Category Archives: Running

Race Report: 2019 New Haven Road Race Half Marathon, September 2, New Haven CT.

by Paul Thompson (Photos by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

Well this race was a long time coming. Almost a year since my last injury free race, the Bronx 10 in late September 2018 (in November 2018 I ran the British and Irish Masters Cross Country Champs unaware I was nursing a broken shoulder). And of all the days I chose to make my comeback it had to be Labor Day. It turned out to be hard labor. But let me stop laboring that point and get to explain that year out and the race.

My Year Out

The past year consisted of 3 phases. The first phase, what I called pain in the shoulder phase, was 2 months of intense PT rehab through December and January to get the shoulder back to normal, in terms of movement and strength, during which time I built up my mileage by end of January to 70 miles per week, all set for the 12 weeks through to the 2018 London Marathon.

The second phase, what I call pain in the arse phase started in early February. In the closing miles of my first long run as part of my London campaign while in Singapore I noticed a sharp pain in the butt and hamstring brought my 20 mile long easy – as easy as it can be in 32C and 90% humdity – to stand still. It took a while to figure out it was piriformis syndrome rather than high hamstring tendinitis. This phase lasted to the end of May. The piriformis proved stubborn but not as stubborn as me.

By early June I was back to normal training mileage but without the speedwork. This marked the start of the third phase which ended on Labor Day. I call it the hard labor phase since it was all about getting back to the normal routine including getting reacquainted with time in the hurt locker. On Labor Day I spent 1:14:33 in that locker.

Going into the race I was cautiously optimistic. A 20 minute Mona Fartlek, in which I covered 3.53 miles at an average pace of 5:40 mpm, the farthest and fastest I can remember in the 3 years I’ve been doing them, gave me confidence. But set against this was the fear the piriformis would reemerge: its still lurking albeit only rearing its head during intense workouts . And this was the longest time ever between races since I started running seriously in my early 20s. How would I take to racing again.

Race Day

Sham and I, with running mate Mo’ath Alkhawaldeh and his wife Maira, had driven up the day before from Peekskill. After picking up race numbers – having switched from the USATF 20K National Championships to the half marathon that starts with and shares the same finish line but includes a 1.1K ‘detour’ at around 11 miles (course map) – I grabbed an early dinner and settled into my bed early at a rather unkempt La Quinta Hotel (never again).

The alarm rang at 6am for the 8:30am start from New Haven Green, barely a mile away. I had my small bowl of oatmeal and coffee and then jogged to start area, picking up Mo at another hotel en route. Conditions were favorable, for the time of year. It was slightly overcast, a little breezy, quite humd and in low 20sC / 70sF.

The great thing about this race is that being a USATF National Championship it has quality and depth at the front, and feels like an occasion, but has none of the heavily regulated corral arrangement of a NYRR race.

New Yorkers make for such a stressful final countdown to a race. After a 3 mile warm-up I lined up about three rows back. I now run for 212 Track Club (#212TC) but as I’d yet to get a vest I decided to race in my Team GB masters vest.

My plan was to settle into a group with some of the leading women and run 1:13:30 to top the 2019 UK and US half marathon rankings for M50-54. And sutre enough soon after the race started I was running alonside a group of some dozen women (see picture below), including 2018 champ Sara Hall. Turns out most of this group would end up finishing in front of me, at least in front of me at the point when I had to add the 1.1K detour.

It felt great to be back at it. And it showed in my fast start, clocking 5:20 for the first mile. Realising this I then tried to make some adjustments, slowing down slightly but not much as I was keen to stay in contact and work with a small group. I reeled off miles in 5:30, 5:32 and 5:34, passing 5K in 17:00 and 4 miles in 22:00. The course was fast – flat, long straights, few turns and good road surface. And I was happy racing for the first time in the Hoka One One Carbon X having been using the Adidas Adizer Adios since 2016 (though the Carbon Rocket may have served me better).

Up ahead of me was NYAC runner Jerry Faulkner running with Katie Newton – and even further ahead Michael Cassidy, who I used to trade strides with in NYRR races when he was slower and I faster, duking it out with Mo’ath. I passed mile 5 in 27:40. My mile splits were now slowing slightly – I clocked 5:39 and 5:42 for 5th and 6th miles, passing 10K in 34:40. I caught Jerry and Katie. Jerry dropped off.

Along the long straight tree-lined Chapel Street heading east to wards the city centre I worked with Katie (see picture above) chasing the pack of women some 100 metres up ahead. We ran miles 7, 8 and 9 in 5:39. I was now outside my goal of 1:13:30 and hurting. During the 10th mile, that ends near the high point of the course at an elevation of 140ft (verses 50ft at the start / finish area and 5ft at mile 9), I started to crack. This is unknown territory for me at point in a race: typically I’m either holding pace or accelerating slightly.

As I ascended the hill, most appropriately on English Drive, Roberta Groner, the 41 year old masters standout who will run for the USA at the marathon at the upcoming World Champs, caught me. We worked together and crested the hill. The 10th mile had taken 5:48 and I passed mile 10 in 56:05. But as we descended Roberta stole a lead. While I had to conserve a little, as I had my 1.1K detour coming up, if I was doing the 20K she’d have beaten me.

As the 20K runners made a right just before 11 miles I turned left. Just before the turn I saw Mo, leading the half with me in 2nd, pass in front of me having just done the 1.1K detour, a straight out and back before rejoining the 20K course. That 1.1K included a steady descent followed by a steady ascent. I was now treading water, in survival rather than competing mode as I typically find myself in a marathon. I’d covered the 11th mile, largely descending, in 5:40 but the 12th in 5:55. I was glad to rejoin the 20K runners. The 3rd place guy was some distance behind me.

The last mile felt like a procession, a slow funereal one, despite being flat and straight. I was focused on limiting my losses and hoping to get as close to 1:14 finish as possible. I ran mile 13 in 5:52 and crossed the line in 1:14:33. This was 2nd place after Mo with 1:08:48. Race results are here (and 20K, won by Leonard Korir and Sara Hall, here) and my Gamin data with splits and heart rate here. It gets me =5th in the UK M50-54 rankings.

Post Race

Overall I enjoyed being back racing and relieved I got this one under my belt. I was back doing what I love, maybe a little slower than I’d like but unjury free and hungry for more. Perhaps I pushed too hard in those early miles.

I now look forward to the 2020 London Marathon and World Masters Athletics Champs Toronto 2020. The inaugural AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championship race will be part of the London Marathon. While I did not qualify via the rankings system – based on finishing places in 2 major marathons over the past 2 years – I will able to compete for this as I’m in the race.

This race has left me as tired as if I’d run a full marathon. Tired enough to prompt me to take today off and instead write this! Needless to say the tiny bottle of champagne I got for being first masters, and the one Mo gave Sham as he’s teetotal (see picture below), have already been consumed.

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Running Europe: Switzerland

by Paul Thompson (Photos by Shamala Kandiah and Mala Gehri)

A few years ago, on the occasion of my wife Sham’s 50th birthday we were in Europe visiting, running and blogging our way through Vienna, BudapestBratislava, Salzburg and Innsbruck. This year we were back in Europe to celebrate her and her sister Ramola’s birthdays with their cousin in Thun, Switzerland. Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB), with its great mobile app, got us from place to place on time – give or take a minute. On the way out we had a one night layover in London. On the way back we both flew into London and while Sham then transferred to a flight to New York I headed to Brussels for work. The runs are here (June 8 to 17) while the links in the text below are to 3D videos.

London

We landed in London after a red eye from New York and a few hours later were settling into a friend’s place – Nial, wife Kieko and son Sean – near Wimbledon Village. After a mid afternoon easy run through Wimbledon Common to Putney Heath and back we cracked open a bottle of Opihr gin that helped us get a good night’s sleep.

The next morning I met Peter Clarke and pack of elite masters runners including David Smith, Paul Cheetham and Simon Baines at Robin Hood Gate for a lap of Richmond Park and the Common.

Geneva

Our second destination was Geneva. After a short flight and 10 minute Uber ride we were at Sham’s friend’s place in Prévessin-Moëns, a village just across the border in France. We opted not to run the following morning but rather wait until we arrived in Berne, the  Swiss capital. We’d have a chance to savour the countryside around Geneva on the return leg.

Berne

Berne was wet and cold. Berne is a beautiful human scale city.  Once the rain abated Sham and I  stepped out. Our run took us along the river which was bulging with snow melt from the mountains of central Switzerland to the south. One could feel the force of the torrent. From the river we passed through the Old Town, a parade of historical buildings, and then the government quarter. I added a few miles by popping into the forest immediately to the north of the city centre.

Thun

We arrived in Thun after a short train ride from Berne Where Sham’s cousin, Mala met us and showed us the way to their place. Mala and Swiss hubby Adi live in a duplex apartment at the top of a 5 storey building on the central pedestrianized shopping mall. They have an incredible view from their balconey of the city’s castle which looks like it’s lifted straight out of a fairytale. Sham’s sister’s family – Ramola, Kevin and daugther Eloise – arrived in the evening. That day I decided to rest and enjoy the pre-birthday drinks and view.

The next morning I ventured out for a mid-week semi-long run along the shoreline of Lake Thun (Thunersee). While much of the run is on a paved path alongside the road the unobscured views of the lake and mountains were a perfect backdrop.

The following day I got my run in on the way back from a trip to Lauterbrunnen and Mirren – in a valley at the heart of the Swiss Alps – by train, cable car and hike. The hike culminated in amazing views of the Eiger and Jungfrau.

(Photo Credit: Mala Gehri)

I stepped off the train on the way back to Thun at Spiez . I ran 8 miles, with a few short diversions, back to Thun. While mainly alongside a road, descending gently, the run’s closing few miles took me through the picture postcard lakeside parks of Bonstetten and Schadau.

The next day we were back in the mountains this time  at Beatenberg. And again after a bus, cable car and hike started my run from a cable car station on the way home. While  the others descended via cable car to the Thunersee and owards to Thun via boat I ran the 12 miles back to Thun.  The route was mainly a small side road that followed the mountainside and slowly descended before I took a small detour to walk across a spectatular panoramic footbridge. The descending allied with hot weather took its toll. I  crawled into Thun and dipped my feet in the ice cold river.

The next day I ran easy with Sham through the parks of Bonstetten and Schadau. My plan was to recover for a long run the following day. It seemed to work. Early Sunday morning, a few hours before we caught the train to Geneva, I ran along the banks of the River Are north towards Berne for 7.5 miles before turning round and retracing my steps. It was a key test for my Hoka One One Carbon X. Fast paced long runs were their forte. The shoes passed with flying colours: 6:40 pace felt effortless. Unfortunately the sole unit was showing signs of wear from offroad running.

Geneva

Our final night of our Swiss vacation was spent again with Sham’s friend Laura in Prévessin-Moëns. The following morning,  our last of our vacation in Europe, we went out for an easy run along the farm trails around the village. It was little more than a shakeout after the previous day’s fast paced long run.

The holiday was a crucial test of my recovery from piriformis syndrome. I logged 63 miles and two 1:40 runs. Troopy had me down for two workouts – tempo and fartlek –  which I deferred a week due to some bruising around my ankles. I last raced in November 2018.  This is  my longest period of no racing since arriving in the US in 2004. If all goes to plan I’ll be ready to pin on a race bib in September.

London Calling’s a Pain in the Butt

by Paul Thompson

So today I was at the London Marathon Expo with running buddy Flavio De Simone and his wife Kate. While they collected their numbers I was deferring my entry to 2020.  This Sunday morning I’ll be spectating rather than running it. London is calling but I have a pain in the arse which has wrecked my 2019 plans. Those plans centered on trying to emulate London 2017 when I ran 2:31:45 and then running the Berlin Marathon  in September in a bid to top the M50 rankings in the Abbott Age Group World Rankings.

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Jamie Lopez, Katharine and Flavio De Simone seeking PBs of around 2:45, 3:40 and 2:35

Those that have suffered from piriformis syndrome know the choice of words is apt – metaphorically and physically it’s a total pain in the arse. It’s the main reason I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve had nothing to brag about, but lots to whinge about. This year look set to rival 2013 when I was knocked over by a cyclist and was forced to take 6 weeks off running altogether to allow my broken scapula to heal. I opted to save you the whinging. Until I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. I think I see some.

So what’s the story this time? And what have I learned, if anything?

Onset of Injury

The injury struck just as I was ramping up for the final marathon training block. By end of January,  some 13-14 weeks out, I was back in full training mode following 2 months of intense rehabiliation following breaking my shoulder on 9 November 2018. By the time I landed in Singapore in early February in time to celebrate Chinese New Year with family my shoulder was 90% right and I was all set for full marathon training. Or so I thought.

After spending a few days accimilatizing to the tropical weather I slammed in a 20 minute Mona Fartlek, took a day off and then ran 20 miles off road in 88F / 30C and 90% humidity. In the latter stages of the long run I could feel encroaching pain in my butt and hamstring. I’ve not been right since.

Diagnosis and Treatment

I have had no shortage of well intentioned and expert advice and help. Soon after the issue first arose I saw physiotherapist Mok Ying Rong at the Rehab Lab in Singapore who focused on trying to correct my gait. On arrival back in the US I then saw acupuncturist Russ Stram at Runner Clinic NYC and had weekly sessions of massage and active release therapy with Tom Nohilly  But it took several weeks to determine whether I had high hamstring tendinitis or piriformis syndrome. The symptoms are similar.

It’s not the first time I’ve had this. Back in 2013 I was grappling with it when I was knocked over by a cyclist and broke my shoulder. After six weeks forced rest the problem disappeared without trace. Hopefully this time I don’t have to wait for a cyclist to knock me over.

After spending several weeks fighting it and getting increasingly frustrated eventually I found some rhythm to my daily routine. Today that daily routine comprises an hour of cross training – a mixture or ART focused on the hamstrings, foam rolling the upper leg and lower back, and general hip and leg strengthening (quad, calf, gluteal muscles, hip abductor) – and running 30-60 minutes 5 days per week with the rest of the time on the static bike for an hour as I did this past week.

Root Cause

While I’m not out of the woods yet I’d like to figure out what caused this. Only then can I avert a repeat. Unfortunately, the list of possible causes is as long as my layoff and like my layoff the list keeps getting longer. Contenders include a wearing new running shoes (some Hokas instead of adidas Adizero Boston, my go to shoe these past few years), new Loake suede ankle boots (my brother Stephen helps make them), number of long haul flights in coach / economy, lack of icing legs post run (prompted by the cold winter weather), and that old chestnut – lack of regular TLC.

But the root cause might well be the accident in which I broke my shoulder. Friends in the know who I’ve consulted online reckon the accident may have knocked my back out triggering a chain of events culminating in my injury.

Lessons Learned

I’m afraid I’d like to think I’ve come out of this business wiser but suspect not. I’ve been reminded how poorly I respond to injury. It’s taken me far too long to diagnose and get into an alternative exercise routine. But I think I’ve gained some patience. I was starting from a very low base.

Revised Plans

My plan is to be done with this before the Brexit impasse is resolved. So that gives me until 31 October at the latest. I’m hopeful I’ll be firing on all cyclinders come June and then do the half marathon, 10K and 8K cross-country at the European Masters Athletics Championships 2019 in Venice on 5-15 September and / or the Berlin Marathon.

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Flavio, me and Jamie in Greenwich Park after a recce of the marathon start area

London Calling

In 2020 I aim to compete with the top masters from around the world as they converge on London for the Abbott World Marathon Majors Age Group Championships. This Sunday I will be watching the world’s greatest marathon and tracking closely top masters athletes Lee Aherne (M50), Stephen Watmough (M55), Flavio (M45) and Kate De Simone (W45), Rob Downs (M55), Jonathan Ratcliffe (M50) and Jamie Lopez (M45), amongst others. Right I’m dialling off here.

Reflecting on 2018, Lessons Learned and Looking Forward to 2019

by Paul Thompson

Reflecting on 2018

The year just ended proved a mixed one for running, one in which I achieved some but not all of my 2018 goals. I plumbed the highs and lows, from a world medal through to tripping and breaking my right shoulder and, consequently, failing to run the 6 NYRR races necessary to get nominated for the 2018 NYRR Age Group Awards.

Rather than run a marathon, I decided to focus on winning a medal at the World Masters Athletics (WMA) Championships in Malaga, Spain in September and logging some fast times, hopefully sufficient to top  the UK and USA M50 rankings for 10K, 10 miles and half marathon. For the most part I succeeded despite lots of work travel to, from and within Europe.

Things started well enough. I ran 33:10 in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in April. That would be good enough for topping the 2018 UK M50 10K rankings. But then in May at the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon I passed 10 miles in around 55 minutes flat and 200 meters later pulled up nursing a hamstring tear. In the early summer plenty of TLC enabled me to mend and prepare for the WMA.

At the WMA I ran a poor tactical race in the 10K road race and finished a disappointing 4th with a mild hamstring strain to  boot. I bounced back to snatch a silver medal in the half marathon a week later. And then soon after returning to the US rocked the New Balance Bronx 10 Mile logging 54:29, enough to top the UK and USA M50 rankings.

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Receiving the silver medal in the WMA in Malaga, Spain.

In the final quarter of the year things went awry. I tripped and fell while running the Lake Garda bike path in fading light. I was left with a badly bruised right arm and thigh. Barely 9 days later I ran for England in the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International and was a sluggish 6th and last scorer. On arrival back in the US an X ray revealed I had a fractured right shoulder, a non-displaced humerus. Since then I’ve been seeing physical therapist Miranda Lyon at the New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital and doing lots of home exercises.

Learning in December that I’d failed to win nomination for the 2019 NYRR Age Group Awards was disappointing. Since turning 40 I have won every year bar one when an accident got in the way of my running the required 6 races. In 2018, I ran 6 races but 2 of these was guiding visually impaired runners – Paraolympian medalist Jason Dunkerley in the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon and Jared Broughton in the Achilles Hope & Possibility 4M. In the half I had no race tag, just a guide bib, so was excluded from the results. That left me a race short. But I’d not have it any other way. Guiding Jason was awesome, on par with my best races of 2018.

Credit-JohnLeTran

Guiding Jason Dunkeley in the New York City half-marathon.

Lessons Learned

I learned a lot in 2018. I think. First, recovering from serious injury, such as my hamstring tear in May or fractured shoulder in November, demands patience and plenty of TLC. Second, staying fit and fast in your fifties demands a range of ingredients.  Training is important but then so is mindset, diet and strength exercise. So one year on I’m a year older and, maybe, a few days wiser.

Looking Forward to 2019

As for New Year’s  resolutions it’s more of the same. My main aims are to run a spring (London) and autumn (Berlin or Montreal) marathons, top the Abbot World Marathon Majors for M50 and qualify for the World Masters Marathon Championships in London in April 2020. Running two marathons in one calendar year will be a first. The risk of injury or illness looms large. In my wife and coach Lee Troop I have the best early warning stystems. The work starts here. And this week I’m on track to run 70 miles.

Race Report: British and Irish Masters Cross Country International, November 17, Swansea, Wales

by Paul Thompson

Team GB team mates, from England, caught me in a moment of weakness at the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMAC) in Malaga. They ganged up and unilaterally decided I should seek selection for England for the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International in Swansea, Wales on November 17. As it turns out I was due to be in Europe for business from October 16 to November 20 so I had no good reason not to.

The main challenge to gaining selection was not so much having a solid case. I had just gotten a silver medal at the WMAC in the half marathon and was at the top of the M50 UK rankings for 10K and, afer the Bronx 10 a few weeks later, top for 10 miles. The challenge was navigating the selection process which hailed from a bygone age – post a letter of application with a self addressed envelope. Imagine in the age of driverless cars.

So barely two months later here I was crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales with Simon Baines, one of Team GB’s top M45 runners. I had bumped into Simon while running in Richmond Park, with Peter Clarke and David Smith, near the start of my trip and he had kindly invited me to ride with him to Wales.

It was a great privilege to be selected to run for England. It was my first time having narrowly, and annoyingly, missed out on selection some years before when I finished 2nd M40 at the BMAF to Ben Reynolds. Unfortunately the stars were far from aligned for this race.

Almost 5 weeks into my trip to Europe I was tired, from some 20 flights, out of my routine, out of practice from real cross country racing, and, as I would soon discover, carrying a torn rotator cuff. The injury resulted from tripping in fading light while running on a cycle path on Lake Garda a week earlier. And then there were my ill-fitting spikes falling apart at the seems. They’re now in a Welsh landfill. So I had plenty of excuses not to run but instead chose to use them as excuses for not running well. In short my expectations were low.

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Looking good but feeling less good 

My main goal was to run hard, ensure I did not hit the deck and excerbate my injured shoulder, and, if possible, finish as one of the 4 scorers. The day started out overcast and damp but then brigthened up such that by the time the race started we were bathed in sunshine. My race was the second of the day. I lined up with male and female runners from ages 50 to 64. I stood alongside Tim Hartley, the race favorite who’d picked up a silver medal at the WMAC for 5000m, and the rest of my England M50 teammates. And then we were were off, sailing down a 400m hill, with 4 laps of 2K to tackle.

I had a brief moment of exuberance but then quickly dialled it back. Northern Irish runner Steven Cairns led the charge with England team mates Tim Hartley, Phil Leybourne, and Andrew Leech, who topped the M50 half marathon rankings with 1:11:59, in hot pursuit.

This was my 5th outing on the country since 2004. And this course, unlike the one in Boulder I had excelled on while picking up medals at the 2014 and 2015 USATF XC Nationals, was a true XC course. Twisting and turning, continuously undulating, and occasionally heavy underfoot. When I last lived in the UK in the late 90s XC was my forte and I reveled on this type of course. Now I was a novice, running wide, losing traction and steadily losing places. I was overboard without a lfe jacket. Up the creek without a padle. You get the idea.

By the end of the second of four laps I had settled into 9th place – behind all five England team mates as well as lead runners from Northern Ireland (NI), Ireland and Wales. The top three of Hartley, Cairns and Leech had a big lead. Over the next lap I consolidated, overtook Welshman Jeff Wherlock, and then started to chase Dermot Hayes (NI), Mark Symes, 1500m gold medalist for M45 at the WMAC, and a fast slowing Leybourne.

British & Irish Masters XC, November 2018 11

Final hill of final lap and making some progress chasing Symes and Leybourne

On the final climb of the final lap, with 600m left, I had all three runners in my grasp but they all proved to have faster finishes. So 8th M50 in 28:06 it was with all five England team mates in front, albeit three of them less than 16 seconds ahead. I was deeply disappointed and dissatisfied even though I had my excuses.

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M50 team mates Phil Leybourne, Andrew Leech, Mark Symes, and Tim Hartley

Post race I warmed down with Simon Baines, who’d run well in the M45 race, and Tim Hartley. Back at my hotel I sought comfort in bad food and drink and analyzed the race. XC and road are very different. It’s horses for courses and this was not my course. Once a good XC runner I had now totally converted to road. In road races I get into my groove and grind it out. On the country I simply failed to find any groove.

A comprehensive suite of pictures by Robert Gale are below.

That evening I attended the presentation dinner. England won all categories bar one. I collected a medal, my first representing England. Long overdue. The drink helped drown my sorrows and even got me on the dance floor. Sunday morning I ran with England team mates Stephen Watmough (11th M55), Andrew Leech (3rd M50) and Nick Jones (3rd M40) along the Swansea seafront. A perfect end to a not so perfect trip to Wales.

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Andrew Leech, me and Nick Jones by Stephen Watmough 

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.

PostRace

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.

Race Report: New Balance Bronx 10 Mile, September 30, New York

by Paul Thompson (pictures Shamala Thompson and Nigel Francis)

It’s been barely two weeks since I ran in the World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga, Spain. I was still enjoying the warm afterglow of having come back to the US with a silver medal in the half marathon for the M50 age group. But I was unsure how I’d fare 14 days later in what’s my favorite race of the NYRR calendar – the Bronx 10 Mile.

My uncertainty was made worse by the roller coaster training since getting home from Malaga. The half marathon, largely due to the oppressive hot and humid conditions, had been one of the hardest of races I’d endured. It left me reeling like a full marathon. And then I’d had the flight home via Madrid, some 16 hours door to door. And yet I seemed to  quickly get back into the swing of things sufficient to run for over two hours with team mates Flavio De Simone, whose race report is here, and Jordan Wolff over the hills of Rockefeller State Park on Saturday Setptember 22

The next day I was exhausted and 3 kilograms lighter than Malaga. A long run too far. All last week training had been mediocre, capped by my worst 20 minute Mona Fartlek measured in distance covered (3.2 miles versus the more usual 3.5 miles). I tapered after Wednesday and on race day morning felt sharp and rested. The previous day Sham and I went to a friends’ party at a building on Ocean Parkway (close to the 8 mile mark of the Brooklyn Half). I sampled the alcohol and picked away at the smorgasbord of food, much of it different to what I’d normally eat on the eve of a race, and then crashed at another friends place at Marcus Garvey Park (aka Mount Morris Park).

On race day morning waking up in Harlem meant an extra hour of sleep and a short 1.5 mile run to the start area over the Madison Avenue Bridge. I was at the race start around 7.15am. I’ve typically run well in this race. In 2015 I’d scorched to 53:36 at age 49. Last year I was slightly off the boil and ran 55:24 in warm weather. This year the weather was perfect – high 50s F, clear blue skies and gentle breeze from the north. The course is fast but not completely flat. My aim was to run 5:30 pace and hope to hold it for a sub-55 clocking. The object was to take a shot across the bows of my main M50 rivals in the US and UK.

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In first mile behind Beverly Ramos (#1)

After a delayed start we were away and I quickly settled into a pack running at 5:30 pace. The leading woman was in front for a short while: she went on the run 55:15, one of the fastest ever times by a woman in this race. My pack included three Dashing Whippets Running Team (DWRC), and regular competitors in my ballpark Bobby Asher of Van Cortlandt Track Club (VCTC) and Greg Cass of Central Park Track Club (CPTC). In the opening miles northbound on the Grand Concourse – one of the most spectacular boulevards for running, it being modelled on the Champs Elysees and punctuated with Art Deco splendor – I sat in the group as we reeled off 5:30 miles.

Approaching the turn onto the Mosholu Parkway just short of 4 miles I then started to do some of the heavy lifting. I was gaining in confidence, enough to dole out some pain. That exuberance was short lived. On the parkway a posse of CPTC runners and someone from Prospect Park Track Club (PPTC) breezed passed me. As we descended towards the New York Botanical Gardens they started to open up a gap. I passed mile 5 in 27:24, bang on schedule, ran the U turn wide and started to steadily climb the half mile back up the parkway to the Grand Concourse.

BronxCourseMap

I sensed I had a big group in tow. I led the charge up the Mosholu Parkway hoping to shake ’em off. I was firing on all cylinders as we got back on the Grand Concourse and passed mile 6. The beauty with a target of 5:30 MPM is that the math is simple. The clock at each mile simply needs to read :00 or :30 or thereabouts. As I tire I struggle with the math and to see my Garmin splits. If I could hold my pace from 6 through 8.5 miles then the downhill to the finish would see me comfortably under 55 minutes. I’d soon find out.

As I made the turn onto the Grand Concourse I heard “Go Paul” ring out loud and clear. You could measure it on the Richter Scale. Nicole Sin Quee has some big triathlete lungs! Heading south on the Grand Concourse one is met with a tide of humanity, the thousands of slower runners heading north on the other carriageway, many cheering us on.

I was now running for home, albeit with over 3 miles left to run. I felt strong and confident. I just needed to get to 8.5 miles and then the descent would carry me to the finish. Southbound the miles seemed much longer. The boulevard is immense, largely straight, almost like a runway. As I started to dig deep the roadway started to gently descend. As I started to inch up my pace a DWTC runner came past. And I sensed others were in the wings. So I kept putting the hammer down. With a quarter mile to go the course takes a sharp right and descends steeply to the finish just outside Yankee Stadium. I was being hunted down but got to the tape just ahead of two DWRC runners.

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Passing Mile 9 with game face on (picture credit: Nigel Francis)

I clocked 54:29, good for 23rd of 12,590 finishers. I was 1st M50 and 2nd masters after Guillermo Pineda Morales, over a minute in front in 53:28. At the sharp end Harbert Okuti of the Westchester Track Club was the top men’s finisher in 48:35, and New Balance athlete Beverly Ramos won the women’s race in 55:15. Read the NYRR race report here.

I was satisfied, almost very satisfied, with that. It was perhaps the best performance of 2018 so far, bagging me top age grade (AG) runner on the day with 91.97%. The Garmin data showed the even splits with slightly faster running down the Mosholu and in the final mile. My heart rate averaged 176 bpm and maxed out at 189 bpm. I clearly worked hard. The 7th mile, in 5:23, was decisive. At this stage one can easily lose focus. I didn’t. I was on a mission for home.

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Engraved bling

I hung out in the finishing area to see team mates and rivals, like my closest M50 challenger Brad Kelley of CPTC, cross the line. This is always the best part of the race where we get to talk and laugh rather than pant or gasp.

PostRace

Team catch-up – Ellen, Ada, Flavio, me and Saudy Tajeda

The Urban Athletics Team, though low in total number, did well:

  • Female Master 40+: 1st place (Cathrine Wolden, Ellen Basile and Jennifer Amato)
  • Male Master 40+: 2nd place (Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone and Jordan Wolff)
  • Male Master 50+: 2nd place (Paul Thompson, Adam Kuklinski and Richard Temerian)
  • Open Male: 7th place (Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone, Alex Lorton, Jordan Wolff and Adam Kuklinski)

UA’s masters women are hot favorites to win the NYRR 2018 masters 40+ team title but the men, in a distant 2nd place after West Side (WSX), have work to do. In the individual stakes, Urban Athletics got 4 podium finishes: Cathrine Wolden, 1st 45-49, in 1:04:57; Ellen Basile, 3rd 45-49, in 1:06:41; Kathleen Horton, 2nd 70+, in 1:36:20 and me. Flavio and Jordan got PRs of 57:25 and 59:21 respectively.

BronxUAResults

After the run I spent some time reflecting. I read this New York Times article again and was reminded how fortunate I am to have a relatively easy day job in terms of physical demands and hours. Occasionally I travel a lot for work but, as my mother use to say when i was a kid whining about not having something, “there’s always someone worse off than you”. It also reminds me what a great running community we have – globally, nationally, and locally here in New York City. It’s diverse, socially, ethnically, economically. And yet shares much in common – a love of running and fellow runners.

In the end it played out as best I could have ever hoped for. I had self doubts before the race. but these were quickly put to bed. And I came away top of the UK M50 rankings for 10 miles to go with my 10K top spot.