by Paul Thompson
After a month on the road – travelling for work in Europe – I stood on the start line with some trepidation. It was some 6 weeks since my last race, guiding Jason Dunkerley in the United Airlines New York City Half Marathon, and some 2 months since my season opener at the NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K. I was in no man’s land with little idea what to expect. I need not have worried.
With Sham away in Bangladesh – she flew out of T4 JFK on Thursday, three hours after I cleared immigration at T8, and we had 15 minutes together curbside at T4 – my usual prerace routine was also out of the window. Instead of driving in, parking at Marcus Garvey Park and then running to the race start as a warm-up, this time I caught the train in, stepped off at Harlem 125th Street Metro North and then ran to the start. I was also missing a photographer and an editor for this blog (hence few pictures and many typos).
Warming up I felt like I was over jet lag. There was a spring in my step. I’d also lost a few lbs while away, like I had in the build-up to the 2017 London Marathon. I ran and walked almost 5 miles as a warm-up, the last few miles with team mate Falvio De Simone who had recovered well from Boston and was in saerch of a PR. Shortly before the start fellow team mate Jordan Wolff appeared: I had a UA singlet to lend him.
The starting corral was packed. The invited elite runners included Laura Thweatt who is also coached by Lee Troop and who headlined at the NYRR Run Talk on Friday evening taht I attended. The local field was loaded. NYAC were out in force. I lined up amidst their posse.
My race plan was simple. I was keen to get close to my 32:44 of 2017, arguably my best race of 2017. I would shoot for even splits, making allowances for the hills in the 1st, 3rd and 4th miles, (Download Course Map (PDF)) with the goal of running just under 33:00. That would demand 5:15s in the early miles before settling into low 5:20s.
And the gun was off. Barely 400m into the race I noticed just up ahead a phalanx of elite women with Laura leading the way. I figured I’d try to keep them in my sights as long as possible and, hopefully, run with my new team mate Askale Merachi. I clipped through the first mile, taking in Cat Hill, in 5:17 and caught Askale around the two mile mark with the clock reading 10:30. I hoped Askale would come with me but she was slowing, perhaps saving herself for an upcoming marathon. I was following the playbook.
The third mile proved, as expected, to be the toughest as it takes in the Northern Hills. On a counter / anti clockwise loop like this that means a 400m descent past the Harlem Meer, a 600m climb up to near the summit of the Great Hill, Central Park’s highest point, and ending with a 400m descent. I passed three miles in 16:05 and half way in 16:32, 3 seconds faster than I ran the Washington Heights 5K. I was shadowing Brent Frissora, someone I’d often traded strides with. Aside from Brent I spent most of the race isolated.
The fourth mile was no easier. Heading south down the West Side Drive it rolls with more climbing than descending. I covered the 4th mile on 5:27, reaching the four mile mark in 21:20. The fifth mile is possibly the fastest of the course as it descends for around 800m to Strawberry Fields. I passed Brent and then passed the 8K mark in 26:32 and 5 miles in 26:50. In 2017 I rocked the final mile chasing Natosha Rodgers. This time I simply clung on. Brent overtook me. I climbed up the final 200m incline as though it were the north face of the Eiger.
I crossed the finish line in 33:10, 26 seconds shy of 2017. I was 40th, 1st M50+ and 2nd M40+. My time was worth an age grade of 92.15%, the 5th highest of the day. It also tops the UK and, I think, US M50+ rankings for road 10K (USATF Masters 10K Championships were held on the same day). For now. My Garmin data is here.
UA boasted a number of individual top 3 age group placers: Jordan Wolff, 2nd M40 in 34:50, a PR; Flavio De Simone, 2nd M45 in 34:57, a PR by 1:02; Fiona Bayly, 1st F50-54 in 37:42; Jennifer Amato, 3rd F45-49 in 41:07; and Kathleen Kilbride, 1st F60-64 in 47:59). UA also excelled team wise with 1st W50 (Fiona Bayly, Kathleen Kilbride and Kathleen Horton), 2nd M40+ (Jordan Wolff, Flavio De Simone and I), 2nd M50+ (Richard Temerian, Bob Smullen and I) and 3rd F40+ (Fiona Bayly, Jennifer Amato and Kathleen Kilbride).
Over 7,400 runners finished according to NYRR’s race report. Rhonex Kipruto lowered the event record by 27 seconds, crossing the finish line in 27:08. That time is also the fastest road 10K ever run in the United States. That would make it arguably the best 10K road performance of all time. By an 18 year old. The women’s race provided another exciting finish, as 2018 United Airlines NYC Half champion Buze Diriba of Ethiopia once again used her fast finishing kick to win, this time in 32:04, passing compatriot Aselefech Mergia in the final 200 meters. Laura Thweatt came 4th in 32:22, a 10K road PR. New UA team mate Askale came 6th in 33:59.
So all’s well that ends well. My month on the road ended well. My running routine had gone out of the window. I ran at different times, in different places, at different paces and mainly alone. But I had the constant support and guidance of Troopy.
I was not short of variety of weather and places to run. The weather ranged from wet and 40s F to sunny and high 70s F. I ran through villages near my home town with brother Stephen, in London’s Hyde and St James’s Park with friend Mo’ath Alkhawldeh (I watched him run the London Marathon a few days later), in the grounds of Schloß Schönbrunn in Vienna, in Richmond Park in London, and in the Bois de le Cambre, Parc de Bruxelles and the Sonian Forest in Brussels. Most of the time I felt like I was going through the motions. But during last Wednesday’s early morning 13 miler, where I got lost and scrambled to get back to the office in time for a meeting, I ran some 5 miles at close to 6:00 mpm pace. This was the acid test. I was ready to rock.