Race Report: Virgin London Marathon, April 23, 2017

by Paul Thompson (photos by Shamala Thompson)

One Week On

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

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

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

Build-Up

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

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

Final Countdown

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

The last supper

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

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

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

Early Miles – To Cutty Sark 

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

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

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

Crowds at Canada Water

Cutty Sark to Half Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Keitany on route to a world record

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

Laura Thweatt heading to a PR and sixth woman overall

Half Way to Docklands

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

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

Still going strong at Canary Wharf

Docklands to The Embankment

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

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

In the final mile at Westminster

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

The Finish

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

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

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

Bird Cage Walk

Post Race Analysis

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

Martin and me

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

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

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

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

Fastest siblings (to be confirmed)

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

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

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

Advertisements

Race Report: UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, New York, April 9, 2017

by Paul Thompson (photos by Shamala Thompson)

Today was a test. To see whether my hamstring tendinitis was in check and whether I’d maintained my fitness despite abstinence from long runs and workouts the past four weeks. I think I passed with flying colors. The acid test will of course be how the legs feel when I wake up tomorrow. But from where I’m comfortably sitting it’s looking hopeful.

The London Marathon is two weeks today. When coach Lee Troop talked me into it back in early January I set my mind on a 2:30 ‘stretch’ goal. By late February I was on track. As indeed were my arch rivals Graham Green, Rob Downs and others. But then I felt a small pain in the butt, both literal and metaphorical. I self diagnosed hamstring tendinitis. I could feel it before the Washington Heights 5K and even more afterwards.

Since then I’ve been traveling a lot for work, city hopping across Europe. I’ve got the miles in but on Troop’s sound advice steered clear of 2 hour plus runs and workouts. Strengthening and stretching got squeezed out by a heavy work load and work socializing in the evenings. And I failed to find suitable physios and the like while away to help me rehabilitate. On arrival back in New York I sought out emergency treatment from Russell Stram (acupuncture) and John Henwood (deep tissue massage). The body responded well.

And so here I was. On the start line of the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K. I last raced this some years back. In 2007, I ran 31:35, my fastest ever 10K as a masters runner. But I lost interest in the race when it fell off the team points schedule. It’s now back on the roster. As well as a test for me, it was crucial for Urban Athletics to follow up its great performance at the Washington Heights 5K  and put in a good showing.

At the starting line

Conditions were near perfect. Temperatures around 55 F, bright sun and slight wind. The only thing standing in the way of fast times was Central Park’s roller coaster course which included the counter clockwise traverse of the northern hills. I quickly got into my running but not as quick as Jason Lakritz UA’s fastest runner. My legs felt rested, the hamstring barely noticeable. I passed one mile in 5:10 with team mates Javier Rodriguez, Carlo Agostinetto, and Jamie Brisbois in close company. John Henwood was just behind.

UA runners led by Jason Lakritz get off to a strong start

Javier was somewhat nervous as he was 10 seconds up on his target pace of 5:20, good for a PR around 33. I was just intent on chasing the first American lady. Natosha Rogers has pedigree and I suspected would hold a good even pace throughout. And she did. I broadly tracked her. During the race one (male) runner after another pulled alongside and one by one she got away from them. The same fate would befall Javier and I.

Javier and I passed 2 miles in 10:20. We then descended to Harlem Meer before negotiating the imposing 600 meter climb of the northern hill, the hardest climb in either direction of Central Park. Javier and Natosha started to edge away from me. I passed 3 miles in 16:05 and 5K in 16:19, 17 seconds faster than Washington Heights 5K.

Javier ahead of Paul in the 5th mile

By now it was clear that the hamstring would not scupper my race, that my legs and lungs were ready for some serious punishment. The fourth mile was possibly the hardest with a significant net gain and undulating roadway throughout. I failed to see the 4 miler marker but extrapolating from my Garmin 235 it was around 21:30. Into the fifth mile I realized there was gas in the tank and plenty of runners just ahead to chase. So I chased.

Time to get serious

By the 8K / 5 mile mark, passed in 26:18 / 26:28, I was back on terms with Javier and Natosha. We had momentum and edged past Phillip Falk of Central Park Track Club, Ned Booth of North Brooklyn Runners and Maclean O’donnell (16:04 in the Washington Heights 5K) of Dashing Whippets Track Club.

I now started to put the hammer down. When I do, few can match my momentum in the final mile. Natosha was one of those few. We gapped Javier then traded strides before she out kicked me in the finishing straight. One of the most tenacious runners I’ve raced. She did not yield an inch and then took a few yards.

My finishing time of 32:44 was good for 30th overall and 1st masters. It was my fastest 10K since April 2011. The age grade of 92.57% AG was one of my best ever after 2015’s Bronx 10 Mile and Grete’s Great Gallop 13.1 and 2007’s Cherry Blossom 10 Mile. Here’s my Garmin stats.

Natosha’s time was 32:46, slower than me due either to my starting a few meters behind or else NYRR messing up the results (again). Natosha was runner up in the 2012 US Olympic Trials for 10000m but did not get to London as she failed to get the A qualifying time. In 2013, she flirted with retirement. Imagine at half my age!

Javier logged 32:48, smashing his PR. Beating Henwood secured 1st M40-44 and 2nd masters overall. Jason Lakritz was first UA runner in 31:53 (19th overall, 5th M25-29). Other individual top 10 UA placings were: James Brisbois 33:41, 7th M20-24; Carlo Agostinetto 33:47, 5th M35-39; Matt Chaston 34:24, 1st M45-49; Stefano Piana-Agostinetto 36:27, 7th M45-49; Peter Heimgartner 37:29, 10th M45-49; Jonathan Schindel 37:28, 2nd M50-54; Fiona Bayly 37:57, 1st women’s masters and 1st W45-49; Adam Kuklinski 38:39, 5th M50-54; Ellen Basile 40:16, 2nd W40-44; Jennifer Harvey 43:06, 4th W45-49; Kieran Sikso 44:57, 5th W40-44; and Kaori Takai 47:57, 9th W45-49.

Jason in the finishing straight

Like Washington Heights this was a big day for UA team placings. UA were 3rd open team (Jason, me, Javier, James and Carlo) behind West Side and NYAC if you ‘discount’ the NIKE elite team. UA were also 4th open women’s team (Fiona, Ellen, Jennifer, Kieran and Kaori), 1st men’s masters (me, Javier and Matt Chaston), 1st women’s masters (Fiona, Ellen and Jennifer), and 1st men’s M50 (me, Jonathan and Adam).

Fiona Bayly storming to 1st place masters

In the overall standings both the men’s and women’s were close run affairs. In the men’s race, Sam Chelanga of the United States won in a sprint finish over Thomas Longosiwa of Kenya, with both men timed in 28:21.  The women’s race saw Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia beat Magdalene Masai of Kenya, 31:37 to 31:44. Natosha Rogers of the United States was seventh in 32:46. The course records of 27:35 and 30:44 survived.

Leaders in the 5th mile with the 1st and 2nd place runners at front

So it seems I passed the test.  London is calling  The M50 field is loaded – top 3 Brits in 2017 half marathon rankings Graham Green (1:13:20), Rob Downs (1:14:02) and Nigel Rackham (1:14:14: I was watching this in Reading nursing hamstring) against Martin Fiz, former World Marathon Champion and 2:31 in tough Boston race in 2016. A Spanish Galleon verses some British frigates.

Race Report: Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K, New York, March 5, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

Today was possibly the coldest conditions I’ve ever run in. Leaving the house to drive south at 7:15am, my weather app was showing 12F (-11C), feeling like 2F (-18C). The bright sunshine was deceptive. It promised some warmth but gave none. Fortunately Urban Athletics came away with a truck load of team and individual awards, topped by first woman, enough to make it more than worth braving the cold. While some members were running in new, older, age groups, all of us felt like we were running in a new Ice Age.

When I first said to coach ‘Troopy’ that I wanted to run this for the team he suggested I run train through and not allow it to interfere with my London Marathon preparations. That’s what I did when racing the 2016 Gridiron 4M last February while building for the Greater Manchester Marathon. I’m not big on ‘training through’. I like to think I can give every race a fair shot. So I was relieved that  Troopy changed his mind. After hill repeats on Monday and 14 miles on Tuesday, he then adjusted my training to allow some tapering. I ended the week, Saturday, with 62 miles, almost 20 less than the previous week. And on Fridayt I saw DrStu who treated tightness where the glute meets the hamstring.

After parking the car at Marcus Garvey Park, Sham and I ran the 3.5 miles to the start via St. Nicholas Avenue. It was a warm-up of sorts. We arrived with barely 10 minutes to go, just enough time to squeeze in a few strides and ‘relieve’ myself behind the locked toilet block. Huddling with UA team mates in the starting corral offered some collective warmth but some face muscles were not working making for slurred conversation. It was a relief to hear the gun. Only 16 minutes until I got reunited with my warm clothing.

img_4703

Jason Lakritz, leading UA finisher

On the opening half mile climb I tucked into a group comprising team mates Javier Rodriguez, Carlo Agostinetto and Jamie Brisbois. Jason Lakritz was in a group several meters ahead of us. Several other masters runners were in close proximity including Peter Brady and John Henwood. Gradually Carlo and Javier edged away with John on their coat tails. I covered the first mile in 5:21.

The course then descends for some 500 meters into Fort Tyron Park. I was now chasing John. Carlo and Javier had gotten away. As we circled the Cloisters and started to head home – this 5K is an out and back with the Cloisters marking the lowest point of the undulating course – for the first time I can remember I snatched a view of the Hudson River.

The second mile is symmetrical – it descends for 500 meters, circles the Cloisters for 600 meters and then winds its way back up for 500 meters. I passed mile 2, the highest point of the course, in 10:43. At this point one is tempted to think one can cruise down to the finish. That’s a mistake. There’s still a steady 300 meter climb to tackle before the course drops down to the finish.  At the crest of that climb I pulled alongside John only to have him accelerate away.

In that final 800 meters of gently descending roadway I lost a few places and crossed the finish line in 16:36 per the official results, good for 33rd overall. It was a few seconds shy of my 16:30 target. My Garmin data is here but it’s mixed with my long warm-up.

img_4705

Crossing the finish line in 16:36

Javier won the masters in 16:09, John in 2nd in 16:31 and me 3rd, 1st M50 and top AG with 89.63%. UA won big. Harriott Kelly won the women’s race in 17:16 and Fiona Bayly, just shy of her 50th birthday, matched Javier by winning the women’s masters in 19:06. UA won the team races for masters men, masters women and veteran men (M50) and came 3rd overall for men and 5th overall for women.

Harriott was gushing with joy, pride and relief. Typically understated and super modest for a short while she wanted, quite rightly, to remind everyone “I won” and get the plaudits. That feeling I could tell she had was that priceless feeling that comes when all the hard work and commitment pays big dividends and you come out on top. Well done Harriott!

Other UA individual top 10 age group placers were as follows: Jason Lakritz 9th overall and 5th M25-29 in 15:46; Carlo Agostinetto 1st M35-39 in 16:10; James Brisbois 2nd M20-24 in 16:55; Matt Chaston 2nd M45-49 in 16:59; Aaron Mendelsohn 6th M40-44 in 17:06; Stefano Piana-Agostinetti 7th M45-49 in 17:47; Jonathan Schindel 3rd  M50-54 in 17:54; Theo Dassin 2nd M15-19 in 17:57; Adam Kuklinski 4th M50-54 in 18:44; Ellen Basile 2nd W40-44 in 19:25; Paul Wong 10th M50-54 in 19:32; Jennifer Harvey 3rd W45-49 in 20:17; Dominique Saint-Louis 1st W50-54 in 20:27; and Isobel Porteous 4th W15-19 in 23:53.

The NYRR race report, which runs a close second to this one, plus pictures are here and the full results, the format of which I’m still trying to master (!), are here.

img_4715

From left to right: Jacob Salant, me, Aaron Mendelsohn, Jamie Brisbois, Javier Rodriguez, Carlo Agostinetto, Jason Lakritz, Stefano Piana-Agostinetti, and Harriott Kelly

I won’t calculate the average age of our placers. Suffice to say we are working hard to lower it! Meantime our mature runners are the best in the New York area and look amazing.

Preparing for London and Avoiding Fake Injuries

by Paul Thompson

Back in January I was in Boulder CO.. I was there to plan and kick start my 2017 campaign. I landed at Denver International Airport (DIA) late morning. It was snowing, there was a 13 -inch deep carpet of snow and it was -17C. I arrived, as I explained a few weeks before, unsure whether to run any marathon in ’17, let alone which one, and when. After 10 minutes with coach Lee Troop I was doing London on April 23. It speaks volumes for Troopy’s power of persuasion and my belief in him. It was 14 January, 14 weeks to London.

Flatirons, Boulder under blanket of snow

It’s now eight weeks to London. Yesterday I closed out an 80 mile week with an easy 23 miles in Central Park. It was almost 70F, the sun was out, I was running (and talking!) with Urban Athletics team mates and Mike McManus, and I was injury free. Life is good. Let’s hope it stays like that.

On January 14,  Troopy said if I was to run a marathon in ’17 better it be a big occasion one. I ran 2:32:02 in ’16 at the super fast Greater Manchester and they were keen to have me back. But London is arguably the world’s greatest marathon and I get to join brother Steve, Jordanian friend Mo’ath Alkhawaldeh, and Troopy’s top charge Laura Thweatt. Some top M50 Brits are also running London, most notably Graham Green. Graham’s currently logging 120 miles a week and like me aiming for 2:30. I hope we can help each other.

In my last post I flagged some potential target races for ’17. Those targets are clearer now. In addition to London, I’ll aim to run the half marathon (and maybe XC) at the European Masters Athletics Non-Stadia Champs in Denmark and run as many of the NYRR club championship races as I can and, in turn, hopefully help Urban Athletics retain the masters’ team title we collected a few days ago at The Hard Rock Cafe, Times Square.

img_4570

Urban Athletics award winning masters’ team

At The Hard Rock , Urban Athletics team mates turned out in force and in full voice to support their 12 nominees. We clinched the masters’ team award and six individual awards. I won the M50-54 to add to the one from last year and the 9, of of 10, won while in my forties.

image4

L to R: Matt Chaston (M45-49 winner), me (M50-54 winner), Carlo Agostinetto (Ultra winner), Jonathan Kline (M55-59 winner), Javier Rodriguez (M40-44 winner) and Aaron Mendelsohn (M40-44 nominee)

In the past few days team mates, in particular project manager Moses Lee and dentist Ramin Talib, have asked how I avert injury. Truth is I’m not immune. Since 2011 I’ve had a constant battle with IT band issues and in early 2013, when I last attempted to train for London, was plagued with sciatica. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten wiser with age. But I’d be kidding myself. Sciatica proved stubborn and only went away when an accident forced me to take 6 weeks off.

My IT band issue is firmly under control thanks to regular visits to DrStu, a Bedford Hills based chiropractor, and a DIY self maintenance routine. My routine focuses on strengthening, rather than stretching, of glutes and hips. It comprises some gluteal exercises (given to me by Heather North when I tripped to Boulder before the Bronx 10 last September), together with some foam rolling and calf raises. The routine is repeated 3-4 times and takes 12-15 minutes on the floor of my lounge while watching some fake news.

In sum my routine looks like this (videos by Heather of her husband Ewen):

1. Glute max – 2 of following for 60 seconds, both sides and repeated: http://youtu.be/96sud2L5jiI


2. Glute med – 2 of following for 60 seconds, both sides and repeated:





3. Foam rolling – light rolling focused on mid-IT band. Note: I do not overdo it as this article cautions: https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/your-it-band-is-not-the-enemy-but-maybe-your-foam-roller-is/

4. Calf raises – 60 seconds, both sides and repeated: http://www.dummies.com/health/exercise/how-to-do-the-standing-calf-raise/

Well that’s all for now. Trump’s back on the TV so it’s time to roll and stop faking it.

 

 

Looking Back on 2016

by Paul Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Paul Thompson (with pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

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

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

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

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.