by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson and Paul Thompson)
In sport arguably the three worst finishing places are runner up, just outside the bling in 4th, and last place. Well I landed in of these places in the first race of my 2018 World Masters Athletics (WMA) Championship campaign. This was the second of four races I’d entered – the 8K XC, which I scratched since my flight landed the day of competition, the 10K road, 500m track and half marathon. But as I write this my campaign may have ended prematurely. So this partly explains why I was in no rush to write this. Here goes.
Sham and I landed here in Malaga in the early afternoon of Thursday September 6. Sham arrived from Berlin direct from a work assignment via London City while I landed from JFK via Madrid. As luck would have it we landed within 30 minutes of each other. Thanks to super efficient, cheap and convenient airport train we were at our one bedroom Airbnb apartment in SoHo in an hour. Over the next few days I recovered from jetlag and ran easy including a recce run of the course. It would be the flatest course I’d ever run on, albeit with a few tight U turns, on a great road surface. The question was would it be too hot.
Race morning was much cooler than it had been – low 70sF verses low 80sF – but rain had left behind high humidity. Turns out it would prove too humid for fast times. I ran easy the 3 miles from the apartment to the start at the Malaga Athletics Stadium. The sun was slowly rising obscured by light cloud. Though I ran easy I could tell the humidity would be a factor. I arrived on site an hour before the 9am start and milled around trying to determine where it would start. As was everyone else it seems.
Eventually it became clear we’d be starting on the track – on the finishing straight soon after the bend. We were to run three quarters of a lap then exit the stadium next to the finish line. This was far from ideal. Runners – all masters male age groups from M35 through M69 – jostled for position as they pushed us back behind the starting mat.
And then we were off. Five hundred or so runners and within 20 metres all converging on the bend. It was a disastrous start for me. I was near the front right on the inside and suddenly found myself boxed in, not by a few runners like a track race but over 100 runners. I stepped on the infield twice and on the metal. As we exited the stadium, just like the Euro 2017 champs, I found myself some 30-40 metres off pace.
I’d end up running the first mile in 5:15 suggesting I overcompensated once I got some clearance on the roadway. Up in front I could see Eichwein (Germany), Yego (Kenya) and Van Asbroeck (Belgium). And they were the M50s I could see – there may have been more and turns out there was! Eichwein and Yego were two of the favorites – Eichwein had won the 8K XC in 25:42 and Yego 4th having been sent the wrong way. Asbroeck was also no slouch having won the M50-54 European Masters Athletics 10000m in 2017. I was now racing hard. Too hard.
Approaching 2 miles, passed in 10:28, I could see Asbroeck (30m ahead), Yego (20m) and Eichwein (10m) lined up like ducks in front of me. Unfortunately they weren’t sitting. I had recovered from my poor start but had lost composure and control and ran the first 2 miles 10 seconds ahead of goal pace of 33:00 / 5:20 MPM. I caught and passed a few Spanish M50s, Yego around 3K and a heavy breathing Asbroeck just before 5K. But Eichwein was relentlessly pulling away like a metronome. He even signaled as he moved across the roadway.
Soon after a U turn we hit the half way. I failed to check my time but Garmin suggests it was around 16:30 after a 5:27 third mile. That was my goal pace but did not factor in the erratic start, humid conditions, and sharp U turns which all nibbled away at optimal timing. At half way I was caught by Dutch duo Patrck Kwist, whom I’d beaten in the half marathon at the 2016 World Champs, and, to my alarm, a sprightly looking M50 Edo Baart.
Kwist and Baart were running smart. I suspect they’d started at 5:20 pace and were holding it. I had slowed from 5:15 to closer to 5:30 pace. I passed 4 miles in 21:23 after another 5:27 mile. Kwist, an M45-49 runner, pulled away while Baart seemed keen to run with me. He seemed to have gas in the tank. I was in a kind of damage limitation mode. He kept slapping himself, a kind of runners self-flagellation. He almost seemed impatient that I was unable to run faster. Post race I found out he was the Dutch Forrest Gump: he admitted to being ‘new’ to this running business! Baart and I were competing for a silver or bronze medal.
We passed 5 miles in 26:55 after a 5:32 5th mile. Baart then made his move. The stadium was in view and he was now making his run for home. I was simply trying to hang on and not lose anymore time. I was overtaking a few stragglers. This race had a high casualty rate in terms of runners that went out too fast and either slowed right down or DNF. Baart opened a sizable and growing gap. He was the only M50 to pass me. There were now at least two M50 in front. Was I 3rd or 4th?
Entering the stadium the clock read 32 something. And crossing the line, after a 5:28 last mile, I could see it reading 33:40 something. I was relieved it was over. I was annoyed at my start. I was unsure whether I was 3rd or 4th. And I could feel my hamstring tighten as I crossed the line. An hour later I was a 4th placed injured M50 runner. Not a great place to be! But I’ll get over it.
My official time was 33:49, some way off my 33:10 from the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K run in an undulating Central Park in perfect weather. The results show Eichwein winning comfortably in 32:36, Baart 2nd in 33:37 and Joaquim Figueiredo from Portugal 3rd in 33:43. I did not see him. No surprise since I’d not met him before and the font size of the M50 on the race bibs could only be read within a few metres. And as a fast 3000m runner perhaps I’d not have been able to out kick him. At the awards ceremony Eichwein was uber efficient. He turned up showered and groomed and collected his prize. I attempted a warm down on my tight hamstring.
The following day I did not run. Sham and I caught a coach to Granada where we went to the Cathedral and parts of the Alhambra including Generalife. The Alhambra was one of the most spectacular, serene and spiritual places I’ve ever been to – if not the most.
We’ve spent some time seeing the sites of Malaga too. It’s a beautiful and varied city with beaches, port, marina, and historic city centre complete with cathedral and Picasso Museum (his birthplace). Yesterday I ran easy and hamstring was much better though I could still feel twinge. Hoping it will continue to recover in time to defend my title – though the competition is far more intense than Perth. Now where’s the ice?