Looking Back on 2016

by Paul Thompson

In the first few days of 2016 I did like many of us. I made some new year’s resolutions. Actually more goals for the year ahead, as a fifty year old. And I committed them to print – right here. I rarely revisit my new year’s resolutions. But this time I was intrigued to see whether what I achieved in 2016 I had remotely predicted.

Well that article I wrote in the first few days of January 2016 concluded with this: “By 51 I hope to have a World Masters medal and a new marathon PR”. Well I turned 51 a few days ago and have four World Masters medals and came within 2 minutes and 6 seconds of my marathon PR (having been on schedule until around 23 miles).

As far as I know that 2:32:02 was bettered only by one other runner age 50 and above – Martin Fiz. My times at 10 miles (54:16) and half marathon (1:12:48) topped the UK rankings. So I guess I can’t complain. Or at least I will but shouldn’t.

What then does 2017 have in store? Next week I’ll be in Boulder and get time with coach Troopy. We’ll map out the season ahead. At this time I have two ideas. Another stab at a marathon PR, either in the spring (I’m entered for London and Greater Manchester but, if any, one will do) or, as seems more likely, the fall (Chicago, New York, Berlin or Beirut).

If I don’t get on top of my game I may not do any marathons. If I do my game plan will be to do what most older elite runners do – run the second half quicker than the first. My 2:32:02 was as close as I’ve gotten in any of my four marathons and yet I still ran the second half almost 5 minutes slower than the first (1:13:34 to 1:18:28).

My favorite distance is the half. I’m almost certain to run the half at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Aarhus, Denmark in early August. On the right course and in ideal weather conditions 1:11 is doable. I may need to since in ’17 I’m joined in the highly competitive M50-54 age group by two prolific Brits in Kevin O’Connor (70:10 in 2016) and Paul Ward (sub-32 10K in 2016). As if Graham Green was not enough. And that’s just Brits.

To get the new year off on the right footing I went to see a cardiologist, Alan Hecht, today for a check-up. Back in 2007 I’d had a cardio scare but it turned out to be false alarm. The cardiologist back then suggested annual checkups so here I was NINE years later.

Alan was very good. He gave me the all clear though I suspect any cautionary words he may have uttered just got quickly filtered out of my memory.

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

by Paul Thompson (with pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

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

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

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

racetodeliver16_run_01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Javier and I in the finishing straight.

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

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

Harriott digging deep in the finishing straight.

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

Jason, Javier and I picking up our awards.

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

racetodeliverteamphoto

UA on parade. Photo credit: Sam LaFata

img_1045

INSERT CAPTION __________

Race Report: World Masters Half Marathon Champs, Perth, Australia, November 6, 2016

by Paul Thompson (with pictures by Shamala Thompson)

This is the second and final blog installment of my trip to the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMAC) in Perth, Australia. I actually deferred publishing in the light of world events as I needed to be sure you’d not be distracted by less important stuff in the media. To recap in the first installment I explained how I got a silver medal in the 8K cross country (XC) and concluded by saying that two weeks later I hoped to get gold in the half marathon. So here I am flying home to New York on the day of the US Presidential election (I also flew to the UK on the day it voted to exit Europe!) with a cuddly toy quokka (the games’ mascot, essentially a rat) and two more medals. The flight’s 26 hours so the article promises to be long.

image1

Quokka in the roller ready to fly to the US.

These championships were the culmination of a life long journey to run for Team GB (Great Britain), as the ‘home countries’ are traditionally known in the world of sport. This is a throwback to the days of Empire. Few Brits use ‘Great’. The half marathon, my preferred distance, offered the best odds of beating all comers in my age and getting a gold to trump my silver. Indeed the odds seemed better than Trump getting the keys to the White House. I’ll try not to make, but can’t promise, too many references to the election in this post. Now before I take you through the race footstep by footstep let me briefly chart the journey and the final countdown.

The Journey

The journey to this point has been a long and winding one with potholes here and there. I’ve run quite seriously for many years, typically as a solid club runner. Turning 40 was something of a turning point. Upwards. Over the years many rivals, as well as those who ran head and shoulders above me, have retired or else simply not aged as well as me. I’ve stayed the course and one by one risen through the rankings.

For 2016 I had two key goals. To  run a spring marathon as close as possible to 2:30. I did 2:32:02 in Manchester. And to medal at the World Masters Athletics Champs.  The final decisive element to my plan to master the world of masters athletics was Sham planting the idea of Lee Troop coaching me. It would be my fiftieth birthday gift. I’m impossible to buy gifts for.

Lee agreed and since January ‘Troopy’ has been coach, my first since 1998. He has a stable of young upwardly mobile distance runners while I am old enough to be put out to pasture or else sent to the knacker’s yard. Troopy, together with Sham’s adept skills at athlete motivation and management – “Are you sure you should eat that? Try this” (sausage and quinoa) “Isn’t it time you were in bed?” (no comment) – and Urban Athletics teammates who pushed me into the discomfort zone, have given me the crucial extra edge.

In the early summer extensive work travel crimped the quality if not quantity of my training. I somehow got the miles in but the long runs and workouts got dropped. The long flights and lack of stretching and strength work – always the first to get squeezed out when short of time and living in hotel rooms (despite my roller joining me) – ultimately made my IT band as bad as it’s ever been. By late July the travel was over but the IT band was impacting my training. In late August, with barely 10 weeks left to Perth, I raced the Percy Sutton 5K and warmed down in some discomfort.

Things started to pick-up in late August. With no job I now had time on my hands. In early September I spent two weeks in Boulder. I stretched, rolled, iced, and did strength work recommended by Heather Stites North of Red Hammer Rehab following a diagnostic session. Under Troopy’s guidance I steadily built up the miles and by the end of my stint was doing workouts, the last a hill session with Bria Wetsch. Here’s my training log.

The acid test would be the Bronx 10. I like this race and it would be the ideal bellwether given it was just a month or so out from Perth. I lined up nervous. 54:16 later I was pumped, confidence emboldened. It proved I was in great shape and trending better. After a few more weeks of heavy lifting I started a ten-day taper.

The Final Countdown

The final stage of the build-up to the half was not ideal. Rather than race the 5000m that I’d entered – won by Ben Reynolds – Sham and I flew the five plus hours to Singapore to catch-up with family and friends. This meant getting re-acquainted with running in the hot and humid climate that I’d gotten familiar with when I lived there from 1998 to 2004. Essentially each day was like one of those really sticky days in the height of a New York summer. Days where you would argue that air con is the world’s greatest invention. It made me feel sluggish and in so doing eroded my confidence.

We touched down in Perth shortly after midnight and – after nearly getting fined AU$360 for bringing in a banana handed to us by a Qantas air stewardess shortly before starting our descent and forgetting to declare it – and was sleeping by around 2am. I slept well and after a swift coffee and oatmeal ventured out for a final run – a steady shuffle to the next day’s race start followed by strides. I felt very good. The sluggishness of Singapore was a distant memory. Later that day Sham and I rode Transperth buses to get familiar with the mid race section. I was ready: physically and mentally.

Race Day

I woke up at 4am on race day. The start was scheduled for 6:30am, 30 minutes after the marathon start which former MacRitchie 25 team mate Michael Craig was doing. I followed my usual pre-race morning routine – coffee, oatmeal, toilet, shower, etc. – and left the hotel to run the two miles or so to the start with Sham at 5:20ish. The conditions were looking good. The sky was crystal clear, promising bright sun, and the temperatures in the low 60s F. But the wind was strong enough to leave flags bolt sideways.

image

Warming up

At the West Australia Marathon Club (WMAC) – the venue for the start and finish – there was a long line of marathon runners waiting to get their tags checked. So instead of continuing my warm-up I joined the tail end of the line to ensure I was one of the first of the half marathon runners to get checked.

The marathon got underway 15 minutes late but the half was only delayed a few minutes. This would exacerbate the job of overtaking. Both races shared the same course – an out and back, retracing our steps precisely, along the Swan River with the marathon runners repeating – and this delay would mean half marathon runners catching the slower marathon runners sooner than later. Each race comprised all age groups and both sexes.

image

Early stages and already tracking Kosgei.

The gun went and I quickly settled into the large lead group, as video evidence shows (@ 40 seconds), comprising all the main contenders. Those contenders included a number of Kenyans. This was the first time Kenya had a team at the WMA. Two, Stephen Kihara and Joel Kipkemoi Kosgei, wore M50 tags though it subsequently transpired that Kihara was actually M55. Other overall contenders included Australians Bruce Graham (M50) (1st in the XC, 3rd in the 5000m (16:14) and 10000m (33:49)), John Meagher (M50) (4th in the 10000m in 34:24 and a 2:32 marathon from 2015) and David Sweeney (M55) (gold medalist in the XC, 5000m (16:43) and 10000m (33:15)), Dutchman Patrick Kwist (M45) (gold medalist in the 5000m (15:38), bronze in the 10000m (32:10) and M45 winner of the half in Lyon in 2015 (1:10:12)), Swede Anders Dahl (M50) (3rd in the XC, 3rd in the 5000m (16:13) and 5th in the 10000m (34:52)), Czech Vladimir Srb (M35) (3rd in the M35 half in Lyon (1:11:48)), and Portuguese Davide Figueiredo (M45) (4th in 10000m (32:32) and 4th in the M45 half at the 2015 European Masters Champs (1:08:48)).

My game plan was simple. To sit tight, track the lead M50 runners and then try to run away in the final 5K.  And so for the first few Ks I sat in behind Kihara and Kosgei and ran alongside Sweeney. The narrow pedestrian / bike path left little room for error and no more than three abreast. The course had kilometer rather than mile markers and no clocks. My Garmin showed 5:24 for mile 1 and 5:29 for mile 2. It felt effortless. But in the third mile the Kenyans, led by their M40 runners, and Figuerido injected some pace and got away. Kihara and Kosgei opened a small gap on me which I then worked to slowly close.

image2

The view of Perth from the banks of the Swan River.

The wind started to pick up as we approached the Narrows Bridge. The course was also proving twisty and tight in parts forcing me to run a few meters on the soft verge. l covered both miles 3 and 4 in 5:27 but I’d ran much of those two miles at 5:15 pace. I overtook Kosgei approaching the bridge and caught Kihara on it. Srb was just ahead and Kwist and Sweeney just behind.

The small incline onto the bridge combined with a blustery wind slowed the pace. Soon after the descent off the bridge the four of us settled into a tight pack. I sat behind to get relief from the strong head wind towards the half way point next to the University of Western Australia’s campus in Nedlands. By now I was quite hot and perspiring. I grabbed a water at the drinks station and did the same at two more: it was in the mid-70s F.

While the course was very fast – flat, straight and smooth surface – runner traffic was starting to prove an obstacle. We were catching and having to overtake the tail end marathon runners on the left side of the bike path while dodge head on collisions with the lead marathoners on the right side. Not surprisingly the wind and congestion slowed our pace. Miles 5 and 6 were covered in 5:31 and 5:37. Soon after the sharp U turn at the half way, just after seeing Graham who was still 100m short of the turn, I decided to inject some pace.

I figured the wind would be largely behind on the 3 mile stretch back to the Narrows and that the man to beat for gold was a heavy breathing Kihara. Kwist and Srb came with me, Kihara dropped away, and for the next 3 miles we traded strides and places. As we competed against each other the pace quickened from 5:35 for mile 7 to 5:25 for mile 8. A few tight turns on the approach to the bridge and the short but sharp incline onto it with winds gusting haphazardly slowed mile 9 to 5:32.

Once off the bridge traffic started becoming problematic again. The path was full of the lead marathoners on their second lap running towards us and locals venturing out to walk dogs etc. Mile 10, covered in 5:40, proved the slowest mile of the race but fast enough for Kwist and I to get away from Srb. We ran side by side, dodging runners and walkers as necessary. I felt strong and able to maintain the pace but was hurting.

We covered the 11th mile in 5:35. The finish venue came into view with around two miles to run. I kept pressing Kwist: I was sure I was a clear first place M50 – and that felt great – but I was keen to beat a fast M45. Some 100 metres ahead, just a little too far for me to chase, I could make out John Sang (KEN, M45). Kwist and I ran mile 12 in 5:36. As we closed in on the finish I kicked hard and found myself running alone around the WAMC complex and onto the finishing straight, a bumpy unpaved surface made good by an all-weather mat. I crossed the line in 1:12:47, a few seconds ahead of Kwist after a last mile under 5:30.

image

Final few meters run on a mat (the clock relates to the marathon runners who started over 15 minutes earlier).

I finished 6th overall. Sweeney was next over the line in 1:13:42 (the Strava FlyBy shows us head to head) more than enough to get his 4th gold and likely the best age grade performance across all age groups. Now there’s a target for me in 2021! My nearest M50 rivals were some way behind – Graham was 2nd in 1:14:58 and Meagher third in 1:15:59. Kihara ran 1:15:15 but then turned out to be M55. Kosgei ran 1:19:31 so clearly paid the price for the fast early pace. Kenyans dominated the overall race (M35-85) taking the top 3 places. Francis Komu was overall winner in 1:11:06. See here for full results, pictures (M50555), Strava data and Garmin data.

Post Race

Victory was especially sweet. I was a world champion. Accepted many good caliber M50 runners were absent. But you can only beat those that make the trip and toe the line. My time takes me to the top of the UK rankings for the half to go with that for the 10 miles and marathon. And had there been less traffic and wind I would have ducked under 1:12. The Garmin data points, with Bronx 10 and Greater Manchester Marathon equivalents in parentheses) are as follows: VO2 est. of 59 (66 and 64), average heart rate of 173 (163 and 180) and maximum heart rate of 183 (196 and 201), average cadence of 177 (180 and 178) and average stride length of 1.64m (1.66m and 1.53m).

image

Sweeney and I sharing notes.

For the next few hours I did what I do best: talking to fellow runners, mainly lengthy postmortems of the race, and eating and drinking whatever free stuff was up for grabs. Finishing first meant I finally got to stand at the top of the podium with the national anthem ringing out. I felt full of pride. I also got the championship’s mascot – a soft toy quokka with WMA neck tie.

image4

On the podium with Graham (left) and Meagher (right).

Coincidentally another Paul Thompson, an M60 running for Team GB, also won a gold. By now the wind was threatening to be gale force. A photograph backdrop blew over, taking an athlete with it.  I got to revisit the podium, this time to collect M50 team silver with team mates Christopher Hollinshead (6th M50 in 1:19:11) and Graham Bungay (9th M50 in 1:22:35) behind Australia.

image

Paul Thompson (M60) and Paul Thompson (M50).

image5

TeamGB M50 team receiving the silver medal

image6

Gold and silver medals.

The quokka is now resident in the US but might head to the UK to settle. He’s concerned he’ll get evicted by an incoming Trump Government. It’s rare for an Aussie to emigrate to the UK. Troopy was happy though concerned fellow Aussies might try him for treason for coaching a Pommy. He may have to give up any designs on returning to live in Australia, even if he can’t stomach life under Trump.

The WMA was a great experience, not least because of the camaraderie amongst masters runners from all over the world. I’m now making tentative plans to do the European Masters Athletics Championships (maybe the 10000m and half marathon – there is no marathon and indeed will be no more marathons nor track 10000m at future WMAC) in Aarhus, Denmark next July / August and then the next WMAC in Malaga, Spain in 2018.

Race Report: World Masters Cross Country Champs, Perth, Australia, October 26, 2016

by Paul Thompson (and pictures by Shamala Thompson)

My first ever race in the land down under went better than hoped and in the final reckoning proved a classic Pommy verses Aussie showdown with the usual outcome. Now before I start let me warn you this is my longest post ever! But I hope you hang in there for the full distance to hear how I walked away with two silver medals and what it meant to me in the pecking order of what I’ve done that’s given me the most joy and fulfillment.

Having schlepped the 30 or more hours to get here, via Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific where Sham and I had a 10 hour layover spent in the comfort of one of the world’s best first class lounges thanks to my frequent flyer status, I spent a few days resting and getting adjusted to the 12 hour time difference from New York.

This was my first crack at a World Masters competition. I’d toyed with Lyon 2015 but figured I had a better chance of winning something as a newly minted M50 in Perth, Australia in 2016 than a 49 year old in a M45-49 race. Perth is a fabulous city but it has to be one of the most geographically isolated major cities of the world. It is home to two million and like many US cities spreads as far as the eye can see. It’s very low rise and suburban. Folk live a comfortable life with great weather – lows close to freezing but highs topping 40C (100F). It’s generally dry and quite windy.

While this was my first World Masters I was acquainted with many competing thanks to Facebook (including groups like this one). In fact Facebook blurs the distinction as to who we know – we can know so much about someone, including the data points of their morning run, their pending birthday, and lots of useless stuff we like to share, without having actually met them face to face. And owing to posted pictures so many are familiar like a long lost family member or friend.

Sham and I booked an apartment on Airbnb in a residential district close to the main venue – Western Australian Athletics Stadium. It turned out the place was barely 400 meters – imagine – from the cross country (XC) course. So ironically come race day, having been resident in Floreat and running on or around the XC course for a few days, I was the local athlete with home advantage.

I did a lot of homework for this race – about the climate, the courses (for XC and half marathon, my other race) and competitors. The Airbnb host gave me the low down on the course by email – flat grass fields. And so it proved. The fastest XC course I’ve experienced. Four 2K laps, like Boulder’s golf course for the USATF XC Champs in 2014 and 2015 only without the altitude to contend with.

Not knowing much if anything about the runners, especially the Aussies, I spent some time Googling those on the list of entrants. If I could run sub-28 minutes it seemed I ought to be able to breach the top ten and be part of a three man medal winning Team GB. The only thing that might take the edge off performances was the sunny weather and 70F. As it turned out sun burn was more a risk than heat exhaustion.

While preparations for these championships was all at sea until late August, since then things had gone very well. On location in Perth I quickly got into my stride with steady runs in the neighborhood, the highlight being a steady 10 miles around Bold Park and the nearby beach, and a light speed workout on the grass oval adjacent to the XC course. By race day I knew the course – blade by blade (of grass).

The race was at 1pm so I spent morning trotting back and forth to the venue to cheer Team GB and Team USA – the first race of M70 and above was at 8am. The highlight of my spectating was seeing Kathryn Martin (USA, W65), who lives in the New York area, settle into second and then gradually close a big gap on the leading W60 to one second on the line. Kathryn was entered in multiple races and likely would return to the US with a Michael Phelps’ like medal haul.

image

Kathryn Martin en route to 1st W65

The M70 and above saw a 90 year old Romanian complete the race. And the W50-59 race, immediately before mine, saw Lucy Elliott (GB, W50) do like Kathryn Martin only to win on the finish line! Watching it was hard not to feel part inspired, part emotional as to how what motivated these older athletes to achieve so much against such odds. What a way to spend your retirement, pushing relentlessly to see what the mind could convince the body to achieve. This was not a place to feel sorry for oneself but to feel the spirit of shared determination, commitment and sacrifice – to know that everyone, no matter age or origin, we were on the same weird wavelength of life. One that most do not tune to.

image

M60 competitors sprinting for the finish line

And finally we were off. Two guys bolted – Bruce Graham (AUS) and Anders Dahl (SWE), both M50 – and within the first 600 meters built a 40 metre lead over David Sweeney (AUS, M55) with me a few metres further back. During the first lap the leading two held their advantage but did not build on it. I decided to work with Sweeney to close them down. I did much of the work but hey David was 5 years older than me so I felt I owed him.

image

Sweeney (AUS, M55) and I closing down the leaders

The four of us were locked together for the second lap, Sweeney and I tucked behind Graham and Dahl. As we passed the start and finish area – placed barely meters apart – I heard the commentator announce “Paul Thompson, Great Britain is just behind the leaders and looking comfortable”. Indeed I was and that just did not seem right – both in the illogical and inappropriate senses of the word. So on the third lap I decided to see whether I was in fact as comfortable as I appeared and took the lead. No point finishing second and wondering what might have been.

image

Graham (AUS, M50) leads Dahl (SWE, M50), me and Sweeney (AUS, M55)

Once in the lead I only know one way to run. To gradually turn the screw until such time as my challengers fall away. Problem is runners of our generation have a habit of just hanging on as if life depended on it. So I spent the next 3Ks with three runners on my tail. No matter what pressure I applied I knew they were in the wings.

But it felt amazing to be leading a world championship race. Sure I’ve taken my time. I was never remotely good enough for decades. But I was in this for the duration and as I aged, more slowly running wise than most, I edged my way up the rankings. And now I was able to trade strides with the best runners in the world aged 50 and above. True, many better runners may not have made the trip, but those of us in Perth had. Just Do It.

After a lifetime of running for club (Kettering Town Harriers (Kettering, UK), South London Harriers (Croydon, UK), Holmfirth Harriers (Honley, UK), MacRitchie Runners (Singapore), Pacesetters (Malaysia), Warren Street (New York, USA) and now Urban Athletics (New York, USA), school (Kettering Boys’), town (Kettering), county (Northamptonshire), university (Warwick), region (North of England) here I was wearing the colors of Team GB. While I’ve been away from the UK since 1998, feel fully adjusted to life in the US and likely to stay for good, the one country I wanted to run for was the one from where I originally came, that shaped who I am, for better for worse.

Out in front felt somewhat surreal. I had the eyes of everyone – Sham, friends and Team GB participants and supporters – watching, cheering and wiling me on, and the commentator talking about me. I was full to bursting with pride. But the pain of trying to stay in front was real.

image

Out in front with lap remaining

With less than a lap to go team mate Ben Reynolds, a XC absentee concentrating on the 5000m and 10000m, shouted “they’re in single file”. I knew what this meant. They were hurting, at full stretch. But with around 600 metres Graham was clearly not hurting enough. He skipped past me. I jumped on his tail but he gapped me quickly. In the final straight he steadily pulled away. I sprinted for all it was worth to hold off Sweeney, not in my age but someone I had to beat since he was in the older age group! I’m so ageist.

Graham won in 27:15 (1st M50), I was 2nd in 27:18 (2nd M50), Sweeney 3rd in 27:19 (1st M55) and Dahl 4th in 27:23 (3rd M50). It seems it was one of the best races of the day for spectating and four of us had been locked together jockeying for first for 6 of the 8Ks. Team Australia took gold (their 3rd M50 was in 5th M50) while Team GB (Simon Anderson, 28:21 in 6th and Bashir Hussain, 29:26 in 8th) got silver. Two World Championship medals in my first ever championship. Click here for full results of M50-54 and race video.

I followed my usual post race routine. I stood around and talked with fellow runners. And talked. Not just for England but for Great Britain. What a great bunch of fellow runners. Even the Germans. We are the fiercest of rivals. But only for the duration of the race. The rest of the time we are friends. Friends that may have little contact beyond Facebook but friends who, like our better halves, know us – what motivates and drives us, how we think. We don’t know why we do it. All we know is we have to.

The finale was the medal ceremony. Finishing second meant I failed to stand and hear God Save the Queen ring out. Instead I was actually doing my warm down when I got called. As was Dahl. We both belatedly realized our error and convinced the organizers to rerun the medal ceremony so that Graham had some company. Soon after we then did the team ceremony when I was joined by team mates Andersen and Bashir. Two silver gongs. Even a whinging Pom like me had to be happy with that. No way! Next up the half marathon on November 6 and hopefully two gold.

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

by Paul Thompson (and pictures by Shamala Thompson) 

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

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

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

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

img_9114

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

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

img_9125

Steep descent to the finish line on 161st Street.

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

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

javijohnbronx10

Javi and John duking it out.

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

img_9149

Almost there.

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

img_9151

Javier is 3rd UA runner and 3rd masters.

img_9144

Jason is first UA runner in 53:26.

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

img_9136

First man home.

img_9155

First woman home.

Race Report: 2016 Percy Sutton Harlem 5K Run, Harlem, New York, August 27, 2016

by Paul Thompson (and pictures by Shamala Thompson) 

Australians, coach Lee Troop (‘Troopy’) included, will tell you that us Poms are a whinging lot. On the post race warm-down some poor unsuspecting runners from Brooklyn Road Runners who chose to run with me got this whinging in spades. With a face as long as next week I waxed lyrical about how I was struggling to shrug off the effects of age and injury.

Going into this race coach Troopy had me tapering with reduced miles and easier workouts. We hoped this would allow my long standing IT band issue to gain some reprieve from 70 mile weeks packed with hard workouts. But as I warmed up – jogging from Marcus Garvey Park where Sham and I had parked the car to the start area near St. Nicholas Park – I could feel the now familiar nagging pain down my right thigh.

Barely half a mile into the race the course hits a steep ramp while turning sharp left then right in quick succession. At that point I found the power on my right side wanting. As I favored the left side I started to tire quickly and saw team mate Carlo Agostinetto and masters rival John Henwood slide past and quickly open up a gap. The gap kept growing as we made our way up a long steady incline.

IMG_8837

Carlo battling it out with Henwood (A3405)

 

By the right turn at the mile mark, reached in 5:15, I felt like my race – what I had to give – – was exhausted. I felt defeated, in sharp contrast to my last outings in Harlem in 2014 and 2015 when the mile was the point where I started racing in earnest. My target of 16 flat was already slipping away from me.

As the course gently rolled south towards City College – which incidentally is a particularly nice part of the course as you run along a shaded tree lined avenue lined with proud town homes – I was in damage limitation mode, working at minimizing the deficit to runners up ahead whom I usually beat or battle it out in the finishing straight.

IMG_8839

Just after the two mile mark

 

Soon after 2 miles, reached in 10:35 following a 5:20 mile, the course takes a nose dive, descending steeply and taking in a ninety degree left turn. The sharp descent proved particularly uncomfortable for my IT band. It was clearly unhappy at running fast downhill. Fortunately the descent is as short as it is steep and I was soon on St. Nicholas Avenue running north, hammering the half mile straight into the finish.

The finishing straight is for me the least enjoyable part of this race. Until at least I’m at the finish. It’s long, flat and for the most part straight as a die. I count down the streets – from 127th to 138th St.- and eventually, after what seems like a whole morning, I’m over the line.

IMG_8861

Suffering the long finishing straight

 

I rallied a little in the closing stages, clocking 5:12 for mile three and overtaking at least one runner. I ran 16:31, good for 32nd overall. John Henwood pushed me into 2nd masters but I was 1st M50-54 and top AG with 89.4%. It was a long way shy of my 16:17 at the 5K point at Gate River 15K earlier this year. NYRR’s video captures the race highlights.

A small contingent of Urban Athletics runners excelled. We managed to kill the men’s masters competition while Stefano Piana-Agostinetti, 1st M45-49 in 16:42, and Carlo Agostinetto, 3rd M35-39 in 16:01, ran PRs. Meanwhile on the UA women’s side Fiona Bayly ran 18:05, topping masters and getting a 90% AG, while Maggie Mircovich ran her debut for UA in 21:52 coming 2nd in W1-14.

IMG_8846

Jim Saint-Amour, anchor man for UA’s masters team running 17:22

So now you see why I’m whinging. As I warmed down I my IT band was sore and I started to wonder whether I’d run the World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth, Australia in 8 weeks time. If, however, I can quickly park this problem and rediscover the form I showed last fall when I ran 1:11 then a medal in the half marathon is on the cards. That’s a big if from where I’m (painfully) sitting.

Race Report: 2016 NYRR Team Championships 5 Mile, Central Park, New York, July 30, 2016

by Paul Thompson (and pictures by Shamala Thompson) 

This was my first team championship race in new team colors – Urban Athletics (UA). Unfortunately the extreme humid conditions, together with a recent heavy travel schedule and IT band issues that had trimmed both fitness and confidence, made this a race to forget. The one consolation is that many others had the same experience and as they say a problem shared is a problem halved. Interestingly the NYRR race report thought the conditions were OK: clearly their author did not run the race!

The past few weeks have proven one of the more challenging as far as running was concerned. I notched up over 50 hours of flying – to Kuala Lumpur and Nairobi – and this took its toll on my running routine. I’m no fan of treadmills in hotels, preferring instead to venture out onto unfamiliar roads and, hopefully, parks and trails. Kuala Lumpur (see here) and Nairobi (see here) were far from obliging.

Both cities are pedestrian unfriendly – a combination of heavy traffic, poor or non existent pavements, crowded postage stamp size city parks. I used to live in KL and in this blog post rated it on par with Singapore a few years ago but a recent spate of unchecked development has left it a permanent building site. As for Nairobi the best bet if you have time, which I didn’t, is to get a taxi to Karura Forest. Nevertheless I got in around 60 miles per week.

Right less of the whinging pom and back to the race. Sham drove us into the city and we parked up in south Harlem just above Central Park at W 111th St. and 7th Avenue. Parking, as always, proved hard to find and we ended up in a spot that was slightly sunken and had captured as almost much water as Harlem Meer. It looked a candidate for a sink hole.

I jogged to the start area where I saw team mates gathering. They were discussing ways of coping with the humidity and had just come to a consensus that going topless for the warm up might make a difference. After jogging around for a while and watching the elite women come in, including Harriott Kelly UA’s highest placed man or woman in 6th overall in 28:52.

IMG_8596

Stripping down for the warm up

Jonathan Kline had the honor, and did us the running community the honor, of singing the national anthem, just prior to the start. He then jumped in and ran it like the rest of us. I guess it was a different kind of warm up, stretching the vocal cords rather than the hamstrings.

I formed part of a phalanx of UA runners that ran the first mile of more together. For a while we felt like Team Sky in the Tour de France. For a while did not last as long as we’d have liked and I was no Chris Froome. Passing the first mile near the Great Hill in 5:13 I felt quite strong but the signs of slowing were ominous. The Great Hill counter clockwise is the toughest climb in the park and I was far from relaxed as we crested it.

IMG_8617

From left to right Shea, me, Jimmy (Javier behind), Greg Cass (CPTC) and Jason

In the second mile I found myself in a pack with old friend and foe and fellow M50 Jimmy Lynch as well as team mates Carlo Agostinetto, Jason Lakritz, Javier Rodriguez and newbie Shea Coltrain. The undulating second mile slowed me to a 5:29 mile, putting me outside of goal pace for a 26:30 finishing time. Around the two mile mark I started to come off the back of the group with Carlo leading the charge. The group now included fellow masters John Henwood and Peter Brady, both whom I’d beaten in the Retro 4 Miler.

The third mile offered some respite as it’s largely descending. I passed the third mile mark, just before the sharp left hander onto the 72nd St. Transverse in 15:57, making a 5:20 third mile. At this point Peter, fresh from 1st place 800m in 2:00 for M40-44 at the USATF national outdoors, stepped off the course apparently injured.

If the third mile was a respite, the fourth was a reckoning. I clawed my way up Cat Hill and by now my team mates, bar Shea, were way ahead. The fourth mile took 5:47, about the same as my average pace for the marathon back in April.

In the final mile, with all the hills behind me, I was able to lift the pace slightly. I edged away from Jimmy and started closing on a rapidly slowing Javier. With 800m left I was with Javier and had hoped to pull him into the finish. But then two guys, one a masters runner Guillermo Pineda Morales, jumped us and I had to slam on the accelerator to try and fend them off – which Sham’s photographic evidence below proves I failed to do, committing the cardinal sin of being overtaken on the finish line.

I crossed the finish line in 27:18 for 42nd place, first M50, third M40 behind John Henwood and Guillermo (though official results show me in front of him),  and first age grade with 88.16%. But it was the first time I ran outside 27 minutes for a 5 miler in the park. 27 minutes is the new 26 minutes.

The most enduring, and perhaps only, positive memory about the whole race experience was the incredible support from the female spectators, most of whom had raced before us. It was the first time I can remember, and I’ve been doing them since 2005, that the women raced first. So at the start, at the west end of the 102nd Transverse, and the finish – we were greeted (!) by a crowd of screaming women who, despite being exhausted from their own race, come out to cheer at full throttle. Indeed it was reminiscent of passing Wellesley College in the Boston Marathon only three times and with a cheering squad with much bigger lungs.

IMG_8657

Getting overtaken on the finishing line

I was fourth scorer for UA which bagged fourth place (the women 5th). Ahead of me were James Brisbois (26:43), Jason Lakritz (26:53) and Carlo Agostinetto (27:01) while behind me Javier Rodriguez (27:24), Shea Coltrain (27:39), Stefano Piana-Agostinetti (28:54), Jim Saint-Amour 29:00, Alex Lorton (29:13) and Fabio Casadio (29:26) rounding out the ten man scoring team. The masters team finished 1st, just like the women (led home by Fiona Bayly who at age 49 was first masters and first AG), comprising me, Javier, Stefano, Jim and Matt Chaston (29:44). The M50 team of Adam Kuklinski (31:25), Paul Wong (33:41) and I was second.

So all round a good day for the team despite many disappointed with their own results. Post race we retreated to the UA store for beer and bagels and any disappointment was quickly forgotten. The next day I got out and felt great, running a solid 12 miles. I spent most of the run thinking through how I can run at a faster pace than the day before for a half marathon in order to stand a chance of a medal at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth in late October / early November (I’m also entered for the 8K XC and 5000m). Hopefully by then my ears will have stopped ringing.

IMG_8639

Jamie Brisbois approaching the finish

IMG_8644

Jason Lakritz 2nd for UA

IMG_8649

Carlo Agostinetto 3rd for UA

IMG_8661

Javier Rodriguez 5th for UA

IMG_8663

Shea Coltrain 6th for UA

IMG_8673

Jim Saint-Amour and Stefano Piana-Agostinetto, 7th & 8th for UA

IMG_8676

Alex Lorton 9th for UA

IMG_8679

Fabio Casadio, 10th and final scorer for UA

IMG_8685

UA post race team photo