Category Archives: Races

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

by Paul Thompson (photographer Shamala was off duty)

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

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

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Running in Richmond Park, London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Discussing best excuse for a bum race

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

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

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Ellen shows up to blow away our excuses

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

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

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Ramin and me waiting for the M60 SBS back to Manhattan

Race Report: Virgin London Marathon, April 23, 2017

by Paul Thompson (photos by Shamala Thompson)

One Week On

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

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

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

Build-Up

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

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

Final Countdown

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

The last supper

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

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

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

Early Miles – To Cutty Sark 

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

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

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

Crowds at Canada Water

Cutty Sark to Half Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Keitany on route to a world record

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

Laura Thweatt heading to a PR and sixth woman overall

Half Way to Docklands

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

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

Still going strong at Canary Wharf

Docklands to The Embankment

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

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

In the final mile at Westminster

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

The Finish

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

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

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

Bird Cage Walk

Post Race Analysis

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

Martin and me

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

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

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

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

Fastest siblings (to be confirmed)

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

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

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

Race Report: 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.