Category Archives: Boulder

Fighting Fit and Fast in Fifties: The Ingredients

By Paul Thompson

This article is a personal view, informed by what I’ve read, heard and learned by doing, on how to stay competitive at distance running as age tries to catch up with us. It’s written against the back drop of mankind’s obsession with avoiding the effects of old age. But before we find a way of arresting the onset of old age what can masters runners do to stay fighting fit? This article, more anecdotal self-reflection than scientific analysis, explains how I have navigated the physical and psychological to keep the effects of creeping age at bay. We will slow as we age, but as this New York Times article explains we may not need to slow too much. Although declines in our running are unavoidable, they may be less steep than many of us fear. The article looks at the key ingredients, and their relative importance, to mastering masters athletics from training, recovery and mindset and motivation through to time management and planning, diet and support network.

The Author

Let’s start with a few words about me. That way you can judge whether or it’s worth reading what I have to say. I’m 52. I’ve run consistently, and competitively, since I was in my early teens. I ran for school, town, county and region but was never good enough to cut it a national level in the open age category. Until, that is, I turned 40. Since then I’ve been one of the top masters’ runners on both sides of the Pond – in the UK, where I was born, and in the US where I have lived since joining the masters’ ranks. It seems that as I’ve aged I’ve slowed down slower than most. Today I am proud to be a world class masters runner and able to compete and win medals at world masters athletics championships. My full running resume is here.

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Silver medel in the half marathon at  the World Masters Athletics championships, Malaga, Spain, September 2018

Review of the Literature

Before I tell my own story a few observations on what the literature is telling us about how to stay fit in our fifties. Arguably the most significant writer on the subject is Joe Friel. His book Fast After 50 was written primarily with endurance cyclists in mind but much of it is just as relevant to endurance running. Friel starts out by looking at the what is holding us back as we age — our specific weaknesses, or “limiters.” He notes that while many areas of our life can nurture limiters, such as time available to train, diet, amount of sleep, and speed of recovery, and much more, the “big three” aging limiters are as follows:

  • Decreasing aerobic capacity – we lose the ability to deliver oxygen to our working muscles.
  • Increasing body fat – we can expect more fat and less muscle, a transition that accelerates in our 60s.
  • Shrinking muscles – starting around age 40, a progressive decrease of muscle begins.

Friel encourages us not to be defeatist. While these limiters can’t be dodged there’s much we can do to slow the pace of change. The book describes in considerable detail several key training, recovery and nutrition strategies that can limit age-related losses to performance. Below I’ll try to fuse my own ideas with those of Friel and others.

Training

The single most important ingredient to our athletic success irrespective of age. My running log looks much like it did when I was younger. I run around 70 miles per week. This includes a 2 hour plus long run, longer than when I was younger, a mid-week medium long run, and two work-outs. Friel’s foremost recommendation is to maintain aerobic capacity through continued high-intensity training. I agree. As we age the natural tendency is for us to concede defeat and quit high intensity training on the basis that we should take it easy and push back. This is in keeping with the prevailing general view that as we age we should retire, take up golf and all that. So many of us revert to just steady running. Unfortunately, this just speeds up our rate of decline. Accepted it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea of running repeats slower and slower. But to stop high intensity training altogether will make us even slower, sooner.

Before I describe a few workouts I do on a regular basis, and how they differ from what I used to do, let me say a few words about how I approach them. First, get my mind and motivation right – see the section below. Second, while I may record the workout on my Garmin I tend to only glance at it during the workout to get a rough idea as to the time and pace. I try to avoid being a slave to the device or schedule. Organic is preferred. Third, I typically do a warm-up run of at least 25 minutes. Fourth, like all my runs I tend to start easier and slowly step up the intensity. In this way all my runs have a progressive dimension. For example, like this workout  or this steady run. And finally, I do workouts mainly alone, partly to avoid the stress of chasing others and being reminded that I’m getting slower. When I’m rocking them I’m happy to have company.

Mona Fartlek

One of my staple speed endurance sessions. The 20-minute version consists of 2 x 90sec, 4 x 60sec, 4 x 30sec, 4 x 15sec with a slower tempo recovery of the same time between each repetition. I approach the session as though a steady run with timed efforts. To be able to run the recoveries at a reasonable pace, ‘float’ recoveries, the efforts need to be fast but not all out. I aim to cover around 3.5 miles as I did on this one. This workout is great for shorter races and offers a varied high intensity session.

Hill Repeats

My typical hill work-out is 10x60secs with jog down recovery. The hill I use is of varying gradient but none of it is steeper than 10%. Close to the top is levels off enabling me to close fast. Like all hill sessions this one works the glutes and hips, maintaining muscle strength and power. I concentrate on form rather than speed. I did this one recently.

Other

Like most runners I also do repeats on track or flat road. Typically these are longer efforts with short jog recoveries and ladders.

Recovery

As we age the rate at which we recover, especially from high intensity sessions, slows markedly. Hence, getting recovery right assumes heightened importance as we age. When my daily run is done it’s all hands-on deck to recover as soon as possible. Except when it’s very cold I apply ice to my legs with an ice cup – this not only speeds up muscle recovery but in hot weather offers relief by lowering my overall body temperature – roll my legs and back on a foam roller and do a few strength exercises. Given my slow recovery I avoid back to back hard sessions: typically, I do steady runs of no more than an hour the day before and day after high intensity work-outs and long runs.

Mindset and Motivation

The second most important ingredient after training. As older athletes we have accumulated experience and grit. I can, if necessary, grind out training sessions and races even when the chips are down. I can eke out that extra few percent of effort on race day. Going into every work-out or race I moderate my expectations. I avoid comparing with yesteryear. For workouts the goal is to more to complete rather than to excel. Easing into the session, holding back early on, helps ensure I get it done. I know that I’ll struggle to run them anything like as fast as I used to. I also need to make allowances for the fact that age slows down the ability to recover so I may struggle to replicate the times the last time I did that same work-out. Similarly, my race goals differ to when I was younger. I’m looking to top my age group and maximize my age grade percentage (often at or around 90%) rather than bag a PR.

If I fear anything it’s injury rather than pain. I often have a contingency plan, or secondary goals, to avoid being like a ship at sea without anchor, in case things don’t play out the way I’d planned. In a recent 10K race my ultimate aim was to run under 33:00 but my back-up plan was to revert to 5:20 minute per mile pace. At 5K I reverted to Plan B and ran 33:10. When injury strikes one needs to be especially careful to ensure full and timely recovery. In a recent race I pulled a hamstring. I had to quickly bail out to avoid making matters worse. I rested, maintained cardio vascular fitness by cycling, and got treatment. Patience is indeed a virtue.

Finally, I’ve gotten a fillip of extra motivation from guiding visually impaired runners including Paralympian medalist Jason Dunkerley in the New York City Half Marathon. It feels good to help others enjoy something that I enjoy so much. And Jason has taught me that age, like blindness, is not a disability but a challenge to be overcome.

Time Management and Planning

Time is perhaps our most precious resource. There’s never enough of it. My wife and I are lucky in that we don’t have kids or pets or high maintenance parents. However, I like many in their fifties are at or close to the peak of our careers. This means a demanding day job and work travel. I invest considerable time in planning my week ahead to ensure I get the training done no matter when and where. Sometimes this demands last minute adjustments like moving a work-out to a less time constrained day.

Diet

There’s nothing special about my diet. I eat most things in moderation. But what has changed in the past few years, thanks to my wife Sham, is increased consumption of protein, to aid recovery, and fruit, nuts and seeds, sometimes in smoothies.

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Eating and drinking with family and friends on eve of 2017 London Marathon

Support Network

My support network is bigger and more important than ever. It includes coach Lee Troop, Urban Athletics team mates, manager, counsellor and wife Shamala, and physical therapist / acupuncturist Russell Stram at Runner Clinic NYC.

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Urban Athletics team mates

Measuring Success

To see how you successfully you are holding back the years, slowing the rate of decline check out this calculator. I plugged in 2:29:56 for my marathon PR / PB at age 40 in London. It predicted I run 2:47:03 at age 51: in April 2017 at age 51, exactly 11 years after I ran my PR I ran 2:31:45 in London.

Concluding Remarks

The ingredients to being fighting fit and fast in your fifties described above are not mutually exclusive. They overlap and interrelate. Get them right and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And it’s important to work simultaneously on all ingredients, more so that ingredient in the shortest supply, our weakest link.

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Preparing for London and Avoiding Fake Injuries

by Paul Thompson

Back in January I was in Boulder CO.. I was there to plan and kick start my 2017 campaign. I landed at Denver International Airport (DIA) late morning. It was snowing, there was a 13 -inch deep carpet of snow and it was -17C. I arrived, as I explained a few weeks before, unsure whether to run any marathon in ’17, let alone which one, and when. After 10 minutes with coach Lee Troop I was doing London on April 23. It speaks volumes for Troopy’s power of persuasion and my belief in him. It was 14 January, 14 weeks to London.

Flatirons, Boulder under blanket of snow

It’s now eight weeks to London. Yesterday I closed out an 80 mile week with an easy 23 miles in Central Park. It was almost 70F, the sun was out, I was running (and talking!) with Urban Athletics team mates and Mike McManus, and I was injury free. Life is good. Let’s hope it stays like that.

On January 14,  Troopy said if I was to run a marathon in ’17 better it be a big occasion one. I ran 2:32:02 in ’16 at the super fast Greater Manchester and they were keen to have me back. But London is arguably the world’s greatest marathon and I get to join brother Steve, Jordanian friend Mo’ath Alkhawaldeh, and Troopy’s top charge Laura Thweatt. Some top M50 Brits are also running London, most notably Graham Green. Graham’s currently logging 120 miles a week and like me aiming for 2:30. I hope we can help each other.

In my last post I flagged some potential target races for ’17. Those targets are clearer now. In addition to London, I’ll aim to run the half marathon (and maybe XC) at the European Masters Athletics Non-Stadia Champs in Denmark and run as many of the NYRR club championship races as I can and, in turn, hopefully help Urban Athletics retain the masters’ team title we collected a few days ago at The Hard Rock Cafe, Times Square.

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Urban Athletics award winning masters’ team

At The Hard Rock , Urban Athletics team mates turned out in force and in full voice to support their 12 nominees. We clinched the masters’ team award and six individual awards. I won the M50-54 to add to the one from last year and the 9, out of 10, won while in my forties.

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L to R: Matt Chaston (M45-49 winner), me (M50-54 winner), Carlo Agostinetto (Ultra winner), Jonathan Kline (M55-59 winner), Javier Rodriguez (M40-44 winner) and Aaron Mendelsohn (M40-44 nominee)

In the past few days team mates, in particular project manager Moses Lee and dentist Ramin Talib, have asked how I avert injury. Truth is I’m not immune. Since 2011 I’ve had a constant battle with IT band issues and in early 2013, when I last attempted to train for London, was plagued with sciatica. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten wiser with age. But I’d be kidding myself. Sciatica proved stubborn and only went away when an accident forced me to take 6 weeks off.

My IT band issue is firmly under control thanks to regular visits to DrStu, a Bedford Hills based chiropractor, and a DIY self maintenance routine. My routine focuses on strengthening, rather than stretching, of glutes and hips. It comprises some gluteal exercises (given to me by Heather North when I tripped to Boulder before the Bronx 10 last September), together with some foam rolling and calf raises. The routine is repeated 3-4 times and takes 12-15 minutes on the floor of my lounge while watching some fake news.

In sum my routine looks like this (videos by Heather of her husband Ewen):

1. Glute max – 2 of following for 60 seconds, both sides and repeated: http://youtu.be/96sud2L5jiI


2. Glute med – 2 of following for 60 seconds, both sides and repeated:





3. Foam rolling – light rolling focused on mid-IT band. Note: I do not overdo it as this article cautions: https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/your-it-band-is-not-the-enemy-but-maybe-your-foam-roller-is/

4. Calf raises – 60 seconds, both sides and repeated: http://www.dummies.com/health/exercise/how-to-do-the-standing-calf-raise/

Well that’s all for now. Trump’s back on the TV so it’s time to roll and stop faking it.

 

 

Looking Back on 2016

by Paul Thompson

In the first few days of 2016 I did like many of us. I made some new year’s resolutions. Actually more goals for the year ahead, as a fifty year old. And I committed them to print – right here. I rarely revisit my new year’s resolutions. But this time I was intrigued to see whether what I achieved in 2016 I had remotely predicted.

Well that article I wrote in the first few days of January 2016 concluded with this: “By 51 I hope to have a World Masters medal and a new marathon PR”. Well I turned 51 a few days ago and have four World Masters medals and came within 2 minutes and 6 seconds of my marathon PR (having been on schedule until around 23 miles).

As far as I know that 2:32:02 was bettered only by one other runner age 50 and above – Martin Fiz. My times at 10 miles (54:16) and half marathon (1:12:48) topped the UK rankings. So I guess I can’t complain. Or at least I will but shouldn’t.

What then does 2017 have in store? Next week I’ll be in Boulder and get time with coach Troopy. We’ll map out the season ahead. At this time I have two ideas. Another stab at a marathon PR, either in the spring (I’m entered for London and Greater Manchester but, if any, one will do) or, as seems more likely, the fall (Chicago, New York, Berlin or Beirut).

If I don’t get on top of my game I may not do any marathons. If I do my game plan will be to do what most older elite runners do – run the second half quicker than the first. My 2:32:02 was as close as I’ve gotten in any of my four marathons and yet I still ran the second half almost 5 minutes slower than the first (1:13:34 to 1:18:28).

My favorite distance is the half. I’m almost certain to run the half at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Aarhus, Denmark in early August. On the right course and in ideal weather conditions 1:11 is doable. I may need to since in ’17 I’m joined in the highly competitive M50-54 age group by two prolific Brits in Kevin O’Connor (70:10 in 2016) and Paul Ward (sub-32 10K in 2016). As if Graham Green was not enough. And that’s just Brits.

To get the new year off on the right footing I went to see a cardiologist, Alan Hecht, today for a check-up. Back in 2007 I’d had a cardio scare but it turned out to be false alarm. The cardiologist back then suggested annual checkups so here I was NINE years later.

Alan was very good. He gave me the all clear though I suspect any cautionary words he may have uttered just got quickly filtered out of my memory.

Race Report, USATF Cross Country Championships 2015, Boulder CO., February 7

By Paul Thompson (Photos by Shamala Thompson)

Yesterday was a day of several firsts for me. The first time I ran a cross country race and came away sunburnt. The first time I ran a cross country race in the North American winter in temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit. And the first time I shared the 3rd place podium spot with another runner.

The USATF Cross-Country Championships was the first race on my 2015 list of races. Having raced the exact same race in 2014 and came away, albeit temporarily, with a silver medal for the M45-49 age category, this time I was keen to get a top three placing and avoid receiving a national medal on loan. It also gave Sham and I a great excuse to spend a weekend in Boulder where we have an apartment.

The race conditions, bar the altitude, were near perfect. As you can see from the full race coverage on USATF TV. A pancake flat golf course featuring gently twisting turns and carefully cropped turf with just the odd damp patch. The weather was still and warm, good for short shorts and vest.

As I warmed up Francis Burdett introduced himself. He hails from Springfield CT. and wore an M50 tag on his back (all masters run in one race and you distinguish your age group competitors by the color coded tags on their backs. I wore a green M45 tag). As a 49 year old this would be the last year in the M45 category. As I did strides I could see my chief age group rivals Simon Guttierez and Rusty Snow, pre-race favorites according to some pundits.

Warm-up time.

Warm-up time.

Looking back on 2014 I recalled going out hard and mixing it with the early leaders only to find out they were faster than me. My lap splits, the masters men run four laps of 2k, drifted from an opening 6:15 to almost 7:20. So this time when the gun went I settled into my game plan of aiming for more even splits, circa 7:00  by running half a dozen or so runners further back than my 2014 9th placing.

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Into the second lap I found myself chasing Burdett and in 3rd place for M45, a good distance behind Guttierez and Snow. Not only was Burdett steady but he was my benchmark – he was in pole position for the M50, a title I would be coverting in 2016 when the race heads to Bend, Oregon.

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Much of the rest of the race was rather a grind and far from pretty. I had bouts of self doubt but was comforted that I could just about hang onto Burdett and was in 3rd place M45. Burdett did much of the work. I let him tow me around. I only pitched in with the pace work towards the end of each lap (here’s a rare glimpse of me ahead of him) and that was only because he seemed to make a meal of tackling a dry creek. The creek, and some soggy grass 400 metres into each lap, were the things that made this a remotely true cross country course: it was a far cry from the conditions in my last race.

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Into the last lap it seemed there was just one athlete close behind. With 800m to go I sensed Burdett up the ante. I hung on and hoped that he would make heavy weather of the creek some 4oo metres from the finish. He did and that enabled me to pull alongside and with 200m left to run I found myself sprinting for the line. It was desperate and ugly but I edged in front to take 14th spot. The results had us on identical times of 28:17. Burdett was first M50 and I third M45.

Soon after finishing I was contemplating crashing onto the grass but instead found something to lean against while catching my breath. In the finish area I chatted with Burdett and the second M50, Spyros Barres, another East Coaster. We warmed down together, spectating the younger age group races. It turns out Burdett has some track pedigree so had I been competing as an M50 he might have had the legs and motivation to beat me.

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At the awards ceremony USATF added a nice touch – while third place M45 I was ineligible for an award but they called me onto the stage to receive a finisher’s medal and stand on the third place podium with Robert Sweeney. Athletics legend Frank Shorter, who was giving away the prizes, glanced over at me and said, “Well done Simon”. Simon Guttierez was AWOL. I was not sure whether to be flattered or not.

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The afternoon ended with the main events – open women and open men, not only championship races but also selection races for Team USA’s runners to compete at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in China in March. In the women’s race, USATF National Cross Country Club women’s champion, Laura Thweatt, took the first place.

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Chris Derrick won the mens’ open for the third consecurive year with ease, in 36:18 , as this video testifies. Former Colorado resident, Dathan Ritzenhein, was third after Robert Curtis of Rochester.

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My 28:17 finish time was some 20 seconds slower than 2014. Not bad perhaps given a heavy work week and nagging ITB and ankle issues. I was also pleased that I was comfortably ahead of Christian Cushing-Murray – in 64th place having placed 3rd in the US Masters Long Distance Runners of the Year 2014 – and had achieved one of my 2015 targets. Next year this race is in Bend, Oregon so maybe Sham and I will get to visit a new state.

This morning Sham and I ventured out in what looked like perfect conditions. I ran almost 11 miles on the trails just north of Boulder. A 30-40 mph wind made it a not so easy recovery run!

Running Plans for the Year I Turn 50

by Paul Thompson

Every year around this time I say to myself, and others prepared or forced to listen (like team mates on long runs – a captive audience), that I will plan the year ahead – what races, target times and accolades, training mileage, and all that. But by March my new year’s running resolution is either broken, shaken or stirred. And 2015, the year I turn 50, looks set to be no different.

My 2015 race campaign started early with a cross country race in the UK on January 3 (in conditions similar to these in Edinburgh). Following that I logged some great confidence boosting training in Jordan with fellow Warren Street blogger Mo’ath Alkhawaldeh, most notably one of my fastest long runs ever in Aqaba.  Mo spent much of the time convincing me to run a 2015 marathon or two.

So what’s on the cards for 2015? First up is the 2015 USATF Cross Country Championships on February 7 in Boulder, CO. Last year I finished 3rd in this race, collected a silver medal for M45-49 and then had to give it up as I was not a US citizen.  This year I hope to repeat the feat but avoid having a medal on loan.

In March I will open my account running for Warren Street in the NYRR club championship series with the  NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K. A few days later I hope to be voted NYRR Runner of the Year for the M45-49 category at the NYRR Club Night.  That would make it 8 from 9 since turning 40 (the only hiatus being 2013 when I was plagued with injury and accident). In 2015 I aim to make that 9 from 10 by winning my age in NYRR club points races and help the team improve on its 2014 performance.

After that my 2015 game plan is work in progress.  My 5th place on January 3 earned me Northamptonshire team selection for the UK Inter Counties Cross Country Championships on March 7 but as things stand I’m unlikely to trip across the Atlantic to compete in this national championship race.

A spring marathon is a possibility. My 1:12 half marathon from 2013 was enough to get me guaranteed entry to the 2015 Virgin Money London Marathon Championship in late April. I have ’til the end of this month to pay up but I’m inclined to wait until 2016, when I’m 50, before having a crack, in London or Chicago, at my 2:29:56 marathon PR. As team mate Carlo Agostinetto said getting a PR at 50 has a better ring to it than 49. 49 is like a no man’s land.

I’d like to return to San Francisco to retain my masters crown at the Bay to Breakers but it clashes with a family event. And while on a planned vacation to the UK in late July I could do the British Masters Athletic Federation 10 km Road Race Championships in South Wales.

What would like to do before I turn 50 this December?

A fast half marathon, sufficient to get me guaranteed entry to the London and/or Chicago marathon in 2016, would be ideal. So I have my sights set on the Rock ‘n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon,where Deena Kastor set a world record for women masters in 2014. By fast I mean 1:10-1:12, not as fast as Deena.

I’d also like to notch up a masters victory in a big classic US race like the  Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run (April), where I ran 51:36 at age 42, and Peachtree Road Race (July).  And maybe have bash at other USATF National Championship events, like the 5 km cross country (October).

To some extent what I end up doing will be determined by what team mates talk me into. Presently they are softly selling the Breakneck Point Trail 25k in April. The hard sell is sure to come. Watch this space.

Race Report: Boulder Distance Classic 5K, Boulder CO., April 26, 2014

This was my third race in Boulder, after this February’s USATF 2014 Cross Country Champs and the Bolder Boulder 10K back in May 2012. These two races had proven that altitude is not conducive to fast times. This race would be no different. And I got beat by both a 2 and 48 year-old!

While not expecting a great time I had reasoned that the flat course – an out and back at Boulder Reservoir – would get me close to the 16:12 I recorded at the hilly Washington Heights 5K I ran in March. I was wrong. I ran 17:03 for fifth overall and second masters.

It’s not often I fail to win the masters age group, especially the M45-49. But this time I had to contend with fellow 48 year-old Simon Gutierrez. Simon won the USATF 2014 Cross Country M45-49, comfortably pushing me into second. On this occasion I was 30 seconds in arrears, running a time I last ran in my late teens. Still back then I’d never been as high as 5,400 feet above sea level let alone run at it.

I entered this race a few days after Sham and I arrived in Boulder to vacation with her sisters. I had been struggling with my ITB and hip flexors (I think). This time round I found the altitude, hills and trails particularly hard going – harder than I can ever remember. So I had modest expectations for the race and had acclimatized to the idea of running a slow time but hopefully pocketing the masters’ purse of $100. That would net me $70 after the race entry. Retirement as a full time runner is still some way off.

But as I warmed up with Sham, who had decided against doing the race after coming down with a cold, I spotted Simon. I deduced he must have made the trip from his home in Colorado Springs to run the 5K rather than the accompanying 15K. So I quickly re-acclimated to the idea of running a slow time and finishing second masters. At the start line Sham’s sister Ramola, husband Kevin and their toddler Eloise, joined Sham to form my support team. Eloise had been in great voice so I expected to hear her throughout the race.

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My support team cheering me on at the start.

Soon after the gun went I settled into fifth place and that’s where I’d stay. The gap in front to Simon, in 4th until around half way, steadily widened. Just after the turn at 3K he moved into 3rd and that’s where he’d stay. I kept my eyes singularly focused on him, counting the deficit in seconds at various checkpoints.

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Simon finishing strong.

This race proved to be one of the most uncomfortable I have ever run. Psychologically, since I was resigned to running for second masters place from the gun. And physically, since after barely a quarter of a mile I was getting that feeling one gets as you crank it up in the final quarter mile.

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Feeling the altitude at the start of the race.

I breasted the tape and noticed Simon already headed off for a warm-down. I embraced my support team and took comfort in knowing my street credibility with Eloise was at a new PR. It would climb higher still. My race entry brought with it a smorgasbord of free breakfast goodies – yoghurt, chocolate milkshake, bratwurst, breakfast burritos, even Avery IPA.

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I then went for a complimentary massage and had Eloise in close attendance trying to figure whether my expression spoke for pain or pleasure. The therapist, Kat Hearty, worked on my legs, especially the problem areas, and explained that certain muscles needed to be ‘fired up’ using special treatment. I guess the old body is overdue a full service or at least some TLC.

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Getting a long over-due massage.

And finally I took the stage to collect the prize for first masters. Simon’s third place overall meant he took that prize rather than first masters. My retirement plan was back on track. But Eloise beat me on the race back to the car.

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Eloise was ready to race with the 12-year olds but she might have to wait a few years.

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.

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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.

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The first three in the M45-49 age group.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!