Category Archives: Running Holiday

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.

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Race Report: World Masters Athletics Championships – Half Marathon, September 16, Malaga, Spain

Paul Thompson (pictures Shamala Thompson)

Before

Here I was again standing on the start line of the half marathon hoping to make up for the disappointment of finishing 4th in the 10K a week earlier. The half is my preferred distance. I appeared to be over a hamstring strain and resumed coach Troopy’s inter race schedule. And I was fully adjusted to the time zone. So this was the day to put it right. I needed to run my own race, stay composed and make adjustments for the hot and humid weather. Turns out a few seconds would make all the difference.

Rather than jog from the apartment to the stadium I got the metro  with Sham and decided to run the area surrounding the stadium to get familiar with the course near the start and finish and midway: the course was one small lap and two large with our passing the stadium three times before finishing with a lap in it. I was more relaxed about this race than the 10K though more nervous about the effects of the hot weather. My game plan was to run 5:30-5:40 miles to close in around 1:13, a minute slower than what I figured I could run in more favorable weather.

I met Edo Baart, who’d gotten silver in the 10K, on the metro ride in. Baart had a similar game plan to me so looked like we’d be running together, collaborating, and then start competing in the latter stages. But time was a secondary consideration. The goal was to get best possible finishing position, preferably one that came with a gong. That meant racing rather than time trialing as I tend to do in club races in New York where I take for granted winning my age group in distances of 10K or more. In the entry list my best recent time of 1:12:01 from Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon 2017 ranked me 7th fastest and there were 5 guys who had beaten me before. Pre-race favorites were Benita from Spain, gold medalist in the 2017 European Masters Half Marathon, Eichwein from Germany, silver medalist in the same and gold for 8K XC and 10K road in Malaga, and fellow Brit Tim Hartley, silver medalist in the 5000m a few days earlier. But Benita and Hartley did not show up.

We were lined up in corrals by age – M35-49 men and women in the first corral, M50-59 in the second. This meant having some 200 athletes, many much slower, in front. I reconnected with Baart. As a few older guys and girls ducked under the corral tape to join the first corral Baart and I, suspecting the floodgates would open, decided to follow suit. But the floodgates did not open. As I did not want to find myself beating someone simply because I started ahead of them I told Baart he was on his own. As I rejoined my corral I got that ‘look’ from many M50s. Turns out it would all prove academic as just before the start the corral breaks were removed and I forged my way nearer the front. So near I was able to tap Baart’s shoulder. He looked relieved.

During

And then we were off. I still had around 100 athletes in front of me but figured I had time to pass and settle into a group nearer the front. I went through the first mile with Baart, and Eichwein, in 5:39 (Garmin data is here). Slightly slower than goal pace but Baart said it was OK for him. I felt relaxed and we shared words. Though we sped up to 5:30 in mile two Eichwein started to charge away from us. Looking down the road I could see at least three M50s ahead of us: Eichwein, Joaquim Figueiredo (Portgual) who had gotten bronze, just ahead of me, in the 10K road race and the 5000m behind Hartley, and Luc Van Asbroeck (Belgium) who was just behind me in the 10K. Likely there were others. But how many?

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Edo Baart (Netherlands) and me being chased by Miguel Melero-Eichwein (Germany) in opening few miles

I covered the third mile in a solid 5:29. I was torn between holding back and hoping the M50s ahead would start to fade, or chasing them. Baart dropped away seemingly preferring the former (after the race he confessed to tight achilles, a result of his tip toe style). But I was now starting to cautiously chase or at least prevent them getting further ahead. Figueiredo and Van Asbroeck were some 20 seconds / 80m in front (in a race I often keep count of the seconds I’m behind a few key runners). Shortly before the U turn around 5K, covered in around 17:15, I could see all the runners in front as they ran in the opposite direction. I saw at least one Spanish and another Portuguese M50. So I was in 6th. Or worse. (reviewing pictures after the race revealed 7th – this picture shows a 3rd Portuguese M50 in front me.)

The conditions were deteriorating. They were starting to be reminiscent of my races while living in South East Asia. Only it was later in the day, there was no shade and the sun stronger. Unlike other half marathon races I was taking on water at each drink station. A few quick gulps, a splash on each arm, and a few drops over my head. I did not fancy getting my head too wet. Despite my writing this a few days after the race I have little memory of much of the race. I just ground it out, chasing M50s that came into view.

In the 4th mile a taxi passed me,  its passengers bellowing encouragement with Swedish  accents. It turned out to  be New York-based Swede Stefan Lingmerth, who later that morning would finish 12th in the final of the 1500m M40, and his brothers. I covered the 4th, 5th and 6th miles in 5:39, 5:37 and 5:39 passing the Spanish M50 at some point. Figueirido and Van Asbroeck were locked together still some way ahead. I was passing other runners one by one, including the first lady,  jumping from one small group to the next. And yet my pace was starting to slow. I guessed I was slowing slower than most. I ran 5:44, the slowest of the race so far, for mile 7. I was running solo at this point and thinking I needed to dial back a little for the next 5K to ensure I would run strong in the final 5K.  I was running by feel now pretty much ignoring the watch.

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View from a taxi during the 4th mile (picture credit: Stefan Lingmerth)

That plan lasted less than 5 minutes. Soon after mile 7 I realized that Figueirido and Van Asbroeck were slowing and I was closing the gap which was now around 10 seconds / 40m / . Van Asbroeck had dropped off Figueirido. I sensed blood and my killer instinct kicked in. No wonder a young family member once said I resemble a shark. I chased hard and accelerated. My race was on.  In earnest. I was committed. I covered mile 8 in 5:36 and mile 9 in 5:34.

Soon after mile 9 I breezed passed Van Asbroeck. Under his breath I heard “shit”. It sounded strange coming from a Belgian. Clearly “shit” is part of the universal runners vernacular. Translated it meant “I’m  toast”. And he was. For a fleeting moment he tried to follow me. But soon his heavy signature breathing ebbed away. And I was now closing on Figueirido whom I gobbled up soon after the final U turn around mile 10 after a 5:44 10th mile. I figured I was now in the medals. Eichwein was way in front and there were no other obvious M50s ahead of me but somewhere I must have passed Manuel Ferreira (Portugal).

I was now heading home, for the stadium. I  was startiing to struggle like I do in the latter stages of the marathon. But I ignored the watch as it started to chime slower miles. And yet I was catching other runners including Melvin Wong an M35 from Singapore. Mile 11 took 5:43. I was now in damage limitation mode. And then into survival mode. Kerry-Liam Wilson, Team GB, who I’d only seen on the switchbacks way ahead of me, was now just 20m down the road.  He was clearly slowing fast. So I made chase. And in so doing caught and passed Albinio Costa, a Portuguese M50. Surely I was now in silver spot! And yet mile 12 was my slowest so far – 5:53.

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In the final kilometre with Kerry-Liam Wilson on my tail

Passing the stadium with just a mile to go –  a small 1K loop around an arena followed by  one lap of the perimeter of the stadium track – I caught Wilson and urged him to follow me. Which he did for a few metres. Can you imagine this was how he’d chosen to spend his 48th birthday? I can. With 1K left I passed a very slow M50 Spaniard – was I lapping a back marker or passing an elite M50 in trouble.

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In survival mode about to enter the stadium (picture credit: Stefan Lingmert)

Entering the stadium I realized we had an extra big lap to complete. As the 1500s were underway we ran the outer perimeter, lane 10 if you like. I eked out a slight increase in  pace –  I covered mile 13 in 5:49 – and finished in 1:14:53. I saw Wilson wobble as he crossed the line and pasesd him a water bottle. Wong followed soon after and a little later friends Francis Burdett, USA (11th M50) and Stephen Watmough, Team GB (6th M55). Now the race was over all runners were my friends again.

FinishLine

Last few metres (picture credit: Mark Havenhand)

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Kerry-Liam Wilson celebrates his 48th birthday

After

I breathed a great sigh of relief. It had been a battle of attrition and I seemed to have come out on top. Almost. The hardest part of the day was to follow. Dehydrated and hungry we now had to wait some 3  hours for the results and medal ceremony. When the results did come I got confirmation of a silver medal. I  was happy. While the time was ugly, I’d executed well,  running with my head for 15K and my heart the final 5K. I’d left it all out there and placed as high as I could have hoped.

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I spent hours in the tent hanging with Team GB team mates, including the aforementioned, Mike Trees and Guy Bracken who won the 1500m M55 gold in emphatic style We were comrades in arms. The battle had been fought and the war was over. Once we’d got our gongs, individual and team, a group of us then headed to the city to refill the tank with alcohol  and food. The following day I realized just how important it is to  eke out everything you’ve got. Team GB topped the medals table, edging the Germans by one silver medal. There were many silvers won by Team GB but I’d like to think mine was that one. Won by 10 seconds in the final kilometre.

Results for all age groups are here while the overal results, showing me in 24th place, are here. A short race video is here: I can be seen at around 7 miles at 0:29. And a comprehensive gallery of pictures is here with me at the finish line here.

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Another silver for Team GB

On reflection Malaga was far more than just a competition. It was a great holiday, in  a fascinating place with friends from around the world. Friends who get you and care. It was a time to represent, to vacation, to chill, to endure and test, and much more. Thanks to many for getting me here, especially my wife Shamala, Urban Athletics and Team GB team mates and coach Troopy.

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My new Team GB team mates

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?

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

by Paul Thompson

Reason for Running

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

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

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

Race Preparations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day

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

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Runners arriving early at start area.

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

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

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Talking to Ron Hill just before the start.

Race Start

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

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Trading strides with Michael Hargreaves of East Hull Harriers.

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

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Mile 9 with chasing pack of four closing in.

Half Way

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

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

Closing Stages

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

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

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

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The end is nigh.

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Steve approaching the finish line.

Race Analysis

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

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

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

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

Running San Francisco’s Bay and Breakers with Strava

by Paul Thompson

Sham and I have just returned from a week with her sister, husband and new born baby in Emeryville, just north of Oakland CA. and across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. It was my second ever trip to the West Coast – the first was when I ran Bay to Breakers in May of 2014 –  and this time I had more days to get acquainted with the local running scene along with my new running pal Strava who promised to record it all.

Before I share a few of the highlights of the week a few casual observations on the Bay Area. On paper the Bay Area’s vital economic statistics are impressive. It’s economy exceeds half a trillion dollars, similar in size to Argentina, Sweden and Belgium. It’s GDP per capita is the highest in the US and at over $75k comfortably bests London and Singapore. It’s arguably the innovation capital of the world. Almost all the world’s biggest and most life changing companies hail from the Bay Area – Apple, Google, Facebook to name but a handful.

The running scene is similarly impressive if not life changing. First impressions were favorable. Our port of entry was San Francisco International Airport. Futuristic in design if not in the detail. We boarded the BART, after navigating the querky ticket vending machines, and 40 minutes later were at our destination. It was a sun soaked day with temperatures in the 50Fs.

East Bay Trail, Berkeley 

My first run was a 10 miler along the East Bay Trail where Berkeley meets the San Francisco Bay.  The first mile or so is an acquired taste I’m never likely to acquire – a jungle of big box retail outlets and malls with a myriad of roadways. But the flat bike trail along the shore line of the San Francisco Bay with its spectacular backdrop – starring Alcatraz, the city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands and more – was ample recompense for having to navigate traffic lights and shoppers at the start.

Being my first run, and with a strong headwind as I ran up to Marina Park, a narrow headland that juts into the bay, I was planning an easy run. But my Endomondo app, soon to be usurped, told me that I was already running low 6s by the fourth mile. As well as taking in spectacular views I also spotted Snoopy and the Red Barron twice. This was an out and back with the turnaround at the entrance to the Eastshore State Park. The strong wind buffeted me most of the way since Marina Bay from around mile two had been either behind or alongside me. With plans of a steady run abandoned in the opening few miles I decided to pick it up and make it a moderate tempo – 10 miles @ 6:20 average pace!

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Bay Bridge to Treasure Island

After much encouragement, that verged on nagging, from friends, both runners and cyclists, I’d conceded to retire Endomondo in favor of the new kid on the block Strava.  Strava’s first workout would be the Bay Bridge towards San Francisco. I’d heard there was a new bike cum pedestrian path that got you almost to Treasure Island. So I thought I’d check it out. It did not disappoint.

Soon after the unavoidable road and retail section  mentioned above I was on the trail headed to the bridge. To the left hand side of the trail was a gravel lane.  The first few miles were largely under flyovers but as the bridge came into view I found I had Oakland harbor to my left and a ten lane highway to my right. And as the path commenced its 3 mile climb to the turnaround on my left I had the old road bridge in the process of being demolished.

The great thing about this run was that after the long steady climb – with impressive views of Treasure Island, the city skyline and old bridge – the way back was largely a steady descent with views of the Oakland skyline, Berkeley and the low lying hills behind to savor.  At the finish Strava revealed I’d covered the 10 miles @ 6:20 average pace (again!).  And that I now held, amongst those that had run it using Strava, the second fastest time on the out and back segment on the bridge. Within barely an hour of finishing two former club mates who’d relocated to San Francisco had connected. Kudos!

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Golden Gate Park

A few days after arriving we  headed to San Francisco to visit Sham’s friends Lilian and Scott and to run in Golden Gate Park. Their place on The 10462813_10153054110321645_4262976348708960836_nAvenues was just two blocks south of the park. I’d gotten familiar with the park on our last trip to San Francisco: the last 3.5 miles of the Bay to Breakers passes through the central spine of the park. While Sham and her old school buddy Lilian ran a loop of the central section, including the high point with its panoramic views from Strawberry Hill, I picked my way around the trails at the outermost edge of the park.

As some early evening fog rolled in the temperatures, especially closer to the ocean, dropped into the fresh 50s. I figured I needed to keep the houses on the perimeter of the park within eye shot.  The run was varied – sometimes I was on bridle paths but most times narrow trails that weaved, ducked and dived and occasionally passed through the equivalent of a homeless person’s bedroom. The flora and fauna was as varied as perhaps any urban park I’ve ran in. Almost five miles into the run I passed the windmill at the south west corner and ran to the beach to catch a view of the breakers.  The route home took me steadily uphill for over four miles. The Strava app caught it all – 10 miles @ 7:15 average pace.

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As I circled Lilian’s neighborhood to get to 10 miles I came to realize the locals were very polite and accommodating. Even cars would stop to let you run across the road. This was most welcome but felt foreign. That feeling meant only one thing – I was now hardwired as a New Yorker but would readily be rewired as a West Coaster.

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