Category Archives: Races

Race Report: Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K, New York, March 5, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

Today was possibly the coldest conditions I’ve ever run in. Leaving the house to drive south at 7:15am, my weather app was showing 12F (-11C), feeling like 2F (-18C). The bright sunshine was deceptive. It promised some warmth but gave none. Fortunately Urban Athletics came away with a truck load of team and individual awards, topped by first woman, enough to make it more than worth braving the cold. While some members were running in new, older, age groups, all of us felt like we were running in a new Ice Age.

When I first said to coach ‘Troopy’ that I wanted to run this for the team he suggested I run train through and not allow it to interfere with my London Marathon preparations. That’s what I did when racing the 2016 Gridiron 4M last February while building for the Greater Manchester Marathon. I’m not big on ‘training through’. I like to think I can give every race a fair shot. So I was relieved that  Troopy changed his mind. After hill repeats on Monday and 14 miles on Tuesday, he then adjusted my training to allow some tapering. I ended the week, Saturday, with 62 miles, almost 20 less than the previous week. And on Fridayt I saw DrStu who treated tightness where the glute meets the hamstring.

After parking the car at Marcus Garvey Park, Sham and I ran the 3.5 miles to the start via St. Nicholas Avenue. It was a warm-up of sorts. We arrived with barely 10 minutes to go, just enough time to squeeze in a few strides and ‘relieve’ myself behind the locked toilet block. Huddling with UA team mates in the starting corral offered some collective warmth but some face muscles were not working making for slurred conversation. It was a relief to hear the gun. Only 16 minutes until I got reunited with my warm clothing.

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Jason Lakritz, leading UA finisher

On the opening half mile climb I tucked into a group comprising team mates Javier Rodriguez, Carlo Agostinetto and Jamie Brisbois. Jason Lakritz was in a group several meters ahead of us. Several other masters runners were in close proximity including Peter Brady and John Henwood. Gradually Carlo and Javier edged away with John on their coat tails. I covered the first mile in 5:21.

The course then descends for some 500 meters into Fort Tyron Park. I was now chasing John. Carlo and Javier had gotten away. As we circled the Cloisters and started to head home – this 5K is an out and back with the Cloisters marking the lowest point of the undulating course – for the first time I can remember I snatched a view of the Hudson River.

The second mile is symmetrical – it descends for 500 meters, circles the Cloisters for 600 meters and then winds its way back up for 500 meters. I passed mile 2, the highest point of the course, in 10:43. At this point one is tempted to think one can cruise down to the finish. That’s a mistake. There’s still a steady 300 meter climb to tackle before the course drops down to the finish.  At the crest of that climb I pulled alongside John only to have him accelerate away.

In that final 800 meters of gently descending roadway I lost a few places and crossed the finish line in 16:36 per the official results, good for 33rd overall. It was a few seconds shy of my 16:30 target. My Garmin data is here but it’s mixed with my long warm-up.

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Crossing the finish line in 16:36

Javier won the masters in 16:09, John in 2nd in 16:31 and me 3rd, 1st M50 and top AG with 89.63%. UA won big. Harriott Kelly won the women’s race in 17:16 and Fiona Bayly, just shy of her 50th birthday, matched Javier by winning the women’s masters in 19:06. UA won the team races for masters men, masters women and veteran men (M50) and came 3rd overall for men and 5th overall for women.

Harriott was gushing with joy, pride and relief. Typically understated and super modest for a short while she wanted, quite rightly, to remind everyone “I won” and get the plaudits. That feeling I could tell she had was that priceless feeling that comes when all the hard work and commitment pays big dividends and you come out on top. Well done Harriott!

Other UA individual top 10 age group placers were as follows: Jason Lakritz 9th overall and 5th M25-29 in 15:46; Carlo Agostinetto 1st M35-39 in 16:10; James Brisbois 2nd M20-24 in 16:55; Matt Chaston 2nd M45-49 in 16:59; Aaron Mendelsohn 6th M40-44 in 17:06; Stefano Piana-Agostinetti 7th M45-49 in 17:47; Jonathan Schindel 3rd  M50-54 in 17:54; Theo Dassin 2nd M15-19 in 17:57; Adam Kuklinski 4th M50-54 in 18:44; Ellen Basile 2nd W40-44 in 19:25; Paul Wong 10th M50-54 in 19:32; Jennifer Harvey 3rd W45-49 in 20:17; Dominique Saint-Louis 1st W50-54 in 20:27; and Isobel Porteous 4th W15-19 in 23:53.

The NYRR race report, which runs a close second to this one, plus pictures are here and the full results, the format of which I’m still trying to master (!), are here.

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From left to right: Jacob Salant, me, Aaron Mendelsohn, Jamie Brisbois, Javier Rodriguez, Carlo Agostinetto, Jason Lakritz, Stefano Piana-Agostinetti, and Harriott Kelly

I won’t calculate the average age of our placers. Suffice to say we are working hard to lower it! Meantime our mature runners are the best in the New York area and look amazing.

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, of 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: 2016 Race to Deliver 4M, Central Park, New York, November 20, 2016

by Paul Thompson (with pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

While my sojourn to Perth, Australia to run the World Masters Athletics Championships was purely a personal indulgence this one was solely for the team – Urban AthleticsRace to Deliver promised to be one of NYRR’s lower key races coming as it does soon after the New York City Marathon, not being a club points race, and the absence of prize money. We decided if we turned out in force and populated the front end we’d get a lot of kudos and name recognition. And that we did.

Weather conditions dramatically worsened on the eve of the race. Peekskill encountered gale force winds and torrential rain overnight and as temperatures raced down to below freezing the rain turned to snow on higher ground. While the rain stopped it was no surprise to find it windy, cold and overcast on the start line. The weather seemed to reflect the rather gloomy mood of most New Yorkers as the election results have sunk in. And that mood was reflected in Peter Ciaccia’s words just before the start. He was in a mournful mood and suggested the New York running community needs to hang tough these next four years. And that’s exactly what it will do.

New York’s running community is a microcosm of all that  is best about New Yorkers – open minded, diverse, respectful of others. On the start line I realized we – just like the vast majority of Americans – were all immigrants in some shape or form, some whose families settled here in previous centuries through to some like me who had more recently got off the plane. The diversity – of gender, of ethnicity, of age, etc. – was clearly visible. And it’s this diversity that makes the New York running community so interesting.

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UA’s  Jason Lakritz, me, Stefano Piana-Agostinetti, Harriott Kelly and Fiona Bayly in front.

With the front end lacking depth there wasn’t the usual scrum in the corral. There was elbow room and none of the compression that characterizes typical NYRR races. I quickly got settled into a four man lead group comprising team mates Jason Lakritz – returning to form and hoping to run 5:15 mpm pace for the first three miles and then open it up in the final mile – and Javier Rodriguez and Alejandro Ariza of Henwood Hounds.

Jason, Javier and I after 400 meters just before the Boathouse.

The opening mile takes in Cat Hill and ends just after the Metropolitan Museum. As we passed the clock at the mile mark showing 5:20 Jason decided to accelerate. Alejandro made chase while Javier and I resigned to spectate from a steadily increasing distance. Jason slammed in a 5:03 second mile and half way through it Ariza slipped off his tail. That was my cue to make chase.

Jason in the finishing straight having just passed the Daniel Webster statue.

The course was the so-called Central Park inner loop, run counter clockwise. Javier and I, with me doing the pushing in pursuit of a fading Alejandro, reached the two mile mark on the 102nd Transverse, in around 10:35 according to my Garmin (the NYRR clock was not working).

Just after the two mile mark we caught and overtook Alejandro, clearly suffering from going with Jason’s second mile surge. The third mile, heading south down the West Side Drive, is arguably the toughest in the park as it takes in three hills and include significant net gain in altitude. I continued to push hard, albeit in surges rather than consistently. Javier and I were side by side as we passed the the three mile mark in 16:02. It was literally all down hill to the finish from here. Javier, in view of my doing most of the work, conceded a few meters in the finishing straight to let me take second.

Javier and I in the finishing straight.

I ran the last 200 meters hard, almost all out, and passed under the finish line clock as it showed 21:17-18. Disappointingly the final official result was 21:22 though that was good enough for winning the masters and getting an age grade of 89.61%. In any case NYRR is legendary for its :59 finish line clocks translating to :01 in the official online results.

Jason won comfortably in 20:55. With me in second and Javier in third UA took a clean sweep 1-2-3 in the men’s race. And for good measure Harriott Kelly won the women’s race in 22:56 and Fiona Bayly, 4th woman overall, the women’s masters in 24:23.

Harriott digging deep in the finishing straight.

That’s not all. UA runners were all over the leader board, many taking a Top 3 age group placing. The Javier was 1st M40-44 in 21:22, Carlo Agostinetto 1st M35-39 in 22: 25 (less than 24 hours after winning the NYRR NYC 60K in 3:57 minutes), Stefano Piana-Agostinetti 1st M45-49 in 22:46, Jonathan Schindel 2nd M50-54 in 24:10, Stephane Bois 3rd M50-54 in 24:18, Jim Olsen 1st M75-79 in 32:16, Michelle Goggin 3rd W35-39 in 27:30, Ellen Basile 2nd W40-44 in 25:42, Jennifer Harvey 2nd W45-49 in 25:59, Dominique Saint-Louis 1st W50-54 in 26:47,and  Ivy Bell 1st W60-64. It would have been quicker for me to list what we did not win.

Jason, Javier and I picking up our awards.

Immediately after finishing Jason, Javier, Harriott and I were rounded up and reminded repeatedly to be at the Naumburg bandshell to collect our awards at 9:30am sharp. Ans so we did, shaking and shivering as the windchill took the feel like temperature under 0 celcius.

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UA on parade. Photo credit: Sam LaFata

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Race Report: 2016 New Balance Bronx 10 Mile, New York, September 25, 2016

by Paul Thompson (and pictures by Shamala Thompson) 

The Bronx 10 provided the pick up I badly needed. Most of 2015 I’ve been running with recurring IT band issues which, aside from some early season races the Greater Manchester Marathon included, has crimped my ability to fire on all cylinders. I’ve been racing but feeling I’ve not been able to dig as deep as I like and can. And yet this is the year I had pinned high hopes on – as a ‘new kid’ in the M50 age group, I’ve had designs on getting a medal for Team GB in the half marathon at the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMAC) (at the WMAC 2015 1:11:19 won the M50 half – see page 145 here).

But for me to stand any realistic chance of bringing home the bling I have to get close to my fitness of the fall of 2015. The Bronx 10 would be a perfect barometer. If I could get in the same ball park as the 2015 Bronx 10, when I clinched my highest ever age grade (AG) % running 53:36, then I was on track. Well I think my result confirmed I was. And for good measure I finished within sight of a world famous ball park – Yankee Stadium.

So as you can see much rested on this race. I risked ending the race with crumpled confidence or inflamed IT band or both. And that would have been even worse news for Sham, Urban Athletics team mates and fellow runners who’d have to put up with the long face and tales of woe. Coach Troopy, who I caught up with on a recent trip to Boulder CO., therefore suggested I treat it as a tempo. Sound advice but it would break the habit of a lifetime. I have always raced races.

Soon after the gun I got down to racing. In the first few miles, covered in 5:20 and 5:33, I was part of a big group full of familiar rivals including team mates Javier Rodriguez and Jason Lakritz. I sensed John Henwood was stalking us – his 6′ 5″ casts a shadow on par with the Empire State Building. And I was right.

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Opening stages surrounded by NYAC runners, UA team mates and Kim Conley.

We passed 3 miles in 16:25. A few of the faster members of the group, Jason included, edged away and I found myself at the fore of what was left of the group. We then turned left off the Grand Concourse. It was off the Grand Concourse that the course differed from 2015. A small section was removed and the distance added to the end so we could finish at Yankee Stadium (rather than adjacent to where we’d started as in ’15) on 161st Street. The net effect was a long gentle climb around half way and a steep descent to the finish.

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Steep descent to the finish line on 161st Street.

As in the ’15 race it was off the Grand Concourse that I started to test my fellow runners. I was forcing the pace, and enjoying it, and whittling down the group. At shorter distances I usually find myself the punching bag, hanging on as others do the punching. Today I was doing the punching and taking the gloves off. I passed half way, according to the NYRR results, in 27:27 (though my Garmin shows 27:07).

We were soon back on the Grand Concourse (which incidentally is perhaps the widest boulevard in New York). As we passed the six mile mark Javier pulled alongside and uttered something like “we’re getting away from him (John)”. Almost on cue I felt myself pass under a long shadow. John had regained contact. Like in 2015 I started to get in the groove along the Grand Concourse. I was fired up and feeling strong. It was time to rock. The masters title was up for grabs. I started to turn the screw and the mile splits started to fall. I was running alone by mile 7 and running close to 5:20 pace.

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Javi and John duking it out.

I kept hammering away and counting down the blocks. From mile 8 at the Cross Bronx Expressway it’s pretty much all down hill to the finish, gently at first but then a steep drop within sight of the tape. I crossed the line in 54:16, good for 15th place, first masters and top men’s age grade (AG) with 90.75%. Here’s my Garmin stats. Above all it was barely 40 seconds slower than my 2015 time and a second faster than my third place in 2012.

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Almost there.

The Urban Athletics open men’s team came a solid 4th while the masters men’s team (Javi, Aaron Mendelsohn and I) convincingly won, strengthening our position at the head of the 2016 standings with just three races left. Jason, Javi and Alex Lorton, final man for the five man team, got PRs though it did help that it was Jason and Javi’s first ten miler. Fiona Bayly was first UA woman in 61:40, good for 17th, first masters and AG of 89.96%.

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Javier is 3rd UA runner and 3rd masters.

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Jason is first UA runner in 53:26.

At the sharp end Tekeste Nekatibeb of the West Side Runners led the men’s field in 49:05 while two-time U.S. Olympian and New Balance athlete Kim Conley won the women’s race in 55:37. Almost 12,000 finished. Conditions were perfect – cool, still and sunny on a gently rolling course. A full suite of Game Face pictures are here. For the UK I now sit at the top of the M50 rankings. I now feel ready to race in a land Down Under.

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First man home.

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First woman home.

Race Report: NYRR Retro 4-Miler, Central Park, New York, June 5, 2016

by Paul Thompson

It dawned on me today, as I lined up and observed the retro paraphernalia – the sweat bands, psychedelic colors, the mini shorts etc. – that I actually experienced much of the retro era. For many it was something they’d read about like  a history lesson. For me, and other masters runners, it was something we’d lived through. And for a moment it made me feel sentimental and old!

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This race fell on Sham and my anniversary. At 6 am, in pouring rain, she was driving us (or was it me?) to New York. It’s amazing sometimes what our partners, consciously, do for us.

After Sham had set me down at Marcus Garvey Park I ran the 3 miles or so south down to the start on the East Drive at 68th Street. As I reached the Boathouse I saw Urban Athletics team mates headed north for a warm-up. I was already warmed up – the  weather was as humid as a sauna though not so hot – but jumped in. This would be my first time running for Urban Athletics (UA) – in the US at least as I’d premiered in the Greater Manchester Marathon. This was also my first race since Manchester in early April. I’d finished that marathon with a chronic calf strain: question was would it re-emerge?

On the start line I was some way back from my usual position near the front. As

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Retro lead car at the start line

well as hearing a rendition of the National Anthem we also heard a tribute to The Greatest. Muhammad Ali passed away yesterday. As I get older I’m finding that not only have I lived through eras like retro, I’ve also lived during the lifetimes of iconic figures who have had a profound positive impact on our lives. Bowie now Ali.They show us what’s possible.

Right back to the race. Within seconds of the starting gun I found myself passing the Boathouse dodging traffic thanks to starting deep in the A corral. Club mate Javier Rodriguez ‘s rationale for starting deep was that it would moderate the early pace and help ensure we run 5:15 miles and finish  in 21:00. But I found myself panicked into trying to make up for lost time and get into my finishing position! The net result was a 5:07 opening mile, a mile that takes in Cat Hill. Too fast. I’d pay for that later.

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Heading up Cat Hill

In the second mile fellow masters runners Javier, who had never beaten me at distances over  a mile, and John Henwood, who  I don’t recall  I’d  ever beat, joined me. We’d end  up duking it out for the rest of the race: another masters runner, Peter Brady, was also in hot pursuit. We traded strides, sparring running style. We passed the two mile mark in 10:19 making it a 5:12 second mile.

Bobby Asher, who looked like Freddie Mercury but was  hoping for Mark Spitz, breezed passed us during the third mile as we navigated the hills on the West Drive heading south. Fellow UA club mate Jason Lakritz, nursing an injury, caught us. Approaching mile 3 we had Greg Cass in our sights and he’d stay there. During the third mile I found myself starting to pay for the fast opening. We passed mile 3 in 15:47: the 3rd mile had taken 5:28, the slowest of the race due in large part to the hills and fast opening.

The final mile drops down to the 72nd Street Transverse. Javier started to open it up and stole a small gap on me. John had dropped off. As we took the sharp left hand turn into the finishing straight I was 5 meters shy of Javier but I appeared to be catching him. I didn’t despite a 5:14 final mile. Bobby, Javier, myself and Jason finished in that order, and with daylight between us, but shared the same time of 21:01 in the official results.

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Jason, Javier and Paul heading to the finish line

I  had hoped to get under 21:00 not least since I’d tapered and had been doing some faster workouts with UA. But hey I can’t, or shouldn’t, complain. I got 31st overall (though I  was 30th over the line but that’s chip to chip timing for you), second masters, first M50 and best age grade with 91.08%. This suggested I had recovered from my spring marathon ordeal though my AG scores indicated I was better at longer races. UA got 4th in men’s open: The NYRR race report reveals WSX winning with its 5th scorer running 19 flat. With Aaron Mendelsohn closing in 21:24, and like Javier getting a PR, we comfortably won the men’s masters.  My Garmin race stats are here.

After driving home and getting a quick shower, Sham and I  were holed up at the Taco Dive Bar having a celebratory brunch. Sham had a potent cocktail with her breakfast burrito while I had water paired with a stack of pancakes inches deep. A few hours later I was at JFK. There I had a  frustrating 4 hour wait on the runway waiting for my plane to Las Vegas to depart due to foul weather. I’m now getting accustomed to a few days in 110F.  This morning I got out at 6 to beat the heat. I ran an easy 6. It was 85F.

Race Report: Greater Manchester Marathon, UK, April 10, 2016

by Paul Thompson

Reason for Running

Eight years ago I ran the Boston Marathon in 2:38:52. The wheels came off soon after getting over the ‘summit’ of Heart Break Hill, just as they had at 22 miles in my two other marathons, London 2006 and London 2007. At the end I made one of those running vows – this was my last marathon. And like all running vows this was destined for the breakers yard. All it needed for it to give was self-discipline to slip, memory to wane, or curiosity to return. And so here I was standing on the start line of the Greater Manchester Marathon.

Having recently turned 50 I made another vow that trumped (that word’s on my mind a lot lately, hopefully not after November) the one I made eight years ago. To try and get a PR at the distance as an M50 (sorry British readers but masters has a far better ring to it than ‘veteran’, a term that conjures up images of those wounded in war rather than those that have mastered something). My PR, from Flora London Marathon 2006, was 2:29:56.

There was more to it than that. This was a distance I’d yet to conquer. My three previous attempts were poorly executed, a combination of irrational exuberance in the early miles and inadequate fueling. On all three occasions my racing was done at 22. I’d been defeated long before the finish line, the last 4 miles typically being a funereal march to just get to the end. I’d stopped competing with myself, with others, with anyone. Many of us have been there. Deep down I had to put that to rights. Or at least collapse trying.

Race Preparations

This time I had taken a few crucial extra steps (!) to maximize the chance of success. The main one being getting myself a coach who has a word class pedigree at marathon running and a philosophy that sits well with mine. Lee Troop. And to top things off, on the eve of the race, Lee revealed he’d finished 7th in the Commonwealth Games marathon held in Manchester in 2002.

This time round I was stronger, smarter, and better prepared than before. As well as Lee’s expert guidance since 2011 I’d been running long easy distance of 18-21 almost every weekend. This started more by accident than design, dictated by a Metro North train schedule for Peekskill to New York that left me with 2:30 to get a run done (with trains every hour of course I could have opted for 1:30 but then I needed to justify the 50 minute ride each way with at least as long a time running!). 26.2 was no longer intimidating. I’d also made regular visits to DrStu to keep me in running order and was popping some pills.

Heading into the race I made no secret I was doing it. And the words of encouragement – text, email, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Strava, even face to face – boosted  motivation, pressure (living up to their lofty expectations) and accountability (explaining to them should I fail to meet those expectations). Thanks to all of you that sent me words of encouragement and / or congratulation.

I had three targets – an “ultimate” one of under 2:29:56, an “I’ll take that” one of under 2:33, and an “I’ll live with that” one of under 2:36. Why more than one? Well we need a goal to stretch us. But then if mid-race we find it beyond our reach we need an anchor to help us get safely ashore. And if that goal is beyond us we need something else that will keep us motivated to finish rather than throw in the towel – in this case catch the Manchester Metrolink to the finish!

The final count-down to race day had gone to plan. Sham and I were in Paris the previous weekend so I spent a few days running there with my final longish run on Sunday on the trails of the Bois de Boulogne, catching some of the Paris Marathon. In the final week I clocked 56 miles and as I tapered, simultaneously reducing the load and intensity, my legs started to feel fresher and the IT band steadily improved. Sham made sure I also stuck to Lee’s fuel plan, gradually moving to a largely carbohydrate diet in the final days.

On the Saturday, the Thompson Clan – my brother Stephen, hoping to run 7 minute miles and smash his PR, his wife, Lynn, and two boys, our parents, and Sham – drove to the Didsbury Travelodge located in a Manchester suburb conveniently located at the end of a Metrolink tram line. That afternoon we did a recce trip in to see the start and finish area, half a mile from a Metrolink station and collect my race number.

Red rose, Lancashire's symbol from the War of Roses, on gate to Emirates Old Trafford, Lancashire County Cricket Club's stadium

Red rose, Lancashire’s symbol from the War of Roses, on gate to Emirates Old Trafford, Lancashire County Cricket Club’s stadium.

Race Day

On Saturday morning, after an early breakfast of oatmeal and banana, Steve, Lynn, Sham and I rode the tram in and made our way to the start. I took a GU caffeine gel 30 minutes before the start. While thousands suddenly started descending on the start area it felt decidedly low key: no fencing in the runners and jostling for a good starting position. Athletes were casual and courteous. Altogether much less stressful than the Marathon Majors. The downside was that it did not have that big race feel. I was proved wrong.

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Runners arriving early at start area.

This was my first race in new club colors. I’d entered using my UK registered club of Kettering Town Harriers but was wearing my new Urban Athletics vest. Ever since settling in the New World in October 2004 I’ve run, through mainly thick and some thin, for Warren Street but it was time for a new chapter in my running. A new club, a stronger vibe, greater ambition, and more resources in form of store base and potential sponsorship. As well as being one of the best teams in the New York area for men and women the UA masters men and women can be the best in the US. But the main thing was that many of my old Warren Street buddies joined me at UA.

In the closing minutes Sham called me over to get a picture with Ron Hill. An athletic icon, famous for breaking all sorts of records, who at 77 is still looking incredibly fit. There’s a campaign to get him a knighthood. No one deserves the accolade more given his accomplishments and what he’s put into the sport.

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Talking to Ron Hill just before the start.

Race Start

Ron saw us off. The first few miles were out and back down a highway. By the second mile I was running with Michael Hargreaves of East Hull Harriers who was hoping to dip under 2:30. We passed the first mile in 5:28 and second in 5:29. As Salford Harrier Josh Tighe joined us I gently applied the brakes. But by 5 miles it was clear I was comfortably running 5:35-40 miles – ahead of my ultimate schedule but perhaps too fast for me to sustain.By this point I’d also come to understand what Lee meant by “Manchester’s roads are hard”. The stones laid down onto the tar are harder than the slick tar roads of the US.

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Trading strides with Michael Hargreaves of East Hull Harriers.

From miles 5-10, through the suburbs of Stretford and Sale, I was isolated but running strong in the 5:40 range. Soon after mile 9, a heavily spectated section,  I took my first GU gel. Suddenly I was slowed by a sharp deep pain in my left calf, similar to a pain I’d experienced a month earlier in training in new training shoes. Within a few hundred meters I’d gone from running at 2:28-29 pace to facing the prospect of an early retirement. My sudden slowing to around 6:00 pace helped a chasing group of four, led by Phill Taylor, catch me.

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Mile 9 with chasing pack of four closing in.

Half Way

I figured if I tough it out the pain might ease. And so it did, soon after settling into the pack of four who had joined me.We worked well as a group running at around 5:40 pace and taking turns leading. But at the half way point in Altrincham – the highest point of the course which the website boasts as one of the fastest in the world, faster even than Berlin and Chicago – passed in 1:13:34, Phill Taylor and James Turner broke away. I let them go as I was concerned I’d run the first half 2 minutes faster than I should have.

By mile 14 I found myself once again running solo. I slowed slightly and downed my second gel. I was now running 5:50 miles. Pacing was starting to prove difficult: tiredness makes basic maths a challenge and I’d also inadvertently stopped the Garmin for a few minutes. At around mile 18 I found myself gently accelerating and through 21 maintained 5:40-45 miles. I overtook Phil Taylor who had got away from me exiting Altrincham. And a lady on the roadside shouted “Good run young man”. The best cheer of the race even if inaccurate.

Closing Stages

For the first time in my marathon running career I found myself enjoying it and confident of a strong finish. It did not last. At 21 I was again struck by sharp pain in my calf, only this time the left one. This forced a slowing in my pace as I again focused on running through it. I did  only this time there was no increase in pace. Deep fatigue was setting in and it was now a case of hanging on. The final few miles felt like hard labor. There was a head wind. My pace gradually slowed to 6:00 then 6:10 then 6:20. I was back in that zone – surviving as opposed to competing. I guessed I was on track for 2:33-35 but was almost past caring.

With less than a mile to go I got overtaken by a fast finishing Joel Jameson, a triathlete debuting at the marathon, but caught Michael Hargreaves (who would clock a PR but was clearly paying for a 1:12:30 first half). A spectator called out “you still have good form” which roughly translates to “you’re slowing down but at least still looking good.”And then Old Trafford football stadium,  home of Manchester United, and Emirates Old Trafford, home of the Lancashire County Cricket Club (LCCC), came into view.

That final mile, a long straight ending right outside the LCCC, seemed to take a little longer, actually a lot longer, than forever. Eventually I passed under the finishing gantry with the clock reading 2:32:02. I was very happy, at least as happy as you can be after a marathon which leaves you so completely exhausted that there’s little if any energy left to celebrate with. Steve, pictured gallery here, went even better clocking 3:11:56, several minutes inside his previous best.

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The end is nigh.

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Steve approaching the finish line.

Race Analysis

I finished 14th of the 9,500 starters, the fastest M35 upwards. My time placed me top of the UK 2016 M50 marathon rankings, just seconds shy of the leading time from 2015 of 2:31:56 by Graham Green. Manchester put on a great show – super fast course, enthusiastic spectators, relaxed atmosphere and even dry weather. Unfortunately there were baggage issues leaving some disgruntled.

Here’s the official review, race video, my official race picturesmy official results, the Garmin data (missing segment near mile 16 of 0.2-3 miles and forgot to stop the watch at the finish line), and Strava data (again missing segment but edited out the failure to stop the watch). My heart was unusually high in the first 10 miles but then moderated.

This is my last marathon. At least it might be. Somehow I need to trump Manchester. But maybe I’ll wait until Donald is behind us all. Either way I’ve ticked off one of my 2016 goals. Steve (pictures here) meanwhile said “there’s unfinished business”: he’ll likely aim to go sub-3 hours in 2017.

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Replacing calories and discussing with brother Steve what went right and wrong.