Category Archives: Running

Race Report: World Masters Athletics Championships – 10K Road Race, September 9, Malaga, Spain

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson and Paul Thompson)

In sport arguably the  three worst finishing places are runner up,  just outside the bling in 4th, and last place. Well I landed in of these places in the first race of my 2018 World Masters Athletics (WMA) Championship campaign. This was the second of four races I’d entered – the 8K XC, which I scratched since my flight landed the day of competition, the 10K road, 500m track and half marathon. But as I write this my campaign may have ended prematurely. So this partly explains why I was in no rush to write this. Here goes.

Sham and I landed here in Malaga in the early afternoon of Thursday September 6. Sham arrived from Berlin direct from a work assignment via London City while I landed from JFK via Madrid. As luck would have it we landed within 30 minutes of each other. Thanks to super efficient, cheap and convenient airport train we were at our one bedroom Airbnb apartment in SoHo in an hour. Over the next few days I recovered from jetlag and ran easy including a recce run of the course.  It would be the flatest course I’d ever run on, albeit with a few tight U turns, on a great road surface. The question was would it be too hot.

Race morning was much cooler than it had been – low 70sF verses low 80sF – but rain had left behind high humidity. Turns out it would prove too humid for fast times. I ran easy the 3 miles from the apartment to the start at the Malaga Athletics Stadium. The sun was slowly rising obscured by light cloud. Though I ran easy I could tell the humidity would be a factor. I arrived on site an hour before the 9am start and milled around trying to determine where it would start. As was everyone else it seems.

Eventually it became clear we’d be starting on the track – on the finishing straight soon after the bend. We were to run three quarters of a lap then exit the stadium next to the finish line. This was far from ideal. Runners – all masters male age groups from M35 through M69 – jostled for position as they pushed us back behind the starting mat.

And then we were off. Five hundred or so runners and within 20 metres all converging on the bend. It was a disastrous start for me. I was near the front right on the inside and suddenly found myself boxed in, not by a few runners like a track race but over 100 runners. I stepped on the infield twice and on the metal. As we exited the stadium, just like the Euro 2017 champs, I found myself some 30-40 metres off pace.

I’d end up running the first mile in 5:15 suggesting I overcompensated once I got some clearance on the roadway. Up in front I could see Eichwein (Germany), Yego (Kenya) and Van Asbroeck (Belgium). And they were the M50s I could see – there may have been more and turns out there was! Eichwein and Yego were two of the favorites – Eichwein had won the 8K XC in 25:42 and Yego 4th having been sent the wrong way. Asbroeck was also no slouch having won the M50-54 European Masters Athletics 10000m in 2017.  I was now racing hard. Too hard.

Approaching 2 miles, passed in 10:28, I could see Asbroeck (30m ahead), Yego (20m) and Eichwein (10m) lined up like ducks in front of me. Unfortunately they weren’t sitting. I had recovered from my poor start but had lost composure and control and ran the first 2 miles 10 seconds ahead of goal pace of 33:00 / 5:20 MPM. I caught and passed a few Spanish M50s, Yego around 3K and a heavy breathing Asbroeck just before 5K. But Eichwein was relentlessly pulling away like a metronome. He even signaled as he moved across the roadway.

Soon after a U turn we hit the half way. I failed to check my time but Garmin suggests it was around 16:30 after a 5:27 third mile. That was my goal pace but did not factor in the erratic start, humid conditions, and sharp U turns which all nibbled away at optimal timing. At half way I was caught by Dutch duo Patrck Kwist, whom I’d beaten in the half marathon at the 2016 World Champs, and, to my alarm, a sprightly looking M50 Edo Baart.

Kwist and Baart were running smart. I suspect they’d started at 5:20 pace and were holding it. I had slowed from 5:15 to closer to 5:30 pace. I passed 4 miles in 21:23 after another 5:27 mile. Kwist, an M45-49 runner, pulled away while Baart seemed keen to run with me. He seemed to have gas in the tank. I was in a kind of damage limitation mode. He kept slapping himself, a kind of runners self-flagellation. He almost seemed impatient that I was unable to run faster. Post race I found out he was the Dutch Forrest Gump: he admitted to being ‘new’ to this running business! Baart and I were competing for a silver or bronze medal.

We passed 5 miles in 26:55 after a 5:32 5th mile. Baart then made his move. The stadium was in view and he was now making his run for home. I was simply trying to hang on and not lose anymore time. I was overtaking a few stragglers. This race had a high casualty rate in terms of runners that went out too fast and either slowed right down or DNF. Baart opened a sizable and growing gap. He was the only M50 to pass me. There were now at least two M50 in front. Was I 3rd or 4th?

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Entering the  stadium I was unsure whether I was in 3rd or 4th place.

Entering the stadium the clock read 32 something. And crossing the line, after a 5:28  last mile, I could see it reading 33:40 something.  I was relieved it was over. I was annoyed at my start. I was unsure whether I was 3rd or 4th. And I could feel my hamstring tighten as I crossed the line. An hour later I was a 4th placed injured M50 runner. Not a great place to be! But I’ll get over it.

My official time was 33:49, some way off my 33:10 from the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K run in an undulating Central Park in perfect weather.  The results show Eichwein winning comfortably in 32:36, Baart 2nd in 33:37 and Joaquim Figueiredo from Portugal 3rd in 33:43. I  did not see him. No surprise since I’d not met him before and the font size of the M50 on the race bibs could only be read within a few metres. And as a fast 3000m runner perhaps I’d not have been able to out kick him. At the awards ceremony Eichwein was uber efficient. He turned up showered and groomed and collected his prize. I attempted a warm down on my tight hamstring.

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World’s fastest M50 for 10K road

The following day I did not run. Sham and I caught a coach to Granada where we went to  the Cathedral and parts of the Alhambra including Generalife. The Alhambra was once of the most spectacular, serene and spiritual places I’ve ever been to if not the most.

We’ve spent some time seeing he sites of Malaga too. It’s a beautiful and varied city with beaches, port, marina, and historic city centre complete with cathedral and Picasso Museum (his birthplace). Yesterday I ran easy and hamstring was much better though I could still feel  twinge.  Hoping it will continue to recover in time to defend my title – though the competition is far more intense than Perth. Now where’s the ice?

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Race Report: Percy Sutton Harlem 5K, August 25, New York

by Paul Thompson

It’s been a while since I last raced. And hence a while since I’ve written a blog post. May in fact. I dropped out of the Brooklyn Half Marathon, having just passed 10 miles in 55 minutes and loose change, with a hamstring injury. Since then I’ve travelled extensively for work and pleasure – UK, Belgium, France, Italy, Montenegro, Romania, D.C. – but somehow got the running in except for some quality workouts and long runs. So here I was on the start line of the Percy Sutton Harlem 5K looking for signs that I was ready for the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMA)

I’ve raced Percy Sutton before, the last time in 2016 when I ran 16:31 as part of the build-up for the the last WMA (where I got gold in the half marathon for M50-54). It’s  one of my favorite races despite the course being quite tough and the weather typically too hot. A course change this year introduced a steep incline – 10% or more for 250 metres – just before half way making it tougher than ever for 2018. However, with cooler temperatures than late – low 70Fs – I was shooting for 16:15-20.

I settled into the corral several rows back but figured that would help me avoid an  exuberant start. I need time to fire up the engine. After a rendition of the national anthem by a saxophinist – he added his own twist at the close –  we were off and soon taking in a chicane of consecutive 90 degree left and right hand turns. At the first turn teammates Paul Sorace and Bob Smullen were on NYRR volunteer duty, as part of the 9+1 guaranteed entry to the New York City Marathon, and Paul snapped the picture below.

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Brad Kelley (CPTC), me, Javier (4th from right in red) and Flavio (3rd from left in pop socks) rounding first turn (picture credit: Paul Sorace)

And then we started the steady 2-3% grade kilometer climb of St. Nicholas Avenue. I struggled to get into a groove and promptly dropped off the back of a pack containing club mate Javier Rodriguez. I was laboring heavily when I made the U turn at one mile (passed in 5:25).

On the decsent back down St. Nicholas Avenue I chased the runners just ahead of me and caught Javier. We worked together, as we’ve done many times before with much success, and reeled in a few runners paying the price of a fast uphill opening mile. We were running 5:10 pace. But at the back of  my mind was the steep climb around half way.

And suddenly there it was. A sharp right hander and in the space of a few strides we went from descending a 2.5% grade to ascending a 250 metre perfectly straight and uniform 10% grade hill. I did what I do best. I edged in front of Javier so I could take the turn wide and then ground it out at around 5:45 pace. I was in the hurt locker.

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Ryan, Javier and I grind out the hill at half way (picture credit: Sam LaFata)

The hill was over and done with in barely a minute but the damage was done. As we made the left hand turn towards City College, still with a few metres left to climb, Javier threw the hammer down and encouraged me to join him. It was an invitation too easy to decline (and too hard to accept). So I did (and I didn’t). We passed two miles in 10:45 (5:20 second mile). I spent the next 400 metres or so running along the ‘upper’ west side of St. Nicholas Park watching Javier edge away. I tried to get back into my rhythmn and, unlike the saxophonist, I did.

As we started to make the precipitous descent with half a mile to go I pulled alongside Javier and a runner wearing that familar Britsh club vest (of hoops or stripes). Post race I found this to be Ryan Prout of Brentwood, recently having made the Manhattan transfer. The three of us duked it out for the firstpart of the long, too long, straight to the finish. Ryan dropped off and then, sensing he had gas in the tank, I told Javier to stop waiting for me. He took my advice for once and kicked away crossing the line as first Urban Athletics (UA) runner in 16:31 to my 16:36 and Ryan’s 16:39. I  failed to see the three mile mark  – my faculties are usually shutting down at this stage of a race –  but my Garmin data suggested it was around 16:00 (third mile of circa 5:15). Flavio De Simone was third UA man in 16:56, first time ever under 17.

As usual I stood around in the finishing funnel for some time soaking up the atmosphere, chatting to team mates and rivals, eating NYRR’s free handouts of apple and bagel, and posing for pictures. Despite 35th overall, 1st M50, 3rd masters and top men’s age grade of 90.31%, I was a little disappointed: my season’s best is around 16:25 at half way in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K. Nevertheless, it was great to be back racing with my UA team mates and sharing in individual and team accolades which, thanks to Flavio’s blog, were:

  • Master 40+ Female: 1st place by minutes (Fiona Bayly, Ellen Basile, Dominique Saint-Louis)
  • Master 40+ Male: 1st place by seconds (Javier Rodriguez, Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone)
  • Master 50+ Female: 2nd place (Fiona Bayly, Dominique Saint-Louis, Jen Braunmiller)
  • Master 50+ Male: 3rd place (Paul Thompson, Richard Temerian, Michael Rustin)
  • Open Female: 5th place (Fiona Bayly, Saudy Tejada, Ellen Basile, Dominique Saint-Louis, Katharine De Simone)
  • Open Male: 7th place (Javier Rodriguez, Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone, Stefano Piana-Agostinetti, Alex Lorton)
  • Javier Rodriguez: 1st 40-44, 16:31
  • Paul Thompson: 1st 50-54, 16:36 (also 1st age-graded)
  • Flavio De Simone: 2nd 45-49, 16:56 (PR)
  • Stefano Piana-Agostinetti: 3rd 45-49, 17:00
  • Fiona Bayly: 1st 50-54, 18:07 (also 1st age-graded on 92.23% and 5th woman overall)
  • Ellen Basile: 1st 45-49, 19:26
  • Richard Temerian: 3rd 60-64, 19:32
  • Dominique Saint-Louis: 2nd 50-54, 20:20
Percy Sutton 5K Team

UA team shot: Javier, me, Stefano, Flavio, Saudy, Mike Rustin, Peter Heimgartner, Ellen Basille, and Andres Pareja (picture credit: Kieran Sikso)

Here’s what the run, including warm-up, race, idling around and warm-down through Central Park, looks like on Relive.

In the overall reckoning the West Side Runners’ Tadesse Yae Dabi was the men’s individual winner, breaking the tape in 14:48, while the New York Athletic Club claimed the top spot in the team competition. In the women’s race, fellow West Side Runners member Emebet Etea Bedada took first individually in 17:29, with the Dashing Whippets Running Team earning first place in the team race. See here for the 2018 club standings.

The WMA kicks off in Malaga, Spain on September 5. Running for Team GB I’ve entered the 8K XC, 5000m track, 10K road and half marathon road. The XC is already scratched as we fly in the day of the race. I  may drop the 5000m as it’s wedged in between the other two races and it’s my weakest event (of the entrants listed, with their most recent best times, I rank 3rd for the 10K, 6th for the half and outside the top 10 for the 5000m).

Percy Sutton proved that I’m injury free but not firing on all cyclinders. So this morning I revisted the hurt locker for a few miles on my run in Rockefeller State Park. Incredibly, but inexplicably, I hit a higher average and maximum heart rate than yesterday.

Time to Reflect: First DNF Since Early 80s

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

Today I have the weary legs common for the day after a race. Only this time, for the first time since I stepped off a track in the early 80s during a 10,000m track race, I did not finish the race. The race being the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon, one of NYRR’s premier race fixtures. And today not only did I have weary legs and the tail tangled between my legs, I also was physically unable to run so had some spare time to reflect as I walked on my own through Rockefeller State Park.

Going into the race I sensed I was ready for a fast one. The only question mark was to what extent the forecast persistent rain and unseasonably cold temperatures would weigh on my time. My target was to run sub 1:13, enough to lead the UK and USA M50 half marathon rankings. In 2017, I’d run the same race and clocked 1:12:01. Recent training had been going well and deep down I was very confident. So I figured I’d go out at 5:30 MPM pace and see if I could hold on.

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Throwback to 2017

The race largely went to plan. It had been raining all morning so most of us were wet even before the gun went off.  The beauty of running New York races is the sea of familiar faces. In the starting corral I knew pretty much everyone except for those coming from out of town. We were, all 26,000 if us, in this together. It was 7am, piss wet and cold. But we would  not want to be anywhere else even St George’s Chapel. This was our thing. And we were hoping  for the best for each other.

Looking for a group too work with in the opening mile

It seemed like it was Boston all over again. The roads were also pockmarked with puddles. Before long racing shoes and socks were soaking. I quickly settled into a group running at 5:30 pace including fellow Brit Ben Leese of North Brooklyn Runners. He like me, had opted to run the half instead of go to a royal wedding. Actually our invites had not arrived, lost in the post no doubt by either the Royal Mail or US Postal.

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About to enter Prospect Park around the 4 mile mark, with Brent Frissora (far left), Ben Leese (2nd from left), and Jeff Poindexter (far right)

I passed the first 5K in 16:58 and soon our group was joined by my team mate Askale (Asku) Meraichi. Asku was the 2017 NYRR Women Runner of the Year. It was nice to have a team mate to work with. And so we did until I dropped out! We passed 5 miles, the highest point of the race in Prospect Park, in 27:45. The pace had slowed a little due to the half mile climb to get to this point. From here it’s all down hill to the finish on Coney Island Boardwalk and that’s what makes the Brooklyn Half a pretty fast race. Faster still when it’s dry. The interactive map is here, the PDF with elevations here (see right hand panel).

Asku, the leading woman, and I were stride for stride for the next 5 miles. We passed 10K in 34:33 and descended the hill on the south west side of Prospect Park. It was here that I had an inkling of what was to come. I felt a slight twinge in my left hamstring, the same hamstring that had been strained after an indoor track meet followed by a long run the next day in the wet and cold. And I felt it again as we descended the ramp onto  Ocean Parkway.

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Stride for stride along Ocean Parkway with Asku Mariachi (picture credit: Kari-Ann Wanat)

One by one we overtook runners as we hurtled along the parkway. And then got overtaken by two, one  of them Philip Falk of CPTC., around mile 8. Running the parkway is like running on a treadmill. It’s straight as a dye, apart from one kink, for 5 miles. You have 3 lanes to work with. And much of the roadway  is like a bowling green, unlike a typical New York roadway.

We passed 20K in 51:34 and 10 miles in 55:05, and Ben Leese and Brent Frissora in the process. These times were good enough to lead the UK and USA M50 rankings and suggested a 1:12:30 finish was on the cards. Fearful I was holding her back I encouraged Asku to start chasing those in front. She started to edge away. Desperate to see her all the way to the finish, I accelerated slightly. And then the hamstring came back to haunt me.

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In the space of a few hundred meters a rapidly tightening hamstring reduced me to a heavily labored running style. And then I just stepped off the roadway, gripping the hamstring in a vice like hold to relieve the pain. I tried twice to reignite but quickly came to the conclusion that running to the finish would be painful. slow and carry the risk of lasting damage.

I started a slow, ungainly 3-mile walk to the finish. Team mate Javier Rodriguez jogged up with a quizzical expression. As we walked I tried to make some sense of it all. This was only my 4th ever DNF and the first one due to injury. Reagan and Thatcher were in power when I last failed to finish – a 10,000m track race.

While part of me was bitterly disappointed, especially given I was clearly in great shape. But part of me was content. Content in having played some small part in helping Asku have a good race (read the NYRR race report here). That contented part of me grew as I saw and got to learn later of team mates that had, in difficult conditions, great races, including Jordan Wolff (2nd M40-44 and masters PR of 1:14:40), Flavio De Simone (2nd M45-49 and all time PR of 1:14:53), Fiona Bayly (1st W50 and top women’s AG in 1:22:19), Ramin Tabib (all time PR of 1:27:37), Bob Smullen (2nd best ever of 1:36:08), Jennifer Harvey (3rd W50 in 1:31:24) and Kathleen Kilbride (2nd W60 in 1:45:15). And then to learn that the M40 team got 2nd (Jordan, Flavio and Sebastien Baret, who hobbled home injured), W40 4th (Fiona, Jennifer Amato (1:30:19) and Jennifer Harvey). and W50 2nd (Fiona, Jennifer Harvey and Kathleen).

Flavio De Simone at the finish line

 

Jordan Wolff at the finish line

So what of the self refection. Well first it’s the realization, or confirmation of what I’ve known for a while, that I am a runner. It’s what I am and what I do. Second, running comes with a big family of like minded people. I ran with 26,000 of them on Saturday. In foul weather at the crack of dawn. Third, while my DNF was a disappointment it came with a silver lining. That I’d played some small part in helping other runners. And recognition of that is as priceless as the crown jewels. A team mate paid me the ultimate tribute, thanking me for helping him dramatically improve. This will help me get back on the saddle and back to the top of the M50 rankings on both sides of the Pond.

Flatbush Avenue

Race Report: UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, New York, April 29

by Paul Thompson

After a month on the road – travelling for work in Europe – I stood on the start line with some trepidation. It was some 6 weeks since my last race, guiding Jason Dunkerley in the United Airlines New York City Half Marathon, and some 2 months since my season opener at the NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K. I was in no man’s land with little idea what to expect. I need not have worried.

With Sham away in Bangladesh – she flew out of T4 JFK on Thursday, three hours after I cleared immigration at T8, and we had 15 minutes together curbside at T4 – my usual prerace routine was also out of the window. Instead of driving in, parking at Marcus Garvey Park and then running to the race start as a warm-up, this time I caught the train in, stepped off at Harlem 125th Street Metro North and then ran to the start. I was also missing a photographer and an editor for this blog (hence few pictures and many typos).

Warming up I felt like I was over jet lag. There was a spring in my step. I’d also lost a few lbs while away, like I had in the build-up to the 2017 London Marathon. I ran and walked almost 5 miles as a warm-up, the last few miles with team mate Falvio De Simone who had recovered well from Boston and was in saerch of a PR. Shortly before the start fellow team mate Jordan Wolff appeared: I had a UA singlet to lend him.

The starting corral was packed. The invited elite runners included Laura Thweatt who is also coached by Lee Troop and who headlined at the NYRR Run Talk on Friday evening taht I attended. The local field was loaded. NYAC were out in force. I lined up amidst their posse.

My race plan was simple. I was keen to get close to my 32:44 of 2017, arguably my best race of 2017.  I would shoot for even splits, making allowances for the hills in the 1st, 3rd and 4th miles, (Download Course Map (PDF)) with the goal of running just under 33:00. That would demand 5:15s in the early miles before settling into low 5:20s.

And the gun was off. Barely 400m into the race I noticed just up ahead a phalanx of elite women with Laura leading the way. I figured I’d try to keep them in my sights as long as possible and, hopefully, run with my new team mate Askale Merachi. I clipped through the first mile, taking in Cat Hill, in 5:17 and caught Askale around the two mile mark with the clock reading 10:30. I hoped Askale would come with me but she was slowing, perhaps saving herself for an upcoming marathon. I was following the playbook.

The third mile proved, as expected, to be the toughest as it takes in the Northern Hills. On a counter / anti clockwise loop like this that means a 400m descent past the Harlem Meer, a 600m climb up to near the summit of the Great Hill, Central Park’s highest point, and ending with a 400m descent. I passed three miles in 16:05 and half way in 16:32, 3 seconds faster than I ran the Washington Heights 5K. I was shadowing Brent Frissora, someone I’d often traded strides with. Aside from Brent I spent most of the race isolated.

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Mid race (Photo credit: Jay-r Mojica)

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Mid race (Photo credit: Nigel Francis)

The fourth mile was no easier. Heading south down the West Side Drive it rolls with more climbing than descending. I covered the 4th mile on 5:27, reaching the four mile mark in 21:20. The fifth mile is possibly the fastest of the course as it descends for around 800m to Strawberry Fields. I passed Brent and then passed the 8K mark in 26:32 and 5 miles in 26:50. In 2017 I rocked the final mile chasing Natosha Rodgers. This time I simply clung on. Brent overtook me. I climbed up the final 200m incline as though it were the north face of the Eiger.

I crossed the finish line in 33:10, 26 seconds shy of 2017. I was 40th, 1st M50+ and 2nd M40+. My time was worth an age grade of 92.15%, the 5th highest of the day. It also tops the UK and, I think, US M50+ rankings for road 10K (USATF Masters 10K Championships were held on the same day). For now. My Garmin data is here.

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UA boasted a number of individual top 3 age group placers: Jordan Wolff, 2nd M40 in 34:50, a PR; Flavio De Simone, 2nd M45 in 34:57, a PR by 1:02; Fiona Bayly, 1st F50-54 in 37:42; Jennifer Amato, 3rd F45-49 in 41:07; and Kathleen Kilbride, 1st F60-64 in 47:59). UA also excelled team wise with 1st W50 (Fiona Bayly, Kathleen Kilbride and Kathleen Horton), 2nd M40+ (Jordan Wolff, Flavio De Simone and I), 2nd M50+ (Richard Temerian, Bob Smullen and I) and 3rd F40+ (Fiona Bayly, Jennifer Amato and Kathleen Kilbride).

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With team mates post race – from left Stefano Pia Agostinetti, Flavio De Simone, me, Jordan Wolff and Richard Temerian.

Over 7,400 runners finished according to NYRR’s race report. Rhonex Kipruto lowered the event record by 27 seconds, crossing the finish line in 27:08. That time is also the fastest road 10K ever run in the United States. That would make it arguably the best 10K road performance of all time. By an 18 year old. The women’s race provided another exciting finish, as 2018 United Airlines NYC Half champion Buze Diriba of Ethiopia once again used her fast finishing kick to win, this time in 32:04, passing compatriot Aselefech Mergia in the final 200 meters. Laura Thweatt came 4th in 32:22, a 10K road PR. New UA team mate Askale came 6th in 33:59.

So all’s well that ends well. My month on the road ended well. My running routine had gone out of the window. I ran at different times, in different places, at different paces and mainly alone. But I had the constant support and guidance of Troopy.

I was not short of variety of weather and places to run. The weather ranged from wet and 40s F to sunny and high 70s F. I ran through villages near my home town with brother Stephen, in London’s Hyde and St James’s Park with friend Mo’ath Alkhawldeh (I watched him run the London Marathon a few days later), in the grounds of Schloß Schönbrunn in Vienna, in Richmond Park in London, and in the Bois de le Cambre, Parc de Bruxelles and the Sonian Forest in Brussels. Most of the time I felt like I was going through the motions. But during last Wednesday’s early morning 13 miler, where I got lost and scrambled to get back to the office in time for a meeting, I ran some 5 miles at close to 6:00 mpm pace. This was the acid test. I was ready to rock.

Race Report: 2018 United Airlines New York City Half Marathon, March 18

On Sunday March 18 I had the privilege of guiding blind runner Jason Dunkerley in the 2018 United Airlines New York City Half Marathon. Jason has represented Canada at four Paralympic Games and won five medals. Read his race report here.

Credit-JohnLeTran

Race Report: 2018 NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K, New York, March 4, 2018

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

The week leading into this race left me in a no man’s land of what to expect from this race, my traditional season opener. I’d run 16:35 in 2017 during my build-up for the London Marathon. What landed me in no man’s land was last weekend’s antics. It also  placed at risk my running with Jason Dunkerley at the upcoming New York City Half.

On Saturday evening I’d participated in my first indoor meet, at the Armory in the north west tip of Manhattan, in which I ran 5 x 200m as part of a 10 person 10K age-graded relay (I didn’t drop the baton as the results show). The following morning I ran 20 miles in the rain with team mate Flavio de Simone. Actually it was 19.83 thanks to Flavio working in metric and having us do 32K: I call this the “Italian Job”. On Monday, it left me with sore hamstrings that gradually recovered through the week. In most walks of life as we age we get wiser. This does not hold true with running.

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On the start line, after a 4 mile warm-up through Harlem from Marcus Garvey to the Armory, I was reasonably sure the hamstrings were set to race. Standing in the starting corral things took a turn for the worse. The elite runners bearing AA bib numbers were shepherded to the start line and told they would start ahead of the rest of us. The A runners , including my clubmates and I, started to roar in disapproval and a popular mass protest was on the cards. The AA runners took off and 40 or so seconds later, a random gap, we were off in hot pursuit.

The “AA” runners storming ahead: Brendan Martin leading

The opening half mile or so steadily climbs. I was fired up and was near the front of the pack. But as the crest of the first hill (see course map) approached I started to rapidly tire. To make matters worse the cold wind, not as bitter as in 2017 when wind chill was -15C but stronger and a headwind on the outward journey of this out and back course.

Over the next half mile or so, passing the mile mark at the summit of the course (in around 5:35 according to my Garmin: I ignored the clocks at the mile markers as they were only showing times for the AA runners) some 20 runners, including masters Guillermo Pineda Morales aka Memo (WSX), Peter Brady (CPTC), and team mates Javier Rodriguez and Matt Chaston, swept past. I was preparing mentally for one to forget.

Fortunately as we rounded the Cloisters, the half way point, I began to rally. We were now running with the elite women who’d also started 40 seconds or so ahead of us. I don’t mind confessing I enjoyed running with these top lassies. They rock. I rarely have the honor: in most races I’m a typically ahead of them from the gun.

The race takes a 400m loop around the Cloisters and then heads back up a 600m incline to the two mile point. This is arguably the toughest part of the course as it takes you back to the summit of the course. My Garmin showed I ran the second mile in 5:23. I edged past Peter as we entered the closing mile leaving me with just two masters runners, Mengistu Tabor Nebsi in 15:52 (WSX) and Memo in 16:15, ahead of me.

One might be orgiven for thinking that was plain sailing from here. The closing mile has one 200m incline but otherwise it descends the whole way. And we had a wind behind. But if you take your eye off the ball and the foot off the throttle droves of runners come past. So I stayed focused and kept charging. Just ass we crested the final hill and with 800m of steady descent left I passed team mate Harriott Kelly. I gasped that she was getting away from her rival for first place.

Harriott about to hit the tape as leading lady

After a 5:15 third mile, in a straight that feels like it’ll end in Battery Park, I crossed the finish line in 44th place, good for 3rd M40+ and 1st M50, in 16:35. This was one second better than in 2017 and gave me top age grade of 90.36%. Peter followed a few seconds later (in 16:38) and Harriott, first lady, soon after (in 17:23). I was first UA runner though this had more to do with the weakness of our open team and Javier’s poor health than my performance. It was enough to place me top of the UK 5K M50 rankings – for now.

Finish in sight

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800 metres to go with Harriott Kelly and Peter Brady (picture credit: Nigel Francis)

UA’s boasted a truckload of individual top 3 age group placers (not surprising given how we dominated the masters Oscars at the 2018 NYRR Club Night). They were as follows: Saudy Tejada, 3rd F35-39 in 19:32; Javier, 3rd M40 in 16:57; Flavio de Simone, 3rd M45 in a big PR of 17:08; Ellen Basille, 1st F45 in 18:52; Jennifer Amato, 2nd F45 in 20:35; Matt Chaston, 2nd M50 in 16:41; Fiona Bayly, 1st F50 in 19:16; and Dominique Saint-Louis, 2nd F50 in 20:07. UA placed 5th and 7th in the women and mens open teams respectively. But best of all we got 1st F40, F50 and M50 teams and 2nd M40 team.

Fiona Bayly

Flavio de Simone

Washington Heights 5K is affectionately known in local running lore as Coogan’s after the famous bar that plays host to the post race revelry. The bar recently came close to closure. It’s won a stay of execution. If it closed a part of New York would die with it. The race will live on regardless. It’s like no other. The field is deep, the course is hilly, the weather typically cold and windy, and the neighborhood quintessential New York.

More than 5,000 runners completed the course. NYRR’s full story is here. First to cross the finish line for the men was Brendan Martin (NYAC) who finished in 14:50. I reflected on the race and noticed how such is its intensity I rarely have time to take in any of the neighborhood and local historical sites. One day Sham and I will walk around it to before it gentrifies. Before then I will run through New York with Jason.

Looking Back on 2017, Looking Forward to 2018

by Paul Thompson

It’s that time of year again. When you push back a little, eat and drink too much of the wrong stuff, and for a while take your eye off the ball. It’s also a time when we take stock of the year just ended and start plotting the year ahead. I commit this to paper hence this blog post. It’s the first step to getting motivated for the long year of running ahead. My targets for the year ahead tend to get tangled up in New Year’s resolutions so there’s a risk they’ll last about as long. To around January 7.

So here I am on vacation in Singapore eating lots of local fare, drinking a few too many G&Ts, running sporadically in hot and sultry conditions (about 30C and 90%), and writing this post, as I’ve been doing in recent years, to help get me ready for 2018.

How then did I fare in 2017 on an actual verses target basis? After hooking up with coach Troopy in Boulder in early January 2017 I set myself a few key goals. First, a marathon PR of sub 2:29:56. I ran 2:31:45 in London in April quicker than 2016 but good for just 3rd M50. A month later I posted a 1:12:01 half in Brooklyn. These performances, along with a 32:44 at the Healthy Kidney 10K just before London and a 55:24 at the Bronx 10 in September, got me pole position in the UK M50 rankings and, I think, the US.

Second, a medal at my best distance, the half, at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Aarhus, Denmark in August. I more than found my match finishing 4th in 1:13:22. Overall Strava summed things up with this video (3,158 miles).

What then does 2018 have in store? In the coming few weeks I’ll check-in with coach Troopy and map out the season ahead. At this time I have two ideas. First, another crack at my marathon PR, either in the spring (I’m entered for London and Greater Manchester) or, as seems more likely, the fall (ChicagoNew YorkBerlin or Beirut). And second, to medal in the half marathon and / or road 10K at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga, Spain in September. A medal will demand a sub-1:12 / 33.

So that’s about it. I fell short of my goals for 2017 but received ‘consolation prizes’ in the shape of a fast 10K and half. And I’ve yet to set my goals for 2018. As its January 5 that means my 2018 New Year’s resolutions will last beyond January 7.