Monthly Archives: April 2012

Morning Running in Central Park

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

I finally did it. And it felt so good I’ve kept doing it once a week for the last three weeks. And I’m now determined not to stop. Running to work through Central Park at least once a week that is.

I’d been thinking about doing this for a long time. But it requires some planning. Clothes and shoes have to be left at work as well as anything else that wouldn’t fit in my little waist bag. Get it wrong and I could be working in my running clothes all day. And having to ignore all those looks.

This run starts with getting off the train at 125th Street Harlem Metro North station. When I lived in New York as a student in the 90s, Harlem was a dangerous place known for its drugs and shootings. But it’s a different place now. The worst you can expect is to be shot an odd look. The puzzled or disbelieving sort. The neighborhood around the station is dilapidated but before long you are  in possibly one of the world’s greatest city parks – Central Park.

I enter the park at the corner of 110th and 5th Avenue. I run along a path skirting the Harlem Meer. Early morning the park is serene, quite different to when Paul runs through in the evening. (He does a longer version of this run in reverse on the way home three times a week.) Just me and a few runners, walkers, dog walkers and  yoga practitioners.

Harlem Meer at the north end of Central Park.

I then run through my favorite part of the park – the Central Park Conservatory Gardens. This hidden sanctuary tucked in the noCrabapple trees in full blown in the Conservatory Gardens.rth-east corner of the park is made up of three gardens, each with its distinct style – English, Italian and French. At this point I often allow myself a brief stop to take some photos. I am tempted to sit on a bench and meditate but I have a job waiting.

The cherry blossoms make Spring one of the best times to run along the bridle path.

Coming out of the Conservatory Gardens a short but steep climb gets me back onto the main road circling Central Park. From here I pick up the trail that runs south to the Reservoir. You can run the perimeter path, made famous by numerous movies, or take the bridle path. I prefer the latter – fewer runners though less of a view.

In the last few weeks I’ve seen the cherry trees along the West side of the Reservoir have gone from buds, to full flower and then just leaves. By 8 a.m. the serious runners have come and gone. I am (unusually) one of the faster runners!

From the Reservoir I take the bridle path down the west side. This avoids the road filled with traffic and runners and takes in some old bridges and tunnels. The only downside are the occasional unleashed dogs as Paul discussed some months back.

San Remo's twin towers seen from the West side of the Central Park.

The Apple store along 5th Avenue.

Coming out of the park at 59th street and onto 5th Avenue green serenity yields to hustle and bustle. New Yorkers carrying their signature coffee cups rush to work. Tourists flock around the Plaza Hotel and iconic Apple store. But it’s still a lot less crowded than the same streets in the evening.

I usually end up on Park Avenue for most of the final stretch to the office. The sidewalks are wider and the foot traffic flows smoothly from Grand Central to nearby offices.  My run ends at the gym across the road from my office. A quick shower and I’m all set for the day ahead. The main difference is that I’ve experienced Central Park at a special time. Plus there’s that virtous feeling. It’s a great start to any day.


Marathon Duel: Boston vs. London

by Paul Thompson

The last two weekends have witnessed two of the world’s greatest marathons – Boston and London. (They are two of the five making up the World Marathon Majors.) Coming so close together makes it hard to do both in any one year. So faced with a choice, which should you do? Here is my assessment based on having spectated live and run both races (London in 2006 and 2007, Boston in 2008).

Running past the Houses of Parliament in the 2006 London Marathon.

Speed of Course
If you are looking for a PR/PB then London wins hands down. Both races descend in the opening few miles but while London is then pancake flat bar the odd bump Boston hits a long gradient in Wellesley (16 miles) and the Newton Hills (17-21 miles), culminating in Heartbreak Hill. The upshot is that London’s men’s race is typically won in around 2:05, the Boston men’s winner typically breasts the tape in around 2:08 – unless of course there is a following wind. (In 2011 when Geoffrey Mutai ran 2:03:02 – the fastest ever but ineligible for WR status according to IAAF rules owing to the net loss in elevation and the wind assist possibility from it being an A to B course).

Verdict: London

Geoffrey Mutai (in green) won the 2011 Boston Marathon,setting a new course record.

Caroline Kilel, winner of the 2011 Boston Marathon, dropped out at mile 25.

London can be relied upon for almost perfect conditions – for runners if not spectators. It’s often overcast with light winds and temperatures in the 50s (F) and 60s. In 2006, my marathon debut in London, we had a fine drizzle throughout. In 2007 temperatures peaked at 70F at the end. In Boston, however, the weather is a lottery. While ideal when I ran in 2008, the 2012 race saw the needle nudging 70F at the start and high 80s at the end. These furnace like conditions took their toll with many dropping out or running Personal Worsts. Many of the world’s best DNF. And this was not the hottest Boston.

Verdict: London

The Boston Marathon has heaps of history compared with its London counterpart. Boston is the world’s oldest city marathon dating back to 1887. Most runners also need to qualify – times matter more than fancy dress or charity when it comes to gaining entry. While London is run on the streets of a city that was once a Roman settlement its marathon is a relative new kid on the bloc, having started out in 1981 to emulate the New York City Marathon.

Verdict: Boston

The London Marathon takes in the London Eye.

The London course takes in some of the world’s most iconic sites – such as the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the London Eye, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace – and runs along the River Thames. Boston has only some quaint New England churches and the Prudential Tower. (Some might add the Wellesley girls as one of the attractions!) London wins by 26.2 miles on this metric.

Verdict – London

Poster from the 2011 Boston Marathon.

Quality and Depth of Field
London might be won in a faster time and boast more runners (almost 40,000 compared with 27,000) Boston’s qualification system means that just to stand on the start line, let alone cross the tape, is an achievement. Boston is geared more towards the serious runner, London the fundraiser be they Elvis, Batman, or the Pantomime Horse. Never mind the quantity, feel the quality that Boston has to offer.

Verdict: Boston

Heading to meet family and friends after the London Marathon.

Organization and Logistics
The Boston organizers have had time to hone their craft and it shows with impeccable organization. Unfortunately, having to bus 27,000 out to Hopkinton, a small village some 25 miles out of the city centre, makes logistics a stretch. For the 10 a.m. start you have to get on a bus from Boston Common before dawn and then spend almost two hours waiting in a field for the race to start.

London on the other hand you can turn up 30 minutes beforehand. Similarly post race is a breeze. Barely 2 minutes after crossing the finish line in my London races I had my kit bag, medal and goodie bag (the open sided trucks work far better than Boston’s school buses for baggage handing) and after 5 minutes I was telling war stories to family and friends outside Horse Guard’s Parade.

Verdict: London

The London marathon is the UK’s largest marathon, run on the streets of one of the world’s great capital cities, and watched live by hundreds of thousands. It’s more than a marathon. It’s an all singing, all dancing charity extravaganza unequalled in any sport anywhere anytime.

Verdict: London

Supporters in Boston cheering on runners at the finish,

London has a huge and enthusiastic crowd but Boston’s crowd know their marathon and their runners. It’s also a part of the Boston’s history. Train on the course in March and you will find home made refeshment stations set up along the route. At Wellesley College – Hilary Clinton’s old school – you feel like you are the Beatles setting foot for the first time in the USA: hundreds of screaming young women. On the 600m finishing down Boylston Street you are running through a cauldron of noise. In 1982 Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar battled it out in an epic race that entered marathon folklore as the ‘Duel in the Sun’: the crowd was awesome.

Verdict: Boston

Overall Verdict – London edges this. Judge for yourself by either running, watching kerbside or checking out the TV coverage for Boston and London.

Runners: You are Simply the Best

by Paul Thompson

The 2012 Boston Marathon was one of the hottest on record. It was already in the 70s (F) by the mass start at 10am and in the high 80s by noon. I did something I rarely do. I watched. I was mainly there to cheer on team mates who I’d trained with throughout the winter. And I was keen to see them finish the job.

When I heard the weather predictions on Friday evening I felt fortunate to be watching. At the dinner with team mates the night before I made no secret of this. But watching them and thousands of others run by me at Kenmore Square, just after the 25 mile point, I began to wish I was out there too. My sense of relief at not having to run gave way to a feeling of envy that I was not taking part in it. To share in the pain, the emotion, and whatever else they were experiencing. For I came to realize that I was witnessing something special: how the human spirit can endure and overcome when tested. And I wanted to be part of that.

On the best of days Boston is a tough marathon. Traditionally the winners run 3-4 minutes slower than the fastest courses like London or Chicago. But because it is an A to B, West to East course it will never qualify for world records: the course is downhill and there can be chasing wind like last year.

Wesley Korir won in 2:12:40, almost nine minutes slower than last year's winner who had a tail wind right through the race.

In 2008, after passing half way in 1:14 and cresting Heartbreak Hill I thought a 2:29 PR was on the cards – only to find the hills had sapped whatever I had left and the muscles starting cramping on the long steady descent into the finish. I ended up running 2:38:52, losing almost 2 minutes a mile in the last 4 miles. Ample proof that the race really does not start until 20 miles. Boston can break you like no other Marathon Major. After the race Shamala said that I was running at her pace near the end: actually I walked sections with cow bells ringing in my ear.

What kept me going that year, and what kept the 22,500 on Monday going, was dogged determination. To finish what you had started months ago in the depths of winter – those long training runs in all weathers etc. There is neither rhyme nor reason to it. All you know is you have to do it. In the last mile I, like many others on Monday, was like a lame donkey.  And when you are like this you do not give a fig for what you look like or your time. It’s all about the finishing.

The Boston field is better prepared than most for the hills and, this year, the weather. For many runners Boston is the holy grail of marathon running. Until a decade ago the only way to run Boston was to qualify by running another marathon  within a specific time. Today running for a charity, being a celebrity or a sponsor can get you a spot on the starting line. Owing to the heat the organizers gave all entrants the option of deferring their entry to 2013. Some 4,500 out of 27,000 did, I suspect most being those who hadn’t qualified.

The Warren Street team was led home by Sebastien B. in a scorching 2:33:13 and coming in 30th place (33rd  if you include the elite women). Truly amazing in the conditions and barely 20 minutes behind the winner, Wesley Korir, who ran 2:12:40. Just after the 25 mile marker he even had the presence of mind, which I never have, of hearing us cheer and hi-fived us.

Sebastien acknowledging us as he races past to the finish,

Then came Fabio Casadio, enroute to 2:47:29, gesturing to the crowd to give him a helping cheer. Larry Ikard in 3:14:56 anchored Warren Street to 6th Open Men’s team. Simon Elsaesser, making the trip from his adopted home country of England, ran 3:15:58.  The Warren Street women also scored as a team. As far as I know all of the Warren Street team members that started finished. No PRs but immense relief and pride in what they had achieved.

Fabio getting the crowd to cheer him on.

On the drive home Shamala and I stopped for a bite at a travel plaza. And here there were dozens of battered and bruised, but not beaten, Boston 2012 veterans heading home. To New York, to Philadelphia and further afield. With family or friends or with just a Big Mac. Most wore their finisher medals to prove they’d been there, seen it and done it. Indeed they had done something truly outstanding, something that the 99.9% can never imagine. And for this day they were quite Simply the Best.

The Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street.


The Last Supper

by Paul Thompson and Shamala Kandiah Thompson

Paul and I  are in Boston to cheer on Warren Street club mates, and others we know, running the Boston Marathon this year. Yesterday evening we met up with many of them and their supporters at Vapiano for an early carbo loading dinner.

On the eve before the marathon, this restaurant clearly catered to the running crowd. Instead of high heels, running shoes were the footwear of choice among the majority of customers.  And instead of wine, a free flow of Gatorade was offered to those running the marathon and ordering pasta.

The motto of the restaurant – “chi va piano, va sano e lontano” –  did worry a few of the runners. Apparently it translates into he who goes slowly goes healthfully for a long time. But given the heat expected on race day perhaps it was wise advice.

The restaurant was true to its word in other ways – with slow service which prompted that pre-race itchy feet runners suffer from. Routine and pre-race running talk was order of the day. Most runners ate exactly what they eat the night before a big race. And conversation was strictly limited to the usual running verbage – PRs, past races, but most especially the heat and how to cope with the expected 87F at noon. It looks set to be the hottest ever so caution, regulat hydration and running in whatever shade is on offer is the best advice to give. Watch this space for the race report later today.

Race Report: Scotland Run (10K), New York, April 7

by Paul Thompson

Kilts, bagpipes and other Scottish paraphernalia took over  Central Park during the Scotland Run, the highlight of Scotland Week held in New York every year. The least Scottish thing was the weather: bright sunshine and a light breeze.

A bagpiper giving runners a lift just before the finishing line.

Listening to final instructions on the starting line.

This year almost 8,000 runners toed the start line – including several Warren Street team mates clad in an almost Scottish blue. Starting at the bottom of the West Drive, the run takes in a full lap of the park and ends just north of the Tavern on the Green, sharing the same finish line as the New York City Marathon.

New York Road Runner (NYRR) races start with the US national anthem. But this time a rendition of the Flower of Scotland rang out before the Star-Spangled Banner. For us English it was a timely reminder of the long, sometimes troubled relations with our northern neighbor: right now all the talk is of Scotland getting full independence from the Auld Enemy.

Runners at the start of the Scotland Run.

The race was loaded with Ethiopians from the West Side Runners (WSX) stable and a posse of newly minted college grads from the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) (this is where Don Draper in Mad Men takes a dip). I got caught in their jet stream and passed the first mile in 5:10 and the second in 10:22. The race then hits Central Park’s Northern Hills, including what some dub Heartbreak Hill. A bagpiper piped an inspiring tune at the foot of the hill but it would need more than inspiration to overcome my tiring auld legs.

By this point I was running alongside my key masters rivals – Hector Rivera of NYAC (in 2005 he finished 2nd to my 4th) and Matt Chaston (a Welshman whose brother Justin ran 3000m steeplechase for Britain in three consecutive Olympics) of Urban Athletics, the team that edged us for the title of New York’s top masters team in 2011.

Battling it out with a WSX runner just after the six mile mark.

I ran an over zealous Heartbreak Hill, reaching 3 miles in around 15:30. That was to be my undoing – I dropped off the back and passed 4 miles in 26:05. Rivera surged ahead, and went on to take the masters’ honors, while I spent the last few miles trading places with a WSX runner who outsprinted me in the final few metres. I clocked 32:49 for 19th overall, 2nd masters, 1st M45-49 and top age grade.

In the finishing funnel I congratulated key rivals and Warren Street team mates (handshakes for the Brits, yo bro fist pumps for the Americans). After a short warm down, joined by Boston Marathon bound Sebastien B. and Fabio Casadio who sat this one out, the team retired to a classic diner for a team brunch where we refuelled (no haggis mind) and did a race post mortem.

The team had mixed fortunes but Peter Heimgartner (35:47), Michael Anderson (36:00) and I got us 2nd Mens Masters (of 49 teams). Lauren Salisbury (37:10) was the standout individual, finishing third woman overall, and Micaela McMurrough (41:22) took top spot in the W35-39 age group. Ryan Korby (34:49) and Danny Tateo (37:30) logged PRs.

Warren Street team mates, Ryan Korby and Charlie Baily, racing to the finish.