Author Archives: Paul Thompson

Race Report: New Balance Bronx 10, New York, September 24, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

The past few years, 2015 and 2016, I’ve run this race the weather conditions were perfect. This year they weren’t. Far from it. This came off the back of another work trip to Europe, ending with a flight arrving late Thursday night at JFK from London Heathrow. I’d had an easy few days so felt rested and the body clock, on Europe time 5 hours ahead, meant I was wide awake, if not raring to go, at 5am.

But I went into this race with confidence riding low. I’d been well beaten in the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile, was carying a low level calf strain that had caused me to cut short a Mona Fartlek session on Tuesday, and considerable work travel that had gotten in the way of my usual run routine.

The last 8 days I’d been on a whistle stop Europe tour taking in London (twice), Munich (for Oktoberfest at this great joint), Brussels and Frankfurt. I got in some great runs including two from a Munich Airport hotel, this one where a flat iPhone battery caused me to run 5 miles overdistance. In just over 24 hours I drank 2 litres of beer, ate half a duck and ran 26 miles. I’m strangely proud of that ‘achievement’. That 26 miles got me to 70 miles for the week, the weekly target that’s eluded me for much of the past 4 months.

Right, back to the race. Sham and I picked up team mate Javier Rodriguez from Dobbs Ferry as we drove to the race from Peekskill.  Javier and I jumped out of the car at the junction of the Madison Avenue Bridge and I87 and ran the mile or so north up the Grand Concourse. We ran the first and last mile of the course, did a few strides, met up with Urban Athletics (UA) team mates and got into the starting corral. Then we were off. Along with 15,000 others.

I quickly settled into a group including Bobby Asher (VCTC) and Brian Leese (NBR). We passed the first mile in 5:15. My target was sub-55 minutes. That would demand an average pace of 5:30. But I’d not fully factored in the weather. It was in the high 70sF (25C), bathed in bright unforgiving sunshine on an exposed course.

I traded places with the group but some got away. By mile 3 I had settled into 5:25-5:30 pace. My group kept changing composition. Brent Frissora (NYAC), who I’d narrowly beaten when running 53:36 in 2015, cruised past. I tried to join his train. I did for all of a mile. I passed mile 3 in 16:20 and 5K in 16:55. At this point of the race I thought I might not be able to finish. I’d maybe gone out too hard.  A big group was chasing me. And the short climb out of the underpass around mile 3 felt like a mountain.

The end of the Grand Concourse came into view. I was now stranded and would be until I got back onto the Grand Concourse just shy of mile 6. I passed half way in 27:35. The long steady incline up the Mosholu Parkway from the Bronx Botanical Gardens to the Grand Concourse slowed me to a 5:47 6th mile. But any thought of stopping I’d flushed from my mind. Everyone was hurting. And I was needed for the team – open, masters and M50+. As team mate Paul Wong, a fellow Brit, had said the M50+ NYRR 2017 Club Standings were “as tight as an Arsenal shirt”: UA and CPTC were neck ‘n’ neck on 108 points, 84 less the worst two races.

Onto the Grand Concourse I was joined by a group of 5 including team mate Javier and top M40 contenders Guillermo Pineda Morales (Memo) and Klaus Kuorikoski (a new comer to the NYRR racing scene from Finland and racing for Henwood’s Hounds). I passed 10K in around 34:15.  A few of the group, including Memo and Klaus, opened a gap on me. I was now in damage limitation mode, just like in the closing miles of a marathon. Javi dropped off the back. I now had my sights on Klaus, who Memo had gapped, and Brent who was slowing down after opening a big gap on me mid-race. I knew that I was home and dry at around 8.5 miles as I passed Brent. From there it’s an ever increasingly steep descent to the finish line outside Yankee Stadium.

Finishing straight comes into view

I got into my stride in those final few miles. I was now catching the runners in front. I overtook Klaus but on official timing (cip to chip) we were level on 55:24. Good for 24th overall, 1st M50+ and 2nd M40+ (after Memo on 55:06). I topped the age grading with 89.65%. Sebastien was next UA man home, running 56:14 for 3rd M40-44, followed by Javier on 56.43 for 4th M40-44. That nailed the M40+ team for UA by over 9 minutes.

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Sebastien

Javier with Jamie Brisbois in hot pursuit

It was a good day for the Team UA. The W40+ (Fiona Bayly (1st W40+ in 61:46), Ellen Basille (2nd W45-49 in 65:40) and Cathrine Wolden (4th W45-49 in 66:49) won by almost 15 minutes, nearly 5 minutes for each of the three scorers. That leaves the M40+ and W40+ teams with almost unassailable leads in the NYRR 2017 Club Standings. The M50+ team (Adam Kuklinski (7th M50-54 in 63:38), Paul Wong (20th M50-54 in 68:25) and me) also placed first, and now have a narrow gap over CPTC in the 2017 club standings. Things were less rosy for the UA open teams (6th men and 8th women), depleted by injury athletes and those focused on a fall marathon.

The NYRR race report is here. Harbert Okuti of the Westchester Track Club broke the finish tape in 49:32, while Roberta Groner of the NYAC won the women’s race in 56:50.

Teammates

So it played out better than hoped. I had self doubts during the race. But those doubts were overcome by the need to do my best for the team. And I came away top of the UK M50 rankings for 10 miles.

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Race Report: New Balance 5th Avenue Mile, New York, September 10, 2017

By Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

While I like to think I’m better than a ‘one trick pony‘, today I was rudely reminded that it’s a case of  ‘horses for courses‘ and the mile is not my course. I simply got soundly beaten,  by several lengths, by a mile specialist. In fact by the time we reached two furlongs to go, the final quarter, it was all over bar the heavy breathing. Right less of the horse racing analogy, more of my day out at the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile races.

 

Going into this one the writing was on the wall. It’s just that I failed to read it. Since March I’ve been having various issues with my right leg. In 2017 it seems I’ve had just about everything – ITB, then hamstring / glute and most recently shin splints – and yet for the big occasions I’ve been injury free, though sometimes underprepared. Recently my problems have ebbed away but my race sharpness has been eroded through lack of high intensity training and long runs. And so it all came to roost today.

When I first ‘settled’ in  New York and ran for Warren Street I used to avoid the 5th Avenue Mile. The distance did not appeal and I was not training for it, preferring instead to focus on preparing and racing 10Ks and half marathons. Then it became a club points race and ever since I’ve tried to compete whenever I can. But I’ve not adjusted my training. I last ran it in 2015. I clocked 4:45. I was hopeful of something similar.

After warming up with team mate Ramin Tabib I lined up with fellow male and female runners 50-59. There was some 500 of us. There was great camaraderie. Many if not most of us were sharing injury stories. It comes with the age. And trepidation about running our slowest ever mile. After all we ain’t getting any younger. And I got acquainted with some new competitors, not least Gerald O’hara who was edged into 2nd in 2016.  Gerry had a 4:41 indoor time to his name earlier in ’16. He was  the man to beat.

My goal was 4:50 but, more importantly, to compete. Being on the front row I got a clean start. 5th Avenue is a fast road mile –  dead straight, wide roadway, good road surface and gently undulating with a slight descent in the first quarter, slight incline in the second, and again slight descent for the second half. I ran alongside Gerry through halfway passing the first quarter mark in around 1:10 and the second in around 2:25.

I felt pretty good at this point. But then Gerry found an extra gear and went away. And kept pulling away. And all I could do was spectate. His lead had extended to some 30 metres by the three  quarter mark which I reached in around 3:40. I was now hanging on for second but the shouts for “Brad” were getting closer and louder. And so it was no surprise he tore past with a furlong to go. I sensed others were chasing me down but fortunately the finish line came soon enough.

 

I breasted the line in 3rd place in 4:53 (AG of 87.59%, the lowest of 2017), 9 seconds shy of Gerry and 3 behind Brad. Gerry was an emphatic winner. One year I have to train specifically for this and see what I can do. The time was good enough to top the UK M50 rankings but is way off what the top Americans  are running. In addition to Gerry, Todd Straka, USATF 2017 M50 mile champion who’d made the trip from Boulder, ran 4:29 in the open race.

I reflected that while running a half marathon I’m in some sort of zone, a comfort zone of sorts, for much of the race. Only in the closing miles do I start to grind. But in the mile I spend none of the time in that zone. I’m grafting from the gun.

The team excelled. Urban Athletics won the M40+ (Javier Rodriguez (3rd M40 in 4:29), Matt Chaston (2nd M45 in 4:33) and Stefano Piana-Agostinetti (4th M45 in 4:40)) W40+ (Fiona Bayly (1st W50 in 5:17), Jennifer Harvey (1st W45 in 5:22) and Cathrine Wolden (2nd W45 in 5:23) and W50+ (with two newly minted W50s Fiona and Dominique Saint-Louis (3rd W50 in 5:25) joining Ivy Bell (2nd W60 in 6:39)). In both open races UA finished 6th. In the overall, year to date club standings, UA lie first in M40+ and W40+   and equal first with CPTC for M50+ while in 4th and 5th respectively for open men and women.

Our M50 team (Jonathan Schindel (5th in 4:55), Paul Wong (14th in 5:09) and I) came second to a CPTC team led home by Gerry and Brad. UA’s W40+ were the standouts, winning comfortably. Again. And the W50+ most improved. Some UA runners logged impressive PRs including Ramin Tabib, Bob Smullen, Ivy Bell, Dominique Saint-Louis and Elizabeth Dellamora.

 

The many races making up the 2017 New Balance 5th Avenue Mile featured more than 7,500 runners, the largest field in the event’s 37-year history. The race’s professional athletes provided historic performances to match, with Jenny Simpson making it her sixth win and Nick Willis his fourth.

Now the mile is not my cup of tea. But the 5th Avenue Mile is. The venue is breathtaking: when else can you run 20 blocks down the middle of 5th Avenue ending at The Plaza? The occasion is spectacular: elite runners from around the world, the television cameras, runners of  all ages. But most importantly the New York City running community is in the limelight. And today some, like Mark Williams and Reno Stirrat, went from being virtual friends on Facebook to the real thing! So much better.

Race Report: European Masters Half Marathon Championships, Aarhus, Denmark, August 6, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures Shamala Thompson)

This race proved to be a humbling experience as I went in search of faster M50 runners and found some that were faster than me. Long ago I’d decided that while it was a nice accoloade to be crowned World Champion in the half marathon there were bigger fish out there and I had to find the opportunity to race them. The European Masters Athletics Championships (EMACS) in Aarhus, Denmark was one of them. Europe hosts a large number of elite masters athletes, perhaps more than any other region.

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The lead up to this race did not bode well. On vacation with friends in Boulder CO., three weeks out, I developed shin splints. A stint of timely altitude training quickly turned into a desperate attempt to shrug off an untimely injury. I managed to shake it and by race day was injury free. I was just short of that final heavy training load that was more to do with building confidence and sharpening than laying the basis for the race.

Aarhus proved to be one of the more difficult places to get to from New York. We flew New York to London, changed planes and touched down in Copenhagen. The next day we boarded an inter city train for the four hour journey to Denmark’s second city. While a pleasant enough city with great facilities, it begged me to question why EMACS opts for less accessible second cities: even British based athletes were unable to fly direct.

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The main drag in Aarhus

As the race approached and I tapered my shin splints improved markedly to the point that when doing fast strides on the eve of the race I could not remotely feel them. I have Heather North (Red Hammer Rehab) and Russ Stram (Runner Clinic NYC  to thank. That boosted my confidence enough to make me plan to run at 5:30 pace that would give me a 1:12 finish time, a time that should have put me in the mix for a medal.

On race morning I jogged to the start from the hotel, following the route the race would take in the final few miles. Ben Reynolds, annoyed and embarrassed to have just learnt his flight departure time meant he’d only have time to run 10K then bail out and head to the airport, and Steve Watmough joined me. At the venue we lined up for check-in, a rather pointless exercise designed to verify you were actually there and had pinned your numbers on correctly. It  was a scrum of athletes. After registering I  went through the final drill of strides and knee lifts.

The starting corral was packed and many (obviously) slower runners were in front, including M70 runners and women, stubbornly refusing to allow faster runners to move ahead. There’s a clear lack of common sense in some masters runners. At their age they should by now know better. As a result when the gun went I had a horde of slower runners to navigate. I could see my main M50 rivals, including the favorite with the fastest season’s best (SB) time of 1:09:31, Miguel Ángel Plaza Benita of Spain.

I weaved and jumped on and off the pavement as I desperately tried to close the gap to my main rivals. I passed the mile in 5:30 but the latter half of that was at 5:00 and I was still some 20 metres behind them. Ben cruised past me and I jumped on his tail. In so doing he helped me bridge the gap. Over the next two miles, each covered in 5:19, I managed to claw my way to the back of the pack that had all the M50 medal contenders – Benita, Luc Van Asbroeck (Belgium) and Mike Poch (Germany) – and fellow Brit Kerry-Liam Wilson (M45).

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Catching the leading masters runners at the 5K mark

 

At 5K, reached in 16:40, I saw Sham roadside taking pictures. For the next 5K the race would twist and turn its way through the city centre. The course boasted over 60 tight turns, more than any other race I can remember. It felt like we ran up and down every street like as if on a life size pin ball game. Into the mix was an uneven cobbled road surface encouraging regular hopping on and off the pavement in search of a smoother surface. My fourth mile slowed to 5:31. I slowly drifted off the back of the group. I was paying the price for trying to get in contact with my main rivals while battling with a strained quad. I had one last go at rejoining the group throwing in a 5:25 fifth mile. I failed. Fortunately the pain in other parts of my body smothered that in the quad.

As I passed mile five in 27:02, isolated, I was adjusting to the idea of finishing 4th. It proved hard to get motivated knowing 4th was perhaps the highest placing I could hope for. It would mean no place on the podium. The next few miles, with wind behind, I was able to maintain around 5:30 pace but the gap to the medal contenders kept growing. My motivation to run for the best finish time came from thinking I might be needed for the M50 or M45 team, the latter if we did not have a ‘natural’ team of runners aged 45-49 and so needed me to help them form a ‘composed’ team . Running for a team, whether it be Urban Athletics or Team GB, is another compelling reason to give your best. This was reinforced by spectators, Brits and locals, cheering “Go Great Britain”.

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Running on my own at mile 5

The course exited the town centre and headed north along a straight cycle path. Approaching the U turn around the 12K point I could see the top three M50 locked together duking it out without me. I was just the spectator. The next few miles wound their way around the newly developed waterfront. It had us running a few sections of gravel and jumping up and over some curbs. The flat course had promised fast times but this was undone by the numerous turns and varied surface. Altogether the course was not the best – spectator friendly, competitor unfriendly. And then there was the wind. Aarhus is popular for kite flying and wind surfing so this was no surprise.

The closing miles were mostly into a gale force head wind whipping in off the North Sea. Combined with the fatigue from my failed attempt to get on terms with the M50 medal contenders this weighed heavily on my splits. My 5:30 average for the first 9 miles, which had I maintained would have given me 1:12 and a shot at a medal, slowed to 5:50-55  for  each of the final 4 miles. I ran most of it chasing the coattails of an M35 runner. In the closing mile I caught a rapidly slowing runner from the open race that the EMACS squatted on. As the stadium entered my sights I ran hard for the best possible time in case I was needed for a ‘composed’ team (if there were insufficient M45 finishers to make a ‘natural’ team older runners like me can be co-opted to make up the numbers). Turns out I wasn’t. Team GB’s M45 team got silver while M50 came 9th.

Once in the stadium we ran clockwise for 300m finishing midway down the finishing straight. I crossed the line 4th M50 with 1:13:22. Benita won in 1:11:14 with Poch 2nd in 1:11:56 and Van Asbroeck 3rd in 1:12:10: the full M50 results are here and the overall race results here. My Garmin data tells the story. In marked contrast to my Brooklyn Half I spent little if any of the race in my comfort zone. And little if anything had gone to plan.

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Miguel Angel Plaza Benita, first masters runner about to cross the finish line

 

In the finishing area I got acquainted with the medalists and said I was looking forward to competing against them at the World Masters Athletics Champs in Malaga, Spain. The shin splints had been safely put to bed but I inherited a badly strained quad on the same right leg. After sharing stories post race with Team GB team mates and M50 runners I went to see if the highly professional GB physios  were on duty. Turms out they were. Paul Parkin had given me a flush, a light massage, on the eve of the race. Post-race Nicola Nicol did the same. Team GB’s physical therapy team are the business.

 

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Post-run rub down and chat

The race revealed that Europe was home to a number of M50 distance runners, some faster than me. I need to step up my game and find a minute if I’m to medal at the half marathon in Malaga.

Race Report: NYRR Queens 10K, June 17, 2017

by Paul Thompson (photographer Shamala was off duty)

I went into this event with trepidation – about whether I could get there and once there whether I could race well. Getting there proved easy as my best laid plans came to fruition. Getting a good confidence boosting race under my belt proved a tougher nut to crack. The silver lining lay in the way the race motivated me to ramp up my game leading into the half marathon at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Denmark.

In recent weeks I’d been travelling extensively throughout Europe for work. My employer is a tiny Brussels’ based association. No Brexit for me. I typically spend 2-3 weeks a time, 5-6 times a year, based in the UK with friends and family and sandwich together meetings and events to maximize the bang for the buck. This time, as my running log shows, for some 14 days I was working and running in Brussels, Vienna, London (ironically in Wimbledon running around the Common), Kettering, Warsaw and finally Berlin.

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Running in Richmond Park, London

Try as I might to maintain my running routine – including a 11 miles along the river in Vienna at 10 pm soon after touch down – eventually long runs and workouts gave way to steady runs and then no runs for two days in Berlin. For good measure I brought a cold back with me along with dirty laundry. The one positive was that Russ Stram seems to have sorted my hamstring tendinitis.

Getting to the race start line was always going to pose a challenge. I’d decided to use public transit. I boarded the train at Peekskill at 5:10 am, arriving at Harlem 125th Street at 6:10 am where I met Urban Athletics (UA) team mate Ramin Tabib. We boarded the M60 SBS to La Guardia, getting off at the furthest most stop at Terminal D. At this point Ramin had a rather skeptical but my iPhone helped us navigate the two miles – a useful warm-up – to the venue.

At the venue it was as if the entire NYRR running community, with all its clobber and paid parking of $25 to boot, had been accidentally teleported into Queens. Many Manhattan residents (sorry folks but I couldn’t resist this) seemed to be lost overboard, some 6 miles from the familiarity of Central Park. Queens is typically viewed from the ‘safety’ of their taxi or Uber en route to LGA or JFK.

At the venue – the 900 acre Flushing Meadows Corona Park – I seemed to have gained new found notoriety thanks to Will Sanchez. Will, a real connoisseur of the New York running scene, had invited me on his show ‘Gotta Run with Will’. The show was cut in early April just ahead of my running the London Marathon and went on general release in mid-May. I usually cringe at videos of my talking on camera but Will did a great job of making me look quite interesting. The phone hasn’t started ringing yet from Hollywood. I’m all set to guest star in a real life drama ‘Escape from Queens’.

Back to the race. My target was to run even 5:20 pace which would give me around 33 minutes. The course was about as flat as they come but included a number of sharp turns. The temperature was a perfect high 60s but the humidity was tropical. The first mile proved tricky to navigate as it was narrow and winding. I settled into a large pack which included team mates Jason Lakritz, Javier Rodriguez, Jamie Brisbois, Sebastien Baret (first race as M40+) and Aaron Mendelsohn. We had many for company including top masters John Henwood and Memo Morales Peres who I’d duked it with in Brooklyn.

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Promising start with John Henwood (left) and Bobby Asher (right) (Photo credit: Sam LaFata)

I did my fair share of the pacing. We navigated past the bunch of elite women who’d started out fast. The group was so large and tightly packed we kept clipping elbows and feet but fortunately no one tripped. We passed the mile mark in 5:20, some 20 seconds off the lead group. Midway through the second mile the roadway was water logged and left us all covered in muddy spray. We passed the two mile mark in 10:40. The group was working together, as though there were an unspoken truce.

In the third mile Jason threw the hammer down and the truce was over. The group went from close knit bunch to a long thin line, me nearer the back of the line. Sebastien and John had dropped away. Javier and Memo were up ahead, leaving me 3rd masters. I quickly came to realize this was going to be a hard day at the office, one for the team. I passed mile three in 16:10 and the half way in 16:41, 20 seconds slower than my last 10K.

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Losing contact with the group (Photo credit: Sam LaFata)

In the latter half I concentrated out damage limitation – time and place. I figured I could just about hold this pace and clock around 33:15. As we headed out to Citi Field (the last time I ran here in the NY Mets Run to Home Plate 5K in 2005 – won by John Henwood – it was Shea Stadium and Citi were a profitable bank) past the National Tennis Center the road was flat, fast and largely straight. Pity my legs and lungs failed to capitalize. I got to four miles in 21:30, the fourth mile of 5:25 being my slowest so far. But not the slowest. I held my pace for the fifth mile, passing five miles in around 27:00, and then started to unravel as I circled the Unisphere in the final mile. I covered the sixth mile in 5:30. Rarely do I close out a race with my slowest mile, except the marathon.

My 33:36 finish time was good for 1st M50, 3rd masters (after Memo in 33:12 and Javier in 33:21) and 24th overall. My age grade was 90.2%, 2% lower than my average for 2017 races, and second overall. I forgot to stop my Garmin. Some day I’ll remember. The heart rate readings were way off, likely due to my wrist band not being tight enough.

I milled around the finish funnel talking to rivals and team mates. Many of UA team had run slow times. We scratched around for an excuse and unanimously decided on the humidity. But then Ellen Basile breezed up to announce she’d smashed her 10K PR by over a minute. We were all very happy for Ellen but sad our excuse had been trashed.

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Discussing best excuse for a bum race

As NYRR reported this year’s race had more than 10,800 finishers, the most ever. Ayele Megersa Feisa of the West Side Runners broke the finish tape in 30:25 in a close finish over teammate Mengistu Tabor Nebsi. Belaynesh Fikadu, also of WSX, was the winner on the women’s side in 34:13, six seconds ahead of Roberta Groner of the New York Athletic Club.

UA turned in stella team performance. The men were 2nd in the open division (at the time of writing they were showing 4th since the NYRR results service was only scoring 3 runners rather than the 5 of Jason, Javier, me, Sebastien and Jamie), the women 4th (Harriott Kelly, Fiona Bayly and Ellen). Our W40+ team knocked the competition out of Citi Field: Fiona, Ellen and Cathrine Wolden won with over 16 minutes to spare. Javier, me and Sebastien won the M40+, albeit in less emphatic style. To complete the set (!) UA (me, Jonathan Schindel and Adam Kuklinski) won the M50+.

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Ellen shows up to blow away our excuses

43 UA runners towed the line, a large proportion of the total active membership. Many placed in the top 10 for their age group and there was some great packing: Jason (16th overall and 7th M25-29 in 33:07); Javier (21st overall and 2nd M40-44 in 33:21); me (24th overall, 3rd M40+ and 1st M50-54 in 33:36); Sebastien (27th overall and 3rd M40-44 in 33:57); James (32nd overall in 34:02); Aaron (6th M40-44 in 35:10); Harriott Kelly (7th overall and 2nd W25-29 in 36:23); Stefano Piana-Agostinetti (7th M45-49 in 37:30); Adam (4th M50-54 in 37:47); Jonathan (5th M50-54 in 37:53); Peter Heimgartner (10th M45-49 in 38:07); Fiona (1st W40+ and 1st W45-49 in 38:18); Ellen (2nd W40+ and 2nd 245-49 in 38:52); Stephane Bois (8th M50-54 in 39:23); Paul Wong (9th M50-54 in 39:45); Cathrine (5th W45-49 in 41:23); Jennifer Harvey (6th W45-49 in 41:37); and Jennifer Amato (5th W40-44 in 42:42).

So it was game, set and match to UA. Ramin was a wee bit disappointed, running oustide 42 minutes. As we left the venue to retrace our steps back to Manhattan via the M60 SBS most Manhattan runners were seen ‘legging it’ for the 7 train to whisk them back to their island. I’m sure they’ll look more fondly out the car window when stuck in traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway on their next ride to JFK. That’s it for Manhattan bashing. For now.

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Ramin and me waiting for the M60 SBS back to Manhattan

Race Report: Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon, May 20, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

It’s been barely a month since I ran the Virgin London Marathon so I stood on the start line – after an Amazing Race style expedition to get there – somewhat wary of whether I’d fully recovered. Turns out I had not fully, but had nearly. So here’s how it all went, by popular demand in fewer words than my marathon post.

I last raced the Brooklyn Half in 2006. Back then Sham and I lived in Park Slope and the race ran in reverse to 2017, from the Coney Island Boardwalk to the transverse in Prospect Park, and as such was a local race. Fast forward to 2017 and for those of us living in Northern Westchester, this was more like an overseas race. Sham and I drove to Marcus Garvey Park at 4:30am, parked, jogged to the nearby Harlem 125th St. 2/3 Station to board the 5:45am 3 train and got out at Nevins Street at 6:25am to jog the 15 minutes to the start area. The final hurdle was entering the start area. It was fortified.

Fortified start area

Back in 2006 this race was one of NYRR’s niche out of Manhattan races. Those living in Manhattan rarely ventured out of their borough except to get to an airport. And today many of them are still think that heading to another borough is like a foreign vacation. Being niche meant small and less competitive. I came 2nd in 1:10:43, the exact same position and time as in 2005 (fancy that). This race is now one of NYRR’s signature races. A monster race of 27,000 in two waves that has cult cache, a hashtag and Manhattan prices to match. It was nice to be back in my old neighborhood but I’d happily pass on the 3:45am wake-up and car loan scale entry fee.

Since London I’d kinda gotten back into the swing of things. After a few ‘recovery’ weeks I’d stepped back up to around 60 miles per week – with some easy tempos but no workouts or long runs – to ensure I could run something close to 1:13, enough to help pace, and if possible, beat, team mate Javier Rodriguez. For two of these weeks I’d been on vacation with Sham’s family in Singapore (with a side trip to Manila thrown in).

So having got through the security in the start area, here I was on the start line with UA team mates. The plan was to run together as far as possible at 5:30 pace. It was only after finishing that I realized that translated to 1:12 pace: my maths (math!) are not good during a race. I imagined us running like Eliud Kipchoge’s pacers only with no lead car, no rotation, no sponsors and no media. Let’s call it the sub 72 minute project.

And we were off. In the early stages team mates Harriott Kelly and Sebastien Baret were ahead. Barely 800 meters in I ran past and saluted M50 rival Brad Kelley. Brad almost jumped onto the sidewalk when he realized it was me. I was running in lockstep with team mates Javier, Carlo Agostinetto and Jamie Brisbois with Javi whispering team orders. Suddenly it was overcast as I fell under John Henwood’s 6′ 5″ shadow. Jason Lakritz was also up ahead but he, lucky for him, would not be able to hear Javi’s dictats.

UA’s Jamie, Javier, Paul, Carlo, Justin and Sebastien with Memo and John

The Brooklyn Half course ricochets and takes in some gentle inclines for the opening few miles before entering Prospect Park. It then takes in an anti-clockwise (counter!) loop of the road in the park. Contrary to course whisperer Javi, we were running faster than 5:30 miles until we entered the park. My Garmin had me doing 5:34, 5:25, 5:14 and 5:26 for a 4 mile split of 21:39. I shared some of the work at the front – met by “easy” whispers from Javi – but had that feeling it was going to be a hard day at the office. I was proved right.

Would the Men in Black be overshadowed by John (an All Black)?

In the park Jamie dropped away but Javi, Carlo and I, resplendent in new club colors of black and gold with dark shades to match (and superfluous given the overcast conditions and John’s shadow), had several uninvited interlopers for company – John, M40 runner Guillermo Pineda Morales (‘Memo’), a North Brooklyn Runner, and two runners each from Central Park Track Club and Dashing Whippets.

In the park I felt like I was back home. I used to train here 3-4 times a week while living on Park Slope. I’d also run 15:25 in a 5K race, a full circuit, back in 2006. So at 4 miles I knew there was a long steady drag looming that would slow us down. And it did. I clocked 5:39 for the fifth mile, passing 5 miles just shy of the crest of the hill in 27:18. At the ‘summit’ I lost contact with the group. The hard day had started. Early.

Temporarily losing contact with the group as we crest the climb in Prospect Park

The sixth mile along the top end of the park gently undulates. I reined the group back in and took to the front in my customary do or die style. Today it would be more do and die. The sixth mile was a pacey 5:17, assisted by a long steady descent, and we exited the park at mile 7 in 38:08, 22 seconds ahead of Javi’s goal.

Paul making his attempt to get to the front of the group

The next 5 miles along Ocean Parkway is perhaps the most boring section of any race anywhere. The roadway is huge: a central bidirectional avenue of seven lanes (the middle lane is for left turns or a painted median), two small parallel side streets, and two medians with trees, benches, and pedestrian paths. And it’s as straight as a die except for one kink.

For the first few miles the roadway was like the Monza race track. Newly paved it was pristine. But then it reverted to the usual shoddy New York City standard. The group held together except for losing the North Brooklyn and one Dashing Whippets runner. I had a brief moment in front. A final hurrah before the legs and lungs decided I was pretty much done. We clocked 5:27 for the 8th and 9th miles. As we passed the 15K banner in 51:00 I impressed Javi that he’d just logged a new PR: for me it was just 15 seconds shy of my last attempt at that distance, Gate River in 2016.

Soon after 15K, Memo, sporting his country colors of Mexico, jumped to the front and started ramping up the pace. Suddenly the group was strung out in a long thin line with me at the back and thinnest part of that line. The next few miles I was an increasingly distant spectator of the group duking it out. I covered the 10th mile in 5:26 and 11th in 5:27. John was about 20 meters ahead of me but the rest of the group edged further away. Javi pulled alongside Memo. And finally Carlo turned out the afterburners and opened a group winning gap.

As the end of the parkway came into view at around mile 12 I started to slow. I covered the 12th mile in 5:31. I had that feeling, the one I often get at around 23 miles of the marathon, that the wheels were starting to fall off and I have to switch from competing to surviving mode. The only consolation was that I had a little over a mile to run. And I was closing on John who was slowing more than me. As the course turned right off the parkway and with 800 meters left I caught and passed John. And he returned the honor in the last 200 meters down the boardwalk. The 13th mile was my slowest: 5:35.

The official timing had John on 1:11:58 (3rd M40-44) to my 1:12:01 (31st overall, 4th masters and 1st M50-54), though that 3 seconds flattered his narrow advantage. My age grade was 91.26%. Carlo, one week ahead of a big national ultra trail race in his native Italy, had blown the group away and recorded 1:11:22 (26th and 1st M35-39). Javi did enough to take 1st masters and 1st M40-44, his 1:11:34 a second ahead of Memo. His time was a massive PR, clipping 2:21 from his PR from the same race in 2016. So unlike Nike, UA achieved its goal – #wedidit.

In the final reckoning Urban Athletics had a great day with team placings of Open Men 5th, Open Women 7th, Masters Men 1st, Masters Women 1st and M50+ 1st. Top placers were Jason Lakritz (22nd in 1:10:35) and Harriott Kelly (6th and 3rd W25-29 in 1:17:31). Other top UA placings included Sebastien (3rd M35-39 in 1:13: 24), Matt Chaston (1st M45-49 in 1:16:06), Aaron Mendelsohn (10th M40-44 in 1:19:28); Fiona Bayly (1st masters women and 1st W45-49 in 1:22:06), Jonathan Schindel (7th M50-55 in 1:23:25), Adam Kuklinski (8th M50-55 in 1: 23:40), Ellen Basile (2nd masters women and 2nd W45-49 in 1:26:05, a 3 minute PR), and Jennifer Harvey (5th W45-49 in 1:32:16). The official NYRR story of the AirbnbBKHalf is here and my official pictures (bib #5434) here.

Harriet looking strong from the start


Jason in one of the lead groups

Post race many UA headed home to see to family duties. And many landed in the Coney Island Brewery. Some might still be there.The beer was great but like NYRR it came at Manhattan prices (fellow Brits still just off the shores of Europe, that’s $7 for a small pint, about 5 quid,plus the almost obligatory $1 tip for the ten seconds to pour it and hand it to you). My hamstring tendinitis, which Russell Stram treated on the Thursday before the race, held out but is sore as I write. It’s now time to plan my attempt to add the title of European Champ by winning the EMACS Half Marathon in Aarhus, Denmark in August, to go with the World gold I got last year in Perth. For now the time puts me top of the UK M50-54 half-marathon rankings for 2017.

Now about this promise to keep my blog posts shorter. Ah well, next time.

Race Report: Virgin London Marathon, April 23, 2017

by Paul Thompson (photos by Shamala Thompson)

One Week On

Almost a week ago I crossed the finish line of the Virgin London Marathon. Usually I write race reports on the day of the race. This time I was simply too exhausted to write a good analysis of the event. I needed a few days to take it all in and make some sense if it. So here goes.

My main emotion on crossing the line was one of relief, relief that I’d survived. It took several hours before relief started to give way to a sense of achievement, joy even. Unlike some I did not fist pump the air as I crossed the line. I simply shook my head and cast my eyes to the floor. The marathon is like no other race. Period. Physically and psychologically it takes you places you never really want to have to go. And I think with age has come the knack of self inflicting pain. My coach Lee Troop calls it the hurt locker. You can spend a lot of time in there asking testing questions of yourself.

In my previous 4 attempts I’d always found myself switching from racing to surviving mode way before the finish was in sight. In my first three the ‘switch’ came around mile 20. In my 4th, last year’s Greater Manchester Marathon it came at around mile 23. Last week it came soon after 40K. In so doing it proved my best ever marathon. Not my fastest but rather the one I have come closest to mastering. I also came close to enjoying it. Sure I always enjoy the experience, not least the crowds who come out to cheer. But it’s hard to enjoy the running in those closing miles.

Build-Up

The build up to this race was mixed. In early March, with my longstanding IT band issue under control, I started to suffer from hamstring tendinitis. It first fully manifested itself in the Washington Heights 5K. Like most injuries I’d never suffered from before I’d never heard of this one. In sum it was a “pain in the arse”, proverbially and physically. Early diagnosis enabled me to monitor and treat it. Lee insisted I revert to just running steady, canning speed workouts and long runs. A 10K race two weeks out in my best time for almost 6 years confirmed that I’d somehow managed to keep in great shape on a diet of 70 miles a week of steady stuff. But would I pay for missing 22-23 mile runs? Lee suggested I plan for a cautious start and moderate expectations, 2:33 rather than 2:30.

The 10K race was just the fillip I needed. It had been a calculated gamble that had paid off. I then did a short taper of two weeks dropping my weekly mileage to 60 in the penultimate week and 50 in the final week. I traveled from New York on a red eye on Tuesday night. I got in a few good nights sleep and accelerated my adjusting to the time difference  – my body was on US time, 5 hours behind – by doing some early morning runs and early to bed. By race day I felt ready. Quietly confident.

Final Countdown

Like Manchester in ’16 I ran this with brother Stephen. We were with our respective families staying with long-time friends, Gary and Alison, who live in Wimbledon. After an early dinner – chicken kebab and couscous (and a glass of wine) – I went to bed at 10:00 pm and got at least 7 hours in. Steve had a less restful night. I got up just after 6:30 pm and downed a quick breakfast of porridge and banana washed down with coffee. That left me 3 hours before the 10:00 am start to digest it. During this time I drank a little water but often and then had a gel (Chocalate Outrage GU – I prefer these to the leading UK brands – smaller and easier to open packets, familiar flavors but you need water to wash ’em down. I planned to carry two salted caramel, one to take around mile 10, the other around mile 18).

The last supper

We then tripped by tube and train to Blackheath where we went our separate ways – Steve to the Green Start being a ‘Good for Age’ runner and me to the Blue Start as a ‘UK National Marathon Championship‘ runner. I sensed Steve was a little more nervous than me.

As a Championship runner you and around 500 other fast male and female UK club runners get a dedicated enclosure with changing facilities, toilets, water and baggage truck. I had just over an hour to the start. I chilled out, did some easy running to warm-up and slowly stripped down to my racing wear. While in the enclosure I met Joel Jameson as well as rivals Rob Downs and Graham Green who I’d only known previously through Facebook. I had a number of aims in this race but the primary ones were to be first Brit M50 and to run as close to my 2006 2:29:56 marathon PR as possible (5:44 minutes per mile average gets you 2:30).

Joel I knew from Manchester where he’d glided past me with a mile or so to run and finished in under 2:31, a minute ahead of me. He had a knack of running even splits so I took him up on the offer to run with him as far as possible. And was glad I did. As we got led out to the start line I stayed close to Joel and saw Graham up ahead. And then we were off.

Early Miles – To Cutty Sark 

In the opening mile there was a  lot of runner traffic. I guessed I was in around 300th place (of 40,000 starters) and predicted if all went to plan some 200 of these in front would slow down and I’d overtake: I was not planning to speed up! Indeed the RunPix data confirms this. The key was to keep my head down and be patient. I’m not good at that. I’m usually tempted to start competing with others but it’s best to keep the gloves on as long as possible, until at least half way. Joel ensured I did this. Slowly we weaved our way through the ranks. I ran in close proximity to Graham. We sensed each others presence but cut the pleasantries. I wished him the very best but I was here to beat him.

In the opening few miles, especially the 3rd mile as we head towards the River Thames, the course descends significantly. As a result my mile splits for the first 4 miles read 5:43, 5:37, 5:32 and 5:38. My official 5K time was 17:29. This put me a fraction ahead of the 5:44 pace needed for sub-2:30. Over the next few miles I settled into a 5:44 rhythm.

What I started to notice were how the crowds were vast. I’d last run London in 2007. Back then there were some quiet stretches especially south of the river and far reaches of Docklands. This time the only quiet stretches were two underpasses. At Cutty Sark, the first significant landmark around the 10K mark (reached in 35:17) it felt like running through a noise tunnel. The crowd somehow instinctively understands what you are putting yourself through. They come out selflessly to cheer complete strangers, people who they’ll never actually meet. It’s hard not to feel uplifted and emotional. You feel like you’re gotta finish as way of thanks.

Crowds at Canada Water

Cutty Sark to Half Way

Periodically I kept checking in with Joel. At around mile 8 he said it would be a hard day at the office. I took that to mean he would likely struggle to hold 2:30 pace and I might have to leave him soon. He dropped away soon after 10 miles. I also noticed Graham was no longer around. I assumed he’d fallen off the pace. I did a quick ‘cross check’ of how I felt: the legs, heart, mind. All was good. And so were the conditions. The weather was perfect. 12-15 C (55-60 F), overcast and light winds. In the latter stages we’d see some sun and I’d catch some sun.

My support team planned to be at Canada Water where you can catch the race at mile 9 and 11. As I approached the area the crowds swelled. Clearly lots of people live in this neighborhood now, unlike 2007. In fact the crowds were comparable with Cutty Sark. I figured I needed to be prominent if they were to see me so I pushed to the front of the pack I was running and run down the middle of the road rather than hug the curb. And sure enough I saw them and they saw me.

My younger supporters – from left to right: Sean (Keiko and Nial’s son), Daniel and Connor (nephews)

Tongue wagging is less tiring than waving. I ran in colors of my New York club, Urban Athletics, but as a British citizen scored for Kettering Town Harriers.

Through this section, the second quarter of the marathon I tucked into a group and clocked some consistent miles, my splits for miles 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 were 5:44, 5:41, 5:46, 5:44, 5:41, and 5:43. Bang on 2:30 pace. Soon after Canada Water I took my first gel and picked up a Lucozade one as a just in case for the closing few miles.

At Tower Bridge, just before half way, the crowds were again very deep. Clambering onto the bridge is the first upwards incline of any significance. The road rises gently for around 400 meters. Soon after crossing the bridge and turning right to head towards Docklands I saw the elite women, who’d started 45 minutes ahead of us, on the other side of the road at 22-23 miles. Mary Keitany had a big lead. She’d go on to set a all-women’s world record, shattering the record of Paula Radcliffe.

Mary Keitany on route to a world record

Laura Thweatt, Lee’s top charge, came into view. I careered across the road to the far left so In could get close and shout encouragement. She did not flinch. She was in the zone. She’d go on to run a PR in 2:25:38 making her a strong candidate for a place in the US team for World Champs in London! Soon after the half way clock came into view. I passed half way in 1:14:53 after covering the 13th mile in 5:47. I suspected the 7 second credit would be insufficient to get me a 2:30 finish. Some slowing seemed inevitable.

Laura Thweatt heading to a PR and sixth woman overall

Half Way to Docklands

For many miles now I’d been overtaking many runners. Not because I was speeding up rather because they, like me in my first attempts at London in 2006 and 2007 (2:29:56 and 2:31:47 after 1:12:06 and 1:12:20 at half way). At age 51 had I finally learned my lesson? I’d likely find out in the third quarter of the race. Unfortunately I was finding it hard to find a group, someone to run with for longer than a mile or so. I was still catching and passing rather than working with others. In the video below (@40 secs) at around 14 miles I look surprisingly relaxed.

At around mile 15 the route enters an underpass. Suddenly it fell quiet, for the first time since the start. It was a welcome break from the roar of the crowd. I could hear my footsteps and breathing. I was running strong and purposefully – miles 14, 15, 16 and 17 were covered in 5:41, 5:47, 5:45 and 5:41. I’d started to compete with other runners. But mile 18 was telling. I slowed to 6:01. For the first time I was outside 2:30 pace. I downed my second gel and in the shadow of Canary Wharf passed my support crew. I rallied slightly covering miles 19 and 20 in 5:50 and 5:47.

Still going strong at Canary Wharf

Docklands to The Embankment

For many, me included, the marathon really starts at around mile 20. That’s when the body rapidly starts to run out of gas and deep fatigue sets in. At a slightly elevated section I caught a glimpse of The City and The Shard, 3 miles distant. I was on the home leg towards the finish. I now needed to batten down the hatches and conserve energy in anticipation of the body starting to tire. I actually found someone who I could key off for a few miles though their pace was erratic.

On my last outing in London in 2007 it was around mile 20 that my body started to shut down and switch from racing to surviving mode. But this time I found myself able to register 5:49, 5:50 and 5:50 for miles 21, 22 and 23. Not quite fast enough for sub 2:30 but enough to clock 2:30 and change. I now started to enter ‘the zone’. That’s when the sole focus is on getting to the finish. Such deep focus that all sense of what’s going on around you disappears to the point you fail to recognize friends shouting right at you.

In the final mile at Westminster

The zone is a dark place. You start to look inwards, searching desperately for both the energy and will to finish. The mile splits evidenced the creeping fatigue. The 24th took 5:54. There was a small underpass and tunnel. It offered respite from the crowds. The small incline coming out felt like Everest. I was now on The Embankment. The sun was shining and the crowds roaring. I was gradually closing on the runners in front. Slowly. At this point of the marathon it’s ugly. Few are able to maintain good form.

The Finish

At 24 miles I glanced to my right to see the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. They looked distant. Each mile now felt long. Very long. It felt like an eternity had passed before you could see the balloon arch marking the next mile marker. At 40K the clock showed 2:23:18. At this point I finally realized and accepted beyond reasonable doubt that a sub-2:30 was out of reach. At 4 minute per kilometer pace I’d be home outside 2:31.

It took me 6:09 to suffer the 25th mile, my slowest mile of the race. As I turned right at the Houses of Parliament and headed towards Buckingham Palace (London outguns all the major marathons in terms of sight seeing eye candy) I feared a complete shutdown somewhere on Bird Cage Walk. I fixed my sights on the runner in front. I still had the Lucozade gel but figured it would take more than gel to rescue extremely tired legs. But then at this point we fail to see or understand a lot of stuff.

The last mile was like a death march. Whatever that is. At the end of Bird Cage Walk the course veers right across the large roundabout in front of the Queen’s pad. And finally a right turn onto The Mall and 200 meters to the line. I had nothing left to sprint with. Just a mild pick-up. I looked up at the clock showing 2:31:49 and then I was done. I was suddenly released from my sentence. My 26th mile had taken 6:05, the final 2K 8:28.

Bird Cage Walk

Post Race Analysis

My official time was 2:31:45 (bib 1676) and place was 82nd. As I staggered wearily towards the baggage truck I bumped into Hussein Ahmed (2:29:44), a London based Egyptian who I’d raced against when he lived in New York in 2006-2008, and Martin Fiz (2:29:32). It turned out Fiz had been beaten into second M50 by a French Algerian El Yamani (2:26:36) relegating me to 3rd M50. Imagine! What the f…k does one need to do to win M50 these days? It turns out Fiz battled with El Yamani but then slowed dramatically in the latter half.

Martin and me

I loitered in the baggage truck area for a while. Rob Downs (2:37:06) popped up and a few minutes later Graham Green (2:41:19). I gave Graham a big hug. For him it was like clutching a stick insect, for me embracing a bear. I have amazing respect for Graham, Rob and all the other masters runners who’d made such huge commitments preparing for this race. Graham and his legendary 100 mile plus weeks were my main motivator. I counted myself lucky. My network of masseur, chiropractor, acupuncturist, coach Troop and coach Jerry Macari, team, pacemaker, motivator and manager / wife had got me here. And on the day the stars aligned.

Eventually I exited the finishing area and rendezvous with my support crew in the meeting area (see picture below). Gary and Alison were the perfect hosts, feeding us pre- and post-race as well as traipsing across London to cheer us on. And to top it off Gary produced an album of pictures.

Left to right: Nial and Gary (University buddies from the mid-80s), Daniel and Connor (nephews), Sean (son of Nial and Keiko), Lynn (Steve’s wife), Keiko (Nial’s wife), Tim (Paul’s husband), Alison (Gary’s wife) and Paul (Tim’s husband)

Brother Steve then showed up. He’d run a PR of 3:08:37 and placed 2,861st. He passed half way in 1:31 but had slowed in the latter stages. He was, however, able to throw in a sprint finish. According to the Northants Evening Telegraph (ET) we were the fastest siblings. They may have jumped to that headline in the interests of boosting circulation. In 2016 it had been Callum Hawkins and his brother. We’re asking the organizers to confirm before opening the bubbly. It seems likely the ET are correct.

Fastest siblings (to be confirmed)

Full Virgin London Marathon results are here. My official pictures are here. My Garmin data is here (note for the first time I get above 200 heart rate). The BBC’s full coverage is here and their finish line video stream is here (needs a UK VPN). The latter is revealing. Most good club runners clocking 2:30 or so look totally shot at the finish. Few if any can muster a sprint.

My time, worth an age grade of 91.2%, is good for top British M50 for 2017. But then there’s several more months to run. It also gets me 7th spot on the M50 all-time list, the fastest British M50 since 1999.

There’s room for improvement. Perhaps Graham and I should run Berlin in September with Joel Jameson as pacemaker. Now I should get in some R&R but then that would break the habit of a lifetime and Graham might scoff at my moment of weakness. So on Wednesday I was back out there doing an easy 5 miles. It felt amazing. But it was the hardest slowest run for a long, long time. Next up the Brooklyn Half in 3 weeks!

Race Report: UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, New York, April 9, 2017

by Paul Thompson (photos by Shamala Thompson)

Today was a test. To see whether my hamstring tendinitis was in check and whether I’d maintained my fitness despite abstinence from long runs and workouts the past four weeks. I think I passed with flying colors. The acid test will of course be how the legs feel when I wake up tomorrow. But from where I’m comfortably sitting it’s looking hopeful.

The London Marathon is two weeks today. When coach Lee Troop talked me into it back in early January I set my mind on a 2:30 ‘stretch’ goal. By late February I was on track. As indeed were my arch rivals Graham Green, Rob Downs and others. But then I felt a small pain in the butt, both literal and metaphorical. I self diagnosed hamstring tendinitis. I could feel it before the Washington Heights 5K and even more afterwards.

Since then I’ve been traveling a lot for work, city hopping across Europe. I’ve got the miles in but on Troop’s sound advice steered clear of 2 hour plus runs and workouts. Strengthening and stretching got squeezed out by a heavy work load and work socializing in the evenings. And I failed to find suitable physios and the like while away to help me rehabilitate. On arrival back in New York I sought out emergency treatment from Russell Stram (acupuncture) and John Henwood (deep tissue massage). The body responded well.

And so here I was. On the start line of the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K. I last raced this some years back. In 2007, I ran 31:35, my fastest ever 10K as a masters runner. But I lost interest in the race when it fell off the team points schedule. It’s now back on the roster. As well as a test for me, it was crucial for Urban Athletics to follow up its great performance at the Washington Heights 5K  and put in a good showing.

At the starting line

Conditions were near perfect. Temperatures around 55 F, bright sun and slight wind. The only thing standing in the way of fast times was Central Park’s roller coaster course which included the counter clockwise traverse of the northern hills. I quickly got into my running but not as quick as Jason Lakritz UA’s fastest runner. My legs felt rested, the hamstring barely noticeable. I passed one mile in 5:10 with team mates Javier Rodriguez, Carlo Agostinetto, and Jamie Brisbois in close company. John Henwood was just behind.

UA runners led by Jason Lakritz get off to a strong start

Javier was somewhat nervous as he was 10 seconds up on his target pace of 5:20, good for a PR around 33. I was just intent on chasing the first American lady. Natosha Rogers has pedigree and I suspected would hold a good even pace throughout. And she did. I broadly tracked her. During the race one (male) runner after another pulled alongside and one by one she got away from them. The same fate would befall Javier and I.

Javier and I passed 2 miles in 10:20. We then descended to Harlem Meer before negotiating the imposing 600 meter climb of the northern hill, the hardest climb in either direction of Central Park. Javier and Natosha started to edge away from me. I passed 3 miles in 16:05 and 5K in 16:19, 17 seconds faster than Washington Heights 5K.

Javier ahead of Paul in the 5th mile

By now it was clear that the hamstring would not scupper my race, that my legs and lungs were ready for some serious punishment. The fourth mile was possibly the hardest with a significant net gain and undulating roadway throughout. I failed to see the 4 miler marker but extrapolating from my Garmin 235 it was around 21:30. Into the fifth mile I realized there was gas in the tank and plenty of runners just ahead to chase. So I chased.

Time to get serious

By the 8K / 5 mile mark, passed in 26:18 / 26:28, I was back on terms with Javier and Natosha. We had momentum and edged past Phillip Falk of Central Park Track Club, Ned Booth of North Brooklyn Runners and Maclean O’donnell (16:04 in the Washington Heights 5K) of Dashing Whippets Track Club.

I now started to put the hammer down. When I do, few can match my momentum in the final mile. Natosha was one of those few. We gapped Javier then traded strides before she out kicked me in the finishing straight. One of the most tenacious runners I’ve raced. She did not yield an inch and then took a few yards.

My finishing time of 32:44 was good for 30th overall and 1st masters. It was my fastest 10K since April 2011. The age grade of 92.57% AG was one of my best ever after 2015’s Bronx 10 Mile and Grete’s Great Gallop 13.1 and 2007’s Cherry Blossom 10 Mile. Here’s my Garmin stats.

Natosha’s time was 32:46, slower than me due either to my starting a few meters behind or else NYRR messing up the results (again). Natosha was runner up in the 2012 US Olympic Trials for 10000m but did not get to London as she failed to get the A qualifying time. In 2013, she flirted with retirement. Imagine at half my age!

Javier logged 32:48, smashing his PR. Beating Henwood secured 1st M40-44 and 2nd masters overall. Jason Lakritz was first UA runner in 31:53 (19th overall, 5th M25-29). Other individual top 10 UA placings were: James Brisbois 33:41, 7th M20-24; Carlo Agostinetto 33:47, 5th M35-39; Matt Chaston 34:24, 1st M45-49; Stefano Piana-Agostinetto 36:27, 7th M45-49; Peter Heimgartner 37:29, 10th M45-49; Jonathan Schindel 37:28, 2nd M50-54; Fiona Bayly 37:57, 1st women’s masters and 1st W45-49; Adam Kuklinski 38:39, 5th M50-54; Ellen Basile 40:16, 2nd W40-44; Jennifer Harvey 43:06, 4th W45-49; Kieran Sikso 44:57, 5th W40-44; and Kaori Takai 47:57, 9th W45-49.

Jason in the finishing straight

Like Washington Heights this was a big day for UA team placings. UA were 3rd open team (Jason, me, Javier, James and Carlo) behind West Side and NYAC if you ‘discount’ the NIKE elite team. UA were also 4th open women’s team (Fiona, Ellen, Jennifer, Kieran and Kaori), 1st men’s masters (me, Javier and Matt Chaston), 1st women’s masters (Fiona, Ellen and Jennifer), and 1st men’s M50 (me, Jonathan and Adam).

Fiona Bayly storming to 1st place masters

In the overall standings both the men’s and women’s were close run affairs. In the men’s race, Sam Chelanga of the United States won in a sprint finish over Thomas Longosiwa of Kenya, with both men timed in 28:21.  The women’s race saw Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia beat Magdalene Masai of Kenya, 31:37 to 31:44. Natosha Rogers of the United States was seventh in 32:46. The course records of 27:35 and 30:44 survived.

Leaders in the 5th mile with the 1st and 2nd place runners at front

So it seems I passed the test.  London is calling  The M50 field is loaded – top 3 Brits in 2017 half marathon rankings Graham Green (1:13:20), Rob Downs (1:14:02) and Nigel Rackham (1:14:14: I was watching this in Reading nursing hamstring) against Martin Fiz, former World Marathon Champion and 2:31 in tough Boston race in 2016. A Spanish Galleon verses some British frigates.