Author Archives: Shamala Kandiah Thompson

Take Care of Your Heart – a Note from a Friend

My friend Lilian’s life changed five years ago when she had a stroke at forty-six. One of the things it did was turn her into a runner. Her dedication and determination to live a healthier life has been an inspiration and  I wanted to share something she wrote to mark five years since she had the stroke. You can follow her running on Strava.


Lilian and I out for a run in Central Park in 2013.

What does it take to learn a lesson?

5 years ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning, feeling a little tired.  I noticed my left leg was feeling numb and thought, maybe I slept on the side too long.  Within half an hour, I felt my left arm go numb, and then the left side of my face.  The sensation is similar to anasthesia your dentist puts on you before a major procedure.

I realized I was experiencing symptoms of what could be a stroke.  Fortunately, my husband was home, and he took me to the hospital, and spoke Emergency medical technician speak to the Emergency Room check in staff, and I was whisked into a room full of nurses and doctors who went to work fast.

I’m very fortunate.  It was a tiny clot, and getting to the hospital within an hour was critical.  They were able to push drugs in me to break up clots.  Stroke symptoms are not always easy to spot.  I was fortunate in getting the easy one.  I have no residual defects.

5 years and one day ago, I would have laughed at the thought of running a mile.  Much less running 6 miles in 1 hour.  That’s a 10 minute mile.  I was lazy, indulgent, and I often made excuses…”Oh…I’m a working mom, and some days, I’m a single mom”  “Oh, I’m so tired after working, my only days to rest are Saturday and Sunday”…”Oh…my father had a heart attack and died…I would like to have the same death so I will load up on butter, ice cream, bacon, roasted duck, lard in my char kway teow …”

I succeeded.  I got fat and didn’t want to believe my pants were tight because I was fat.  Worse than being fat…I let my body get into the most horrible shape.  I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without panting.

We all want to believe it won’t happen to us.  And I wouldn’t want to wish it upon anyone.  The thoughts which flashed through my head on the way to the hospital were “I’m not ready to be an invalid”  “I’m not ready to die” “WTF why are you messing with me You Higher Power…is it because I stopped believing you exist…dammit”

Does cursing at the Higher Power indicate an admission of it’s existence?  Whatever, I’m still not so sure it exists.

I will be writing about this every year.  I will be sharing this every year.  I want to remind my friends…don’t let it happen to you.

Last week I ran 6 miles in under an hour.  It took 5 years to get to this point.  I used to be afraid to run to the beach 3 miles away, because it meant I’d have to slog it back.  It took me over 2 hours the first time I tried.  Now it takes a little over an hour.

I have lost 20 pounds of weight.  My pants fit now, and actually, I have to pin them in, so they don’t fall off.

I have given up my favorite foods and learned to like new and different tastes.  I do it because I am not ready to die yet.  Of course, tomorrow, I could get hit by a truck and die, I could be on a flight and the plane disappears…but I won’t die because I made it happen.

I used to tell my children…don’t play with fire…you could get burnt.  But they didn’t listen.  When they did play with fire, and got burnt…they learned their lesson.

You don’t have to learn this lesson.  Take it from me.  It’s not a fun lesson to learn.

Till next year, cardio exercises for at least 30 minutes a day, and take care of your hearts.

Looking Back at 2014

2014 was the year where I began to get over my fear of running in races. It was also the year I had my first real running injury.  Perhaps the two taken together are a sign that I’ve become a serious runner. But it also meant that after two races where I ran better than I expected to in the first half of the year, the second half of the year has been one of low mileage and recovery.

The first two months of 2014 were especially challenging for running given the frigid conditions caused by the polar vortex, icy roads and constant snow.  After almost ten years in the US winter running still takes some getting used to. But then I don’t much like running on treadmills unless conditions are really atrocious so I most of the time I bundled up and managed to stay upright most of the time in spite of the icy conditions.


Spring brought with it better conditions for my training for Bay to Breakers which took Paul and I to San Francisco in May. I surprised myself by enjoying the race. Perhaps the costumes and doing it with old friends, Lilian and Arch’na helped take my mind off things and helped avoid my usual pre-race nerves. And it reignited my love affair with San Francisco.


In early June I impulsively signed up for the Running Goddess 5K inspired as usual by my running buddy, Kelly. I’d done the multi-terrain hilly course the year before in a heat wave and registered my worst 5K time. It’s unusual for me to repeat a race but I was feeling confident post-Bay to Breakers. It wasn’t a PR but I ran it slightly more than 2 minutes faster than I had the year before. Cooler conditions and familiarity with the course probably helped.

Paul and I spent some time traveling in Europe in June to celebrate our 10th anniversary and my 50th birthday. We found that running was a great way to see some of the sights in Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Budapest and Bratislava. On my 50th birthday I decided that we would run down a mountain. Mainly because I figured it would be easier than run up one. Turns out I was wrong. My IT band issues were exacerbated by descending a vertical km from Seegrube to Hungerburg in the Tyrolean Alps.


We ran down this mountain in Austria but on a road not on ski trail!


As a result for the first time in my years of running I had to get treatment for an injury. It felt like a rite of passage. Paul and I both had to have several sessions with Dr Stu Weitzman, a chiropracter who is also a triathlete and fellow runner.  He used both the Graston Technique and Active Release Technique to try and sort out my problem. The treatment has helped but I know that my injury-free days are over. If I want to keep running over the years, stretching and foam rolling are going to have to be a part of my everyday routine from now on.

I was hoping to increase my mileage by training with Kelly as she built up to her first marathon in October.  Strangely, although I don’t have any real desire to do a marathon myself I quite liked the idea of doing the training for one. I was keen to see how my body coped with longer runs and higher weekly mileage. But my IT band had other plans and I struggled to keep up with Kelly’s training programme as she racked up the miles and pace. Instead I ended up jumping in halfway through her runs to give her a boost as she finished up the last 8-10 miles of her 15-20 mile runs.

The last few months of the year my running suffered from a deluge of unforeseen work travel and ongoing IT band niggles. I’ve managed to keep running while traveling to Malaysia and Angola but there have been some very low mileage weeks and even fewer long runs.

So what am I hoping for in 2015? I started off the year running through some of the strongest winds I’ve experienced on very muddy trails.


My New Year’s day run took me through muddy trails around Meltham.


I’m hoping that this augurs well for 2015 and that I will be able to brave whatever comes my way!  Or perhaps it is a sign that this is the year I start becoming a serious trail runner! Whatever 2015 brings I hope it allows me to keep enjoying running in interesting places with maybe a race or two to spice things up.

Run Europe: Innsbruck

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

Continuing our travels in Europe we headed east to Innsbruck after our two days in Salzburg. Paul had spent some time there about twenty years ago and highly recommended a visit to this city. At an altitude of 560m (1837 feet) Innsbruck is the capital of the federal state of Tyrol.

Searching on TripAdvisor convinced us to book a few nights with Romantik Hotel.  It was close to the rail station, centrally located and had good reviews, particulary for their healthy breakfast buffet and unique rooms, including a Versace Suite and a Swarowski Crystal Suite (we did, as it happens, visit the Swarowski museum). We were going to be there over my birthday so I thought a hotel with a bit of character might be interesting.


Like several of the cities we had visited, the most obvious running routes were along the banks of the river, in this case the River Inn.  We did a few runs along the river accompanied by spectacular views of the alps surrounding Innsbruck.


I decided that a good way to celebrate turning 50 was to run in the Tyrolean Alps. The day before we had riden up the Patscherkofel on the other side of the valley and taken a short hike. But today I wanted to go one better by riding up the Nordkette and, if possible, running down some or all the way! Down rather than up as we felt we needed gravity’s help.


The Nordkette are just a 20 minute ride away from the city centre on the Hungerburg Funicular and Nordkettenbahn (cable railway). Planned and designed by Zaha Hadid the funicular marries futuristic design with alpine motifs .


So we rode the funicular and cable railway, in two stages, all the way up to the 2256m (7729 feet) high Hafelekar, did a short hike to the nearest peak of Hafelekarspitze, took the cable car back down to Seegrube at 1905m (6350 feet) and then drew a deep breath for the descent to Hungerburg. The descent looked feasible – there was a service road that tracked the cable car route. Paul suspected the legs might regret. They did.

While on the peak we spent sometime soaking up the thin air and jaw dropping views of Innsbruck and the 360 degree mountain panorama. The air was so thin Paul got tempted with the idea of doing the World Masters Mountain Running Championships in the nearby Stubai.


I knew Paul would be a lot faster than me, in spite of carrying a bag, so we agreed to meet at the Hungerburg station. The start was steep and stony. Being a novice mountain runner I started nervously. However, I surprised myself by staying upright and quickly settled into a steady rhythm. And the early twists and turns gave way to long straight stretches.

I wasn’t breaking any speed records but I was gaining in comfort, confidence and competence. After about three miles my quads started to feel sore but nothing that would make me stop. After around four miles I came across Paul who had done a detour. We continued down together for a bit. A wrong turn had us going uphill at one point, convincing me down was the right choice.

Eventually the destination came into view. Not before time for the legs and lungs. All in all we covered around 8 miles and some 1200 metres of descent. While pleased to have been able to get down in one piece squatting and walking proved painful for a few days. The quads were beat. Paul, on the other hand, felt the strain in his gluts. You can tell who was doing the the constant braking.

To celebrate my birthday in a more relaxed manner we went had dinner at Alfred Miller’s Schoneck restaurant. The food was excellent as was the service.  Our table had been decorated with roses and sparkles as Paul had tipped them off that it was my birthday. And the final touch was a little cake with a sparkler candle, like a stick of dynamite, and glasses of champagne on the house. All in all it was a memorable way to celebrate turning half a century!

Last stop: Salzburg  Next stop: Vienna



Race Report: Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run (5M), New York, June 28, 2014

by Paul Thompson

Within seconds of crossing the finish line I was tackling a rainbow ice lolly. With temperatures in the high 70s F this proved a welcome freebie in the finishers’ funnel. And within a few minutes there were hundreds of runners slurping on their lollies engaging in the usual post race post mortem with fellow finishers.


Team mate Fabio with his rainbow lolly.

This was perhaps the fifth or sixth time I’d run the Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run 5 mile race. Everytime it proves to be the most colourful NYRR race of the season and the East Coast’s  closest cousin to Bay to Breakers. But unfortunately for me it was perhaps my slowest finishing time – 26:28 for 21st overall. My consolation prize was being 1st masters and 1st age grade (90.74%). And being part of a men’s team that came 3rd in the open and 1st in the masters.


Chatting with teammates before the race.

Standing on the start line I was hoping to average 5:15 miles to get a 26:15 finishing time. Deep down I was hoping to run 25 and ‘change’, even if it were 59 seconds of ‘change’. But those hopes were duking it out with fear that my IT band might spoil the day. I’d seen Dr. Stu a few days before, my visit prompted by the fact that this two plus year old problem was now crimping my sleep.


Coming up the Harlem Hills and catching up with teamates Sebastien and Robert.

The race route was a departure from what’s become the standard NYRR 5 mile race course around Central Park. This time it started on the East Side Drive near 102nd Street and headed north to take in the northern hills. This means ascending the toughest hill in the park in the opening mile. The clock read 5:07 as I crested the hill. A little faster than I had planned but heck I felt good.

I slowed to 5:22 for the second mile, as expected given the undulations down the West Side Drive and my adjusting to target pace. Sticking to a target pace is not easy in Central Park as each mile is quite unique and races run clockwise or anti-clockwise. I clocked 5:12 for the third mile, helped by the long downhill ending at the sharp left hander onto the 72nd transverse.

By now I’d caught up and passed team mates Robert Dugger and Sebastien B. and was chasing some NYAC runners. But Cat Hill, at around 3.5 miles, slowed me to 5:25 for the fourth milel. The NYRR clock at 4 miles read 20:45 suggesting I was on track for 26 flat.

In the closing stages I was dueling with team mate Sebastien B. And just like the Washington Heights 5K he once again had the faster legs in the final mile which I covered in 5:12. The 26:28 finish time suggested I’d taken 5:43 for that last mile. So did I really slow rapidly in the final mile or was my Garmin mal-functioning or was that NYRR clock at 4 miles in the wrong position or showing the wrong time. My money’s on the last option.


Trying to find my finishing kick at the end to overtake Sebastien.


Running Europe: Bratislava

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

After a couple of days in Budapest we decided to head back to Austria via Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. It was the first time visiting Slovakia for both of us. We got in late afternoon and checked into the Mercure Hotel where a room upgrade and lounge access gave us just the boost we needed.


Fountain of Youth in the gardens of the Presidential Palace

We decided feeding took precedence over running so we set off on the short walk to the heart of the old city. Along the way we checked out the Presidential Palace Park, a peaceful French-style garden  the gardens of the Palace. Amongst the leafy trees and summer roses were a statue of the Empress Maria Theresa on horseback, the Fountain of Youth by prominent Slovak sculptor Tibor Bártfay and avant-garde statues by contemporary artists. It’s only drawback – it’s not big enough for running.

The Palace is now the residence of the President of Slovakia but it was built in the 1760s by Count Anton Grassalkovich, the President of the Royal Hungarian Chamber and advisor to the Empress Maria Theresia and was a favorite meeting place for members of the Austro-Hungarian and Habsburg aristocracy, including the Empress who visited often.

Eschewing the hard core tourist restaurants and bars which were populated by large groups of young men enjoying cheap beer on a Saturday night, we headed to the edge of the old city. Facing a narrow park we found 17’s Bar, a pub-like place with an Italian-American menu i.e., burgers and pizza. We both decided on risotto dishes and local beer which proved excellent choices.


Bratislava’s old city

We only had one night here so knew that any sight seeing would have to be done on our run on Sunday morning. With temperatures expected to hit 90F later in the day we knew the earlier we got out the better. Our aim was to get up to Bratislava Castle which sits on a hill high above the town. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to what I knew would inevitably be a hilly run but it was the only way I was going to get up there before we left the city.

Setting out from the hotel, Paul somehow got us on the right route towards the castle. As predicted we began climbing early on but fortunately most of the way it was a gentle enough incline that I was able to maintain a steady pace. The houses got grander as we ascended culminating in ambassador residences near the top. We were impressed to see people out tending to their gardens so early in the day.


Soviet-style statues in Slavin Memorial park.

We eventually came to a memorial park dominated by the Slavin Monument which was built around 1960 to commemorate the city’s liberation from the Nazis by the Red Army in April 1945. It is also a cemetery for the 6845 soldiers who died in the battles to free the city. Besides the obelisk there are a number of statues built in the ‘heroic realism’ style associated with 1950s Soviet design style. We did a quick circuit of the pocket sized park and as we left noticed that the Russians were still present – the Russian ambassador’s residence sits directly across from the entrance to the park overlooking the city.


Paul checking out Slavin Memorial

Back on the road we had a couple of slight detours as we tried to find the right route to get us to the castle. We knew we were on track when we came upon tour buses and large groups from various countries. We worked our way past the crowd huddled at the entrance and headed to the main entrance. While the Castle is worth visiting for its exhibits of Slovakia’s ancient history, just the view of the city was enough reward for us.


Happy to have got all the way up to Bratislava Castle.


Danube River and the New Bridge

We had a great aerial view of the Danube as the old and newer parts of the city as well as the New Bridge. We did a quick trot around the perimeter of the castle and then made our our way out a different exit. The journey down was on a steep, cobble-stoned path. That in fact was the hardest bit of the run for me as my IT band complained about the uneven, steep surface. Fortunately it was a short descent and soon we were headed back to the hotel through the old city.


View of old and modern Bratislava from Bratislava Castle

Last stop: Budapest     Next stop: Salzburg


Running Europe: Budapest

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

For our 10th anniversary and my 50th birthday we decided to spend a couple of weeks traveling through Europe. That of course meant finding good running routes along the way. I joined Paul, who had been at a work event, in Vienna a couple of days before our anniversary. (Paul’s blog post looks at running in Vienna.) We decided to spend our anniversary in Budapest. This proved a good decision as it was both romantic and running friendly! And our hotel – a funky boutique place called the Bohem Art Hotel – was just the ticket.

We found a great run that takes you along both the Buda and Pest sides of the Danube River to an island in the middle of the river dedicated to sporting activities. Along the way you run by or on four of Budapest’s eight best known bridges. Run across Liberty Bridge, the shortest bridge spanning the Danube River, towards the Buda side to get onto the cycle/pedestrian path. It’s a wide flat path but you share it with cyclists most of the way. Three miles along this path gets you to Margaret Island.


View of Buda Castle and Palace complex.

A mile along is Elisabeth Bridge, one of the more modern looking bridges along the Danube. Soon after you’ll see the historical Buda Castle and palace complex looking down on the town from its majestic perch perched atop Castle Hill. Another mile takes you to the most famous bridge in Hungary – Chain Bridge. When inaugurated in 1849 this bridge was the first permanent stone bridge connecting the Buda and Pest sides of the river and the second permanent crossing along the entire length of the Danube. Two stone lions guard each end of the bridge.


Chain Bridge at night.

Once you pass Chain Bridge the view gets interesting on the Pest side of the river. The impressive Budapest Parliament Building dominates this section. When completed in 1902 it was the largest parliament building in the world. It’s design was inspired by the Houses of Parliament in London but with its statues of Hungarian rulers, Gothic ornaments and intricately decorated spires it outshines London’s version. Especially at night when it gleams of golden light.


The Parliament Building is spectacular at night.

The next bridge, Margaret Bridge, takes you to an island that’s a paradise for runners. It offers a 3.3 mile single lane all weather track around the circumference. Aside from a few worn patches it’s generally in good shape. Alongisde the track, on one side of the island is a tarmac path and on the other a sandy path which allows faster runners to pass. The island circuit is a unique way to take in the city’s architecture. On the Pest side as you head north stately old buildings quickly give way to high rise housing similar to the public housing in Singapore.


Paul running on the sandy path next to the one-lane all weather track.

Unexpectedly towards the north end of the island are several wellness resort hotels connected to hot springs. At the top end is a car park for those driving across Arpad Bridge..


One of the hotels on Margaret Island.

At the top of the island the trail crosses a road and continues south offering views of houses dotting the hills on the Buda side. You soon come across a huge swimming pool complex catering for both serious swimmers and those simply splashing around. Close to the end of the circuit was a gym and tennis courts. What was most impressive was how many fit and fast runners there were – including some older than us. Many looked like triathletes – and if they were, they had the facilities right here for it.

For a change of scene, and for me a slightly shorter route, I took  the Pest side of the river back. The drawback to this side is that there is no dedicated cycle/pedestrian path so you have to put up with varied surfaces, some less runnable. The route will take you right in front of the Parliament Building where you have to run on cobble stones but the view makes up for the discomfort.


View as you run right in front of the shadow of the Parliament Building.

Along this route is a less visible but powerful work of art. The Shoes on the Danube is a memorial honoring the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes and were shot at the water’d edge so that their bodies fell into the river to be swept away.


Shoes on the Danube memorial.

At the Chain Bridge one can cross the road to get onto an easier running surface. Heading down a promenade flanked by high end hotel restaurants and bars will get you most of the way to the starting point. After Elisabeth Bridge you’ll be running in the sidewalk past bars and restaurants with the end point in sight. All in all an interesting way to see some of the key sights along the banks of the Danube – all in 7.5 miles. It can be easily shortened by starting at Chain Bridge or even at Margaret’s Bridge. Or lengthened by doing laps of the island and travelling back and forth along the Buda side of the river – as Paul did.

Last stop: Vienna           Next stop: Bratislava


Race Report: Bay to Breakers 12K, San Francisco, May 18, 2014

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson and Paul Thompson

Pre-Race Build-Up

Four years ago I promised my high school friend, Lilian Tsi, that I would run Bay to Breakers with her. Lilian after the shock of a mild stroke four years ago had begun running and this race was a major goal. B2B, as the locals call it, was one of those iconic races that had been on my bucket list of races to do for many years. So when Lilian signed up earlier this year I decided to put my feet where my mouth was. Paul, the serial racer, was initially undecided but after some research concluded that this 103-year old race was more than just people running in fancy dress. A race where Ryan Hall comes second is the real deal.

This was an opportunity not just to do a race together in a city I loved and Paul had never visited but also to catch up with friends and family. Arriving late Thursday gave plenty of time to check out the course (shown here on video). The final 3.5 miles passes through Golden Gate Park and Lilian’s place was barely two minutes away. Paul ran there again on Saturday so as to get a good feel for the downhill over the closing few miles and stake out the short finishing straight. Golden Gate Park, like Central Park in New York, is a green lung in the middle of a city. But unlike Central Park, running on the trails in Golden Gate Park you do feel like you are in the middle of nature. Instead of manicured lawns, wildflowers line the path.

At the race expo on Friday afternoon we picked up our numbers. Paul was much relieved to find that his bib number of 8059, which he had located on the race website the night before, did not mean he had 8000 runners in front of him. Instead he was seeded and would be sharing a corral with a few dozen elites and a few hundred fellow seeds. Paul may dislike the class system but likes seeding. At the expo, through some sleuthing, we determined that last year’s first two masters’ runners were entered. And thanks to images care of Google Paul would be able to recognize them.


Tiger mum and her son at the start of the race.

Wandering around the expo we came across some signs that this was to be a colorful race. There were the many vendors selling various types of waist bags and freebie race snacks. But then there was a stall selling brightly colored tutus. During the race we would discover that tutus were a dime a dozen. As were naked runners and superheroes. Lilian and her son, Peter, were going to embrace the spirit of this race, dressing as a Tiger mother and her studious son, while Arch’na, another high school mate, would be wearing a pink tutu. As for me, Wonder Woman socks were as far as I could go and still feel like a real runner. Paul’s fancy dress would be his Warren Street vest and racing shorts.


Getting into the spirit of B2B just before heading into our corrals.

Race preparation was perfect. As well as some relaxed runs in the park we had a great homemade pasta dinner (plus mussels, scampi and capresi salad!) on the eve, got plenty of sleep, woke up early (thanks to our bodies still being on East Coast time) and a smooth stress free lift to the start. We were in our corrals before 7am, over one hour before the scheduled 8am start.


Homemade pasta and pesto was just one of the pre-race dishes.

Paul’s Race Experience

The corral, effectively a side street at right angles to the race start, had a great porta potty to runner ratio. No lines. In the corral I jogged up and down and did some strides. I spotted Sara Hall and a posse of elite Kenyan and Ethiopian runners. We got ushered to the start line at 7:45am. I was on the second row. And then we waited for the starter’s orders. 8am came and went. Some problem on the course. We waited and waited, my finger poised on the trigger, the start button on my Garmin. We even got to stride up and down the starting stretch. Then, at last we were ordered back to the start line. And we were off. At 8:24am!

After barely a mile I was in the company of elite women, including Sara and Diane Johnson, and the first centipede. There were lots of extremely drunk spectators some who veered recklessly onto the course. Idiots.

Bay to Breakers is part of running folklore for many reasons but for the more serious runners its Hayes Street Hill. From sea level at the Embarcadero at around 2.5 miles the course rises steeply along Hayes Street Hill. It ominously looms into view barely a mile into the race. For 0.6 miles, five blocks from Fillmore to Steiner, runners climb an 11% grade to a summit around 260 feet above sea level. At each cross street it briefly levels off giving it a staircase type effect. I made my ascent with the lead centipede (at around 1:12 on this video clip). It was the toughest hill I’d tackled in a road race since the mid-90s. Thanks to timing mats at the base and summit the race results include splits for the climb. Mine was 3:22.


View from the top of Hayes Street hill.

Once over the hill the remainder of the course, aside from a gentle uphill alongside the Panhandle, winds its way mostly downhill through Golden Gate Park. Hayes Hill slowed my mile split to 5:56 for mile 3. I was now in around 25th place and confident last year’s masters’ champ was behind me. My mile 4 split improved to around 5:30. I was feeling the hill and feared I’d climbed too fast. But as I entered the park I started to feel stronger and faster. And by the rime I hit the last few miles, which descend continuously, I was logging 5:11 miles.

The first lady, Diane, passed me around mile 5. At mile 6 Sara, who said she found it harder than expected, also passed me. Approaching the windmill just before the final bend, some 200 meters from the finish line, I heard what sounded like a crowd just behind. Suddenly I had the lead centipede on my right shoulder taking the inside line of the bend. So as I raced to the tape, which I broke in 40:28 for 45th overall and first masters, I got overtaken by a 13 man centipede. My finish line pump fist was tempered by the realization that I’d been overtaken by so many so close to the finish. And they were all tied together.

The day after the race I ‘recovered’ by running from Sham’s sister Annabel’s apartment in Emeryville along the Berkeley shore. At the time of writing I am still waiting for the $1,000 check for first place masters.


Paul trying to outrun the first centipede team and the fog.

Shamala’s Race Experience

Unlike Paul who was in a spacious seeded corral, I was hemmed in with the 8 – 10 minute runners and not a porta potty in sight. I was in the second row from the start of my corral which would set off five minutes after the elite and seeded runners. Watching people throw tortillas in the air, as is the tradition at B2B,was mildly entertaining until one hit me on the back of the head. After standing around waiting for more than an hour for the race to begin, I was actually looking forward to running the race! Anything to get out of that crowded corral.


Can you spot the flying tortillas in this photo?

I knew that I needed to make sure I didn’t go too fast in the first two miles. I aimed to start out at around 9 minute mile pace and then up the ante to 8:30 pace. All was going well until about half a mile into the race I literally ran into a huge crowd of rowdy, costumed revelers who were all over the road. Those taking the race seriously quickly moved to the far right side. It took some effort but I managed to block out the antics of the party crowd that had invaded the race and focused on the hill that I knew was imminent.


On race day we did not have the luxury of stopping to enjoy this view but we had time for photos the day before when we checked out the course

If I wanted a decent finish time I had to avoid Hayes Street Hill slowing me down too much. As I approach to the hiill is daunting. It’s five blocks of steady climbing with the last two blocks of a steepness we don’t see in New York. I began my trudge up the hill determined to try and keep to a decent tempo. I was surprised to find myself passing runners. The last two blocks were hard but I didn’t feel I had to stop. It was my slowest mile but not as slow as it could have been! I got up in 5:18:19 and according to the results I was the 15 fastest female in my age division up that hill!


Here’s the downhill right after the top of Hayes Street hill.

I had been looking forward to the downhill immediately after Hayes Street Hill summit but while it was faster down than up it was not easy getting back to target pace.

As I came towards the park I was thankful that I’d done that run with Lilian so that I had an idea of what was ahead – fortunately mostly downhill with just one slight rise. Entering the park there was a fog sitting above us and green on both sides. It felt almost enjoyable. Until I looked at my watch and found I still had three miles to go. But I was back on target pace and hungry for that finish line.


Lilian and Peter close to the finish. Photo credit to Scott who had to do a 100m dash to get this photo!

This race has a great finish. Downhill with the ocean stretching out on the left. I came round the final corner with 200 metres to go and heard Paul’s voice. He had had enough time to pick up his medal, get some snacks and come out to cheer me on. I was pleased to still be feeling relatively strong as I crossed the finish line. I had been hoping for about 1:10 at best but managed to finish in 1:04:19 at 8.37 pace. I was 19 out of 1392 women in my age group. Not Speedy Gonzales but it seems like I’m getting faster as I get older. Lilian and Peter finished the race in a time close to what they were hoping for. Meanwhile Arch’na, who walked most of the course, saw a lot more of the whacky side of this race than the rest of us.

Post race celebrations involved champagne, cheese and burgers which were all eaten with relish.  The day after the race while Paul went for a run I decided a walk in Muir Woods was be enough for me. My first race race that required an air ticket turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected!


Post-race activity involved a walk in Muir woods with those of us who had done the race and my sister Annabel and her boyfriend, Keith.



Race Report: 2014 USA Cross Country Championships, Boulder, CO., February 15, 2014

by Paul Thompson

A few weeks ago Shamala reminded me that the Flatirons Golf Course, Boulder CO. was the host venue for the 2014 USA Cross Country Championships and that masters races were on the program. We were planning to go to Boulder to spend some time in our apartment there so it made sense to sign up. It also presented me with an opportunity to try and better the silver medal I collected in the M45-49 category at the British Masters Cross Country Championships in 2011.

To get my spot on the start line I renewed my USA Track and Field (USATF) membership and was pleased to note that as I was now a permanent resident I could compete in the championship – though not pick up any prize money! A few years ago I ran in an event that incorporated the USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships – and on that occasion had to return my medal, seconds after receiving it, as I was only a ‘resident alien’.

The day promised to be unseasonably warm but turned out to be seasonably cold, thanks to a strong chilling wind. The course was fast – an almost pancake flat golf course of well-groomed grass spiced with a few wet patches, ankle deep mud on one 180 degree corner and a mini creek crossing. The men’s masters’ race was 8k, four laps of 2k.


Runners had very different approaches to crossing the little creek.

On the basis of some pre-race research I figured a top 3 placing was doable but that top spot was unlikely as Simon Gutierrez, a prolific master’s runner who on the basis of recent races looked likely to beat me comfortably, was entered.  My homework proved accurate. I placed third M45-49 in 27:58, 9th overall and over 40 seconds behind Gutierrez (see the video here). But then to my surprise I was awarded silver at the awards ceremony, beamed live to my nephews in the UK thanks to Face Time, as the second placed M45-49 runner, Ecuadorian Olympian Silvio Guerra, did not seem to qualify.


The first three in the M45-49 age group.


Showing my nephews in the UK my medal via Face Time.

My race went largely to plan. I got a clean start and settled behind the lead group of 8-10 runners. I could see, thanks to age group patches on the backs of all runners, three M45-49s ahead of me on the opening lap (the rest were younger!). I tried to stay in touch with this group as long as possible. Mid-way through the second lap I started to drift off the back but shortly before the start of lap 3 I passed a M45-49 runner, placing me in medal contention. And that’s where I stayed despite my lap splits showing I slowed down significantly. For once the legs held out but the lungs gave in to the effects of the mile high altitude.


Hanging on to the lead pack in the early stages of the race.

Sham and I stuck around for the main course (here’s the video coverage) – the men’s and women’s open events. The bitterly cold wind made spectating a bigger test of endurance than the race itself. Free coffee, bagels and Danish pastries from the athlete’s tent – actually the golf buggy garage – helped pass the time and provide some relief from the cold.

Chris Derrick, who won his first USA Cross Country Championship title in 2013, arrived in Boulder as favorite to win. The Portland-based runner, 11th in last year’s World Cross Country Championships and fresh from winning the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country 2014, bided his time in the opening laps. But at 6k he surged, dropping all bar a few rivals, before ultimately running solo around the 8k mark. Over the final two miles of the race, Derrick extended his lead and crossed the tape  in 36:14, 20 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.


Chris Derrick, the winner of the Senior Men’s race, beginning starting to surge away.

In the women’s 8 km race, there were a few surprising results, including a breakthrough performance for Flagstaff-based Amy Van Alstine. From the gun, a pack of a dozen women grouped up and ran together for much of the first half of the race, including pre-race favorite Olympian Jenny Simpson. Before  the 6k point Van Alstine surged ahead and over the final 2k pushed hard and opened up a big lead, finishing some 22 seconds ahead of the runner-up Simpson in 27:35.


Amy Van Alstine crossing the finish line in a surprise win over pre-race favorite Jenny Simpson.

Sham and I spent most of the main races jogging around the infield area. This  enabled us to catch athletes 2-3 times per lap. As soon as Chris passed us in the finishing straight we made a break for the official athlete’s car park some 600m away. We hopped on a waiting shuttle bus for the short ride, only to find Kara Goucher and family, Boulder residents again, seated just behind the driver. That evening we celebrated my second national individual silver medal like only runners can – with modest amounts of alcohol and food at 4580 Broadway – content that my injury is behind me. At least for now.

Post Script

One week after the event USATF contacted me to advise that they had mistakenly awarded me the medal. They had overlooked the fact that my USATF profile stated that I was a UK citizen and as a non-US citizen I was not eligible to win a USATF award. The medal is now in the post!

Waking Up My Winter Warrior

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson


Peekskill Bay after 2014’s first snowfall.

A year ago I thought I had become a winter warrior. I even boasted about it in this blog. I was now an all-weather runner having completed 12 miles in testing wintry conditions to go with my proven ability in warmer climes. A year later Old Man Winter has thrown out new challenges that has got me questioning my ability to cope with running through the seasons. Not long ago I was delighted when it snowed. Now I’m dreading the thought of tomorrow’s run. Plus single digit farenheit temperatures have proven to be a tough mental barrier.

Ever since we got back from Singapore just before the New Year, New York has experienced a mix of record low temperatures, snow storms, bone chilling winds and icy under foot conditions.  A wintry mix that has led to some of my lowest mileage weeks in a long time. Paul on the other hand has had a couple of high mileage weeks. He’s clearly made of much sterner stuff.


It’s possible to ski in some of my regular running spots now.

I have learned to run thorough normal winter conditions. Layers, wicking fabrics, wooly hats and mittens are all in abundance in my wardrobe. But the below freezing temperatures – even without wind chill – combined with icy roads have left me in two minds on too many days about running outdoors. When I do get out I am too easily satisfied – a plodding 3 miles seems an achievement.


Trudging around Swan Lake.

Almost exactly a year ago I ran 12 miles on snow and ice in Rockefeller Preserve –  albeit in slightly warmer conditions. Yesterday I struggled through six miles with the same sort of underfoot conditions and 23F (the warmest day in the last two weeks). Today I did get out and do another six miles in spite of even colder temperatures  –  17F/-8C which with wind chill felt like 0F/-17c. Nevertheless it left me wondering if I had gone soft.


Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried alternatives to running – spinning classes and treadmills at the gym. But there’s nothing that makes me feel such a great sense of achievement as a two hour run in the winter. But to get to that point again, I have to overcome my demons and rediscover my hibernating winter warrior.

NYC Marathon 2013: From the Sidelines

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

I watched my first New York City Marathon in 1989 as a graduate student. I had just run a marathon (my first and last, so far at least!) the year before in Singapore so I knew what it felt like to cover 26.2 miles. Since then I’ve watched marathons in London and Boston and eight more New York City Marathons. Call me biased but New York is still my favorite.  Every year I’m blown away by the international flavor of this race and the wonderful support from New Yorkers.

Last year for the first time in its history the New York City Marathon was cancelled following the public uproar over having a race start in Staten Island which had been devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Instead runners put their well-trained legs to good use and ran supplies into Staten Island.  So this year’s race was going to be a special one. And the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing made it all the more poignant. This was a comeback for New York and the global community of runners.

The runners combined those who didn’t get to run last year with the many who had qualified for the 2013 marathon. 50,750 people representing 109 countries started and 50,304 finished, setting a record for the largest number of finishers in a marathon.

The day before the marathon  I downloaded the INGNYCM app and started adding the people I was  going to track. I was struck by how they were from so many different countries – Italy, France, New Zealand, Israel, United Kingdom, even the United States! When we first came to New York, nine years ago, it was Paul’s Warren Street teammates who I would be out there supporting.  This year, although I had a quite a few of them on my list, I realized that I seem to have also acquired my own friends who run marathons!


Nick, a Kiwi, who is one of my morning running mates on his way to finishing his first marathon.

Paul has often been away on the day of the New York City Marathon but I enjoy the camaraderie of cheering on the runners with Paul’s teammates 20131105-191906.jpgtypically around 99th Street on 1st Avenue. However, this year I had been invited to a marathon brunch by a friend, Marguerita, who has an apartment offering a bird’s eye view of runners around mile 21.  I decided that the best plan, given the range of runners I was trying to catch, would be to carbo load in between supporting my runner friends. I was joined by Kelly, my Rockies running partner, and her i9 year old son, who was an enthusiastic cheerleader.

I love watching the front runners come by. They speed by with an effortless fluidity I can only dream of. I’ve seen many of them race in different cities over the years but watching them on my home turf is best. We saw the first three women come by, with Buzunesh Deba at that point still holding on to a comfortable lead. Priscah Jeptoo was then in third place but just two miles later, as they entered Central Park, she surged past a tiring Deba and went on to win the women’s title. By the time the men came by Geoffrey Mutai had just broken out of the pack and was running with Stanley Biwott.  Shortly after he passed us Mutai broke away and went on to win his second New York City Marathon title.


Buzunesh Deba in the lead at mile 21

The fastest runner among those I was tracking was Carlo Agostinetto, a Warren Street runner, who finished the race in 2:43:43. And this is coming off the back of a 100K race in late September. I saw him at mile 22 looking strong and steady.  Several other Warren Street runners were pacers for 3:00, 3:05 and 3:10 hopefuls. I managed  to spot Charlie leading his pack of runners, flag in hand.


Charley leading his group to their 3:10 finish.

Over the morning – in between coffee and champagne and a lot of carbohydrates – I managed to catch some of my friends but missed others.  It takes a lot of concentration and precision timing (without the INGNYMC App I would have missed just about everyone!) to spot someone among a crowd of runners. It was heart-warming that our cheers and shouts seemed to give some of them a boost. I know from my recent half marathon experience how much a friendly face and hearing a familiar voice can help at a low point. Paul meantime had to do his cheering while watching on his laptop in a Geneva, Switzerland hotel room.


Kimberly spotting us in the crowd.

The New York marathon is an emotional experience for both supporters and runners. We had runners high five us and others wave as we shouted their name. And one British runner veered off course to give Harry his Crystal Palace water bottle having recognized that Harry, sporting a Crystal Palace sweatshirt, was a fellow fan. Over the day I witnessed moments of jubilation, agony, sheer grit but most of all the ability of the human spirit to keep going even when the body is done. Every finisher will never forget the great sense of achievement.


Two Crystal Palace fans meet in Harlem.