by Shamala Kandiah Thompson and Paul Thompson
On October 6 for the first time ever Paul and I ran in the same race. Grete’s Great Gallop is a half-marathon that Paul has done every year since 2008. It was his last race in 2012 before he got injured and now a year later he was hoping this would be his come-back race. I, on the other hand, had not done a half-marathon since my mid-twenties. I had signed up just five days before the race. Having trained with a friend who was doing a half-marathon that same week-end, I knew I was physically fit enough – whether I was mentally ready was another question.
Paul’s Race Experience
Clocking 1:12:10 at Grete’s Great Gallop marked the culmination of a 3 month long comeback from a year wrecked by sciatica and an accident. Sure I had raced the Fifth Avenue Mile a few weeks before – my first race since Grete’s in October 2012 – but that was just an appetizer. This was the main course.
The race left me jubilant, relieved and pissed – all in one. I felt jubilant in achieving my 1:12 ‘stretch’ target. I felt relieved in proving I could claw my way back from being so unfit in late July, maybe the least fit since I was in my early 20s. I felt frustrated in realizing, after the initial soreness wore off, that once again I was suffering from sciatica.
The 1:12 gave me a 90% plus age grade. Masters runners like me are unlikely to get PRs so we have to make do with KPIs like these. My aim in every NYRR race is to top the age grade. I often do when running well and the race has no pro athletes competing. And that’s what I did this time – as soon as NYRR had cleansed the results and gotten rid of the usual ‘errors’ in the first cut of the race results.
The race went pretty much to plan. I set off cautiously at around 5:40 pace and then started to edge my way through to the top 20 by mile two. I was further back than normal at this stage but then the race field was loaded with more fast guys than I can recall in the many years I have done this race. A slower start than normal kept me out of trouble – from getting carried away with an irrationally exuberant start. In any case I figured there was plenty of time to ‘make up’ for a slow start in a half. I also had to contend with not knowing what the body was capable of after a long layoff.
For several miles I was content to sit in with a group running around 5:30 pace. We gradually picked off some fast starters. I then found the group slowing to 5:40s so I struck out alone around 9 miles, just as we headed into the northern hills for the second time. For the last few miles I was trying to stay focused on chasing the runners in front who were becoming obscured by the many slower runners we were lapping. I reeled in a few on the bottom loop of the park and crossed the line sandwiched by two French runners.
While I was chuffed with the result – Warren Street also got first place in the men’s masters’ team – I was much less pleased with the legacy. My sciatica has returned, this time in my right butt. Warming down, and catching Shamala narrowly miss 2 hours, I sensed all was not well.
So here I am once more stretching, ball rolling, you name it, and hoping I do not have to leave it to fate to get rid of it – my last bout only went after 6 weeks of forced rest due to being knocked over by a bicycle.
Shamala’s Race Experience
This is one race I’ve always been interested in running. Mainly because Grete Waitz, who passed away in 2011, has for many years been one of my running heroes. The first few years Paul did this race Grete was at the start and finish. I took photos of her but didn’t dare go up and speak to her. I wish I had. I didn’t want to regret never doing Grete’s Great Gallop.
On the morning of the race I was up at 4:30 am. Nerves, excitement or plain fear. I really didn’t want to be on that start line. But at 8:45 am I was in my corral (which was quite a bit further back than Paul’s!), stomach churning as the announcements went on and on. I worried about not finishing the race, about running out of energy and stumbling to the finish. What on earth made me think I could run a half-marathon after all these years?
It got a lot better once we started. Somehow getting my legs moving calmed me down and I settled into a comfortable pace with the group around me. I knew that I had to start slow so although I was feeling good I kept to a steady trot. Still I covered the first seven miles in under 9 minute mile pace which if I had kept up would have easily got me in within my two hour goal.
Central Park is a very hilly course. And in this race you get to do the entire loop twice. There are big hills in the north and generally it is an undulating course that has almost no flat bits. I got through the first five miles, including the dreaded northern hills comfortably. The 80 percent humidity meant that I couldn’t avoid the water stations. Note to self: before the next race practice running and drinking at the same time.
Heading past the start line brought home the fact that the race was not even half over. A mile or so ahead was the finish line but I had another 7 miles to go before I could cross it. At this point the first three runners came past me heading for the finish. I picked up my feet. The one thing I was determined to do was not get lapped by Paul! Getting past the finish line was a psychological milestone. I knew at that point that I wasn’t going to stop after one round as I feared. Or maybe it was the Gu I’d taken at mile 7 kicking in.
The second half of the race was a lot harder. I got past the northern hills without totally fading but the miles following were slower. The last three miles were tough. While my legs were getting tired at this point, the battle was all in my head. I wanted so badly to stop and walk or just stop and leave the race. I managed to keep going but I slowed down quite a bit. Paul found me at mile 10 and tried to run with me but I told him to go away. Having him and some of his running mates cheer me on though was uplifting although it did not necessarily make me move much faster! And in the last mile as runners began to pick up speed I could only plod on. I just didn’t have it in me to pull out a final sprint. Which is a pity because I finished seven seconds short of my goal of coming in under 2 hours. Still it wasn’t as bad an experience as I’d feared. Maybe I don’t have to let twenty odd years pass before doing another one.
On another note, this used to be one of the best post-race events. For many years it was part of the Norwegian festival. There were waffles with jam, bagels with salmon, Vikings and good music. Now all you get is a dry bagel and an apple at the finish and few people stick around for the prize giving. I hope they bring back those waffles and Vikings next year.