elements, or the course or the competition or myself ……or all of these.

Ironically I first started running for a very different reason. At age 8 or 9, in those bygone days when we made our own way to and from school, I started to run the half mile home. My aim was to catch the start of the BBC’s children’s TV progams – Playschool you have a lot to answer for.   

Shamala’s Answer

It’s a love-hate relationship. There are days when I’m ready for a separation. And to allow room for another love in my life. Something that promises more pleasure, less pain. But I’ve stood by it, ‘for better for worse’, and I can’t imagine life without it.

It started when I was 14. I began running to get fit for what was then my real passion – squash. By the time I was 20 I’d hung up my racket. But not my running shoes. I got serious enough to do a marathon at 24.  I haven’t felt the urge to do another one. But running had become a habit I couldn’t kick.

Over the years I have often asked myself why I keep running. Often it’s just plain hard work. There’s no glory since I win no bling. In fact, I rarely race. I’ve flirted with other ways of keeping fit. But  running has always been the constant.

The good days, when I feel fit and strong, keep me going. And running marries well with my photography. But in the end it all comes down to needing to run. Which I came to realize was no bad thing when I married a mad runner. We don’t run at the same pace but we do run for the same reason. Because we don’t know how not to.

Perhaps Sir Roger Bannister hit the spot when he said:

“We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves. The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, ‘You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.’ The human spirit is indomitable.”

Runner’s Valentine’s Day Dilemma

by Paul Thompson

On Saturday I reminded my Warren Street club mates about the Tuesday night workout. I was given mixed looks – incredulity, nodding acceptance and uncertainty.

The incredulity came from someone who confessed that he would have to give it a miss since he valued his life. The nodding acceptance came from someone who, I suspect, did not realize Tuesday was Valentine’s Day – or else was unattached. And the uncertainty came from perhaps the most hard core runner of us all, Sebastien B. He simply said he’d confirm on Tuesday, presumably after doing his ‘homework’ and checking where the land lay with his wife.

A club mate, Jim Stemm, who has been married for many years to another runner, offered some cautionary advice. Don’t be lulled into thinking you can get away with doing nothing: if your wife says no need to do anything special, then make sure you plan something special. Jim also mentioned how having a child, together with a small investment in glue, glitter and paper, was saving him a fortune in cards.

On the eve of Valentine’s I realized I’d put the group, especially Sebastien, in a difficult predicament, a kind of no-win situation. Bailout in favor of candlelit meal for two and their commitment to running was in question. Run the workout and get home late, maybe too late for dinner, and risk domestic disharmony. It’s what I call the Runner’s Valentine’s Day Dilemma. Miscalculate and the outcome could be unpleasant. And worse I might get implicated in the ‘crime’.

So before Sebastien could contact me to confirm whether he was in or out, I emailed everyone to say I was not going to make it ‘for obvious reasons’. This prompted a flurry of copycat withdrawals. Running often tests us – our commitment, our sanity. But on occasions like this it just has to be put aside.

So right now I am writing this piece while riding the train home so Shamala and I can spend the evening together.  She’s had a heavy work lunch, with alcohol, so I seem to be off the hook for ‘something special’. Until the alcohol wears off.

Might not have been roses and chocolates but some attempts at romance were made

Telling Tales of Trails

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

I’ve always thought of myself as a road runner.  I’ve pounded the pavements in many cities from Singapore, where I grew up, to the streets of Shanghai and Sydney. Then a few years ago we moved out of New York City to Peekskill. Suddenly this city girl discovered that just beneath that road runner surface was a trail runner trying to get out.

Admittedly there were some bumps along the way. Literally. A few weeks after we’d moved I fell over a rock on a trail in Blue Mountain – our closest off-road running spot –  and found myself with a goose egg-sized bump above my eye. Unfortunately that soon developed into a psychedelic colored eye. (I haven’t been able to wear purple eye shadow to this day. ) Walking next to me later that day Paul got some disapproving looks and I began to feel I needed a sign around my neck saying “running injury”.

Deer standing guard in front of one of the entrances to Blue Mountain trails

Even a second fall along that trail (no black eye this time – I’d learnt to break my fall with my hands rather than my face) didn’t curb my enthusiasm for running in Blue Mountain. I enjoy having the place to myself bar the occasional mountain biker and a few deer who eye me suspiciously but otherwise ignore me.  I love the springy ground below my feet and the feeling of being envelopped by nature. I struggle a bit with the uneven terrain and barely maintain my balance as I descend – but at least I’m not falling over anymore.  And because I am expert at slow running, I don’t mind that it’s not a course for fast running.

To feed my new hunger for off-road running I began researching other running trails in Westchester. To my dismay it was hard getting good information. Finally I stumbled upon Westchester Trails. This website contained information on two areas that have become my favorite running haunts – the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail and Rockefeller Park Preserve. In one of those small world coincidences, Joe Garland, who set up Westchester Trails turned out to be one of Paul’s Warren Street team mates. (Joe also has a great running blog – Run Westchester.)

Croton Falls created by water spilling out of Croton Reservoir

The Old Croton Aqueduct (OCA) Trail follows the path of the original aqueduct. With the help of gravity, it supplied thirsty New Yorkers with drinking water from 1842 to 1955. My run on this trail begins at the very start of the OCA  at the Croton Dam and Reservoir.  Other than a steep climb to get to the start of the trail, it’s a straight out and back run with a flat, soft running surface.  The trail ends in the Bronx and covers 26.1 miles. I’m not quite up for marathon distance runs on week-ends so instead settle for less – 20 miles less. While there might be the odd dog walker often it’s just me and the trees for company. Which allows for a wonderful sense of solitude. I don’t have to slalom through crowds, dodge mad deliverymen on their bikes or stop at traffic lights.  On many of my runs here the only sounds are of the birds, leaves rustling and, perhaps the loudest, my own breathing.

Trail along the Old Croton Aqueduct

After a bit of trial and error I discovered that just up the road from the OCA trail was another 6 mile out and back run along the Croton Reservoir.  It’s an easy run along a gravel road with the reservoir on one side and trees on the other.

However, for Paul and I, Rockefeller Park Preserve in Sleepy Hollow is our favorite off-road running spot in New York. Some 1400 acres of undulating, largely wooded countryside criss-crossed with a network of gravel carriage trails, literally for horse and carriage (which you might encounter on a run to this day). Affectionately known as the “Rockies” to the runners, this running magnet is a short drive from where we live and about 40 minutes by train from New York City (via Metro North’s Hudson Line, getting off at Tarrytown or Philipse Manor).

Greedy pigs in Rockefeller Park Preserve

In spite of it being a very popular running spot, I’ve done many runs there where it’s just me, a few deer and some pigs and wild turkey for most of the run. (Paul has seen  coyotes – at least he has a chance of outrunning them.) The varied vistas and extensive trail system, offering countless course permutations, help the miles pass quickly. In summer trees offer shade. In winter it’s often a wonderland though snow can make the surface difficult to run on.

Winter running in Rockefeller Park Preserve

As much as I enjoy being out on the trails, during the week I often find myself having to do road runs. As I run down Park Avenue towards the MetLife building or through Central Park, I still get a buzz from city running.  But as soon as I’m back on a trail I quickly realize that I’d choose trail over road anytime.

Goal Setting on the Run

by Paul Thompson

At work I’m in the midst of setting my 2012 performance objectives. I’m not good at this. Or is it that I just don’t like doing it.  Or that my high expectations make achieving them a stretch. Or all of the above.  Well I resolved on my long Saturday morning run that goal setting is good, for my running at least. Having something to shoot at helps stay motivated. Now the first step in goal setting, according to the management gurus, is to take stock of the past year.

Running the Philly Rock "n" Roll Half Marathon

2011 was a mixed year. The year ended on a high note with a mention in the Running Times annual master’s M45-49 rankings and a nomination from NYRR for M45-49 runner of the year 2011. Meanwhile my US results got me ranked top 3 in the M45-49 age group in the UK for the 5 mile, 10K and half marathon. Most satisfying races included: finishing second M45-49 in the British Masters Cross Country Championships; first masters in the Bolder Boulder 10K; and running 1’10″48 in the Philadelphia (aka Philly) Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon.

Team performances also matter. I raced regularly for my club Warren Street Social and Athletics Club but we had to settle for 3rd in the NYRR 2011 Team Awards for masters having been the top team for the previous three years.

A major disappointment was not being selected to represent England in the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International, with lack of ‘local’ races cited as a reason. As a UK expatriate living in the US I’m falling (running) between two stools. Here in the US I can compete, but am ineligible to score, in the USA Track and Field Championships  – as I found out at the USATF Masters Half Championships 2010 in Florida.

2011 brought with it the realization that age is catching up with me.  Injuries are easier to come by – I have been battling with IT Band and groin issues – and younger runners harder to beat.  PRs are illusive and largely confined to race distances never previously attempted. At 46 I have to be realistic. Masters runners have to redefine success: doing the same as before is the new improvement. Age grading helps.

By the end of my 2′ 30″ run I had decided on the following goals: stay injury free and continue to run about 70 miles a week; run a 70 minute half-marathon, maybe Philly; get as near to the top of the UK and US masters rankings as possible; win the NYRR M45-49 age award to make it eight in a row; and help the team improve in the club rankings over 2011. If the stars start to align and a PR looks possible (my 2:29:56 PR was set in 2006 in London, just after turning 40), then run the New York marathon, my hometown race.

Warren Street Team after the Philly Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon

Another running goal is to help some of my Warren Street team mates set PRs in 2012. If I cannot set one then at least I can help someone get one. Team mates that look likely to set PRs this year include Danny Tateo, Sebastien B., Lauren Salisbury, Fabio Casadio, Charlie Baily and Mo’ath Al-khawaldeh (for their NYRR race results see here).

One last and possibly most important goal: to continue to feel that I have to run. There’s no better motivator than that.