Tag Archives: Boulder

Race Report, USATF Cross Country Championships 2015, Boulder CO., February 7

By Paul Thompson (Photos by Shamala Thompson)

Yesterday was a day of several firsts for me. The first time I ran a cross country race and came away sunburnt. The first time I ran a cross country race in the North American winter in temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit. And the first time I shared the 3rd place podium spot with another runner.

The USATF Cross-Country Championships was the first race on my 2015 list of races. Having raced the exact same race in 2014 and came away, albeit temporarily, with a silver medal for the M45-49 age category, this time I was keen to get a top three placing and avoid receiving a national medal on loan. It also gave Sham and I a great excuse to spend a weekend in Boulder where we have an apartment.

The race conditions, bar the altitude, were near perfect. As you can see from the full race coverage on USATF TV. A pancake flat golf course featuring gently twisting turns and carefully cropped turf with just the odd damp patch. The weather was still and warm, good for short shorts and vest.

As I warmed up Francis Burdett introduced himself. He hails from Springfield CT. and wore an M50 tag on his back (all masters run in one race and you distinguish your age group competitors by the color coded tags on their backs. I wore a green M45 tag). As a 49 year old this would be the last year in the M45 category. As I did strides I could see my chief age group rivals Simon Guttierez and Rusty Snow, pre-race favorites according to some pundits.

Warm-up time.

Warm-up time.

Looking back on 2014 I recalled going out hard and mixing it with the early leaders only to find out they were faster than me. My lap splits, the masters men run four laps of 2k, drifted from an opening 6:15 to almost 7:20. So this time when the gun went I settled into my game plan of aiming for more even splits, circa 7:00  by running half a dozen or so runners further back than my 2014 9th placing.

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Into the second lap I found myself chasing Burdett and in 3rd place for M45, a good distance behind Guttierez and Snow. Not only was Burdett steady but he was my benchmark – he was in pole position for the M50, a title I would be coverting in 2016 when the race heads to Bend, Oregon.

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Much of the rest of the race was rather a grind and far from pretty. I had bouts of self doubt but was comforted that I could just about hang onto Burdett and was in 3rd place M45. Burdett did much of the work. I let him tow me around. I only pitched in with the pace work towards the end of each lap (here’s a rare glimpse of me ahead of him) and that was only because he seemed to make a meal of tackling a dry creek. The creek, and some soggy grass 400 metres into each lap, were the things that made this a remotely true cross country course: it was a far cry from the conditions in my last race.

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Into the last lap it seemed there was just one athlete close behind. With 800m to go I sensed Burdett up the ante. I hung on and hoped that he would make heavy weather of the creek some 4oo metres from the finish. He did and that enabled me to pull alongside and with 200m left to run I found myself sprinting for the line. It was desperate and ugly but I edged in front to take 14th spot. The results had us on identical times of 28:17. Burdett was first M50 and I third M45.

Soon after finishing I was contemplating crashing onto the grass but instead found something to lean against while catching my breath. In the finish area I chatted with Burdett and the second M50, Spyros Barres, another East Coaster. We warmed down together, spectating the younger age group races. It turns out Burdett has some track pedigree so had I been competing as an M50 he might have had the legs and motivation to beat me.

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At the awards ceremony USATF added a nice touch – while third place M45 I was ineligible for an award but they called me onto the stage to receive a finisher’s medal and stand on the third place podium with Robert Sweeney. Athletics legend Frank Shorter, who was giving away the prizes, glanced over at me and said, “Well done Simon”. Simon Guttierez was AWOL. I was not sure whether to be flattered or not.

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The afternoon ended with the main events – open women and open men, not only championship races but also selection races for Team USA’s runners to compete at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in China in March. In the women’s race, USATF National Cross Country Club women’s champion, Laura Thweatt, took the first place.

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Chris Derrick won the mens’ open for the third consecurive year with ease, in 36:18 , as this video testifies. Former Colorado resident, Dathan Ritzenhein, was third after Robert Curtis of Rochester.

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My 28:17 finish time was some 20 seconds slower than 2014. Not bad perhaps given a heavy work week and nagging ITB and ankle issues. I was also pleased that I was comfortably ahead of Christian Cushing-Murray – in 64th place having placed 3rd in the US Masters Long Distance Runners of the Year 2014 – and had achieved one of my 2015 targets. Next year this race is in Bend, Oregon so maybe Sham and I will get to visit a new state.

This morning Sham and I ventured out in what looked like perfect conditions. I ran almost 11 miles on the trails just north of Boulder. A 30-40 mph wind made it a not so easy recovery run!

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Running Plans for the Year I Turn 50

by Paul Thompson

Every year around this time I say to myself, and others prepared or forced to listen (like team mates on long runs – a captive audience), that I will plan the year ahead – what races, target times and accolades, training mileage, and all that. But by March my new year’s running resolution is either broken, shaken or stirred. And 2015, the year I turn 50, looks set to be no different.

My 2015 race campaign started early with a cross country race in the UK on January 3 (in conditions similar to these in Edinburgh). Following that I logged some great confidence boosting training in Jordan with fellow Warren Street blogger Mo’ath Alkhawaldeh, most notably one of my fastest long runs ever in Aqaba.  Mo spent much of the time convincing me to run a 2015 marathon or two.

So what’s on the cards for 2015? First up is the 2015 USATF Cross Country Championships on February 7 in Boulder, CO. Last year I finished 3rd in this race, collected a silver medal for M45-49 and then had to give it up as I was not a US citizen.  This year I hope to repeat the feat but avoid having a medal on loan.

In March I will open my account running for Warren Street in the NYRR club championship series with the  NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K. A few days later I hope to be voted NYRR Runner of the Year for the M45-49 category at the NYRR Club Night.  That would make it 8 from 9 since turning 40 (the only hiatus being 2013 when I was plagued with injury and accident). In 2015 I aim to make that 9 from 10 by winning my age in NYRR club points races and help the team improve on its 2014 performance.

After that my 2015 game plan is work in progress.  My 5th place on January 3 earned me Northamptonshire team selection for the UK Inter Counties Cross Country Championships on March 7 but as things stand I’m unlikely to trip across the Atlantic to compete in this national championship race.

A spring marathon is a possibility. My 1:12 half marathon from 2013 was enough to get me guaranteed entry to the 2015 Virgin Money London Marathon Championship in late April. I have ’til the end of this month to pay up but I’m inclined to wait until 2016, when I’m 50, before having a crack, in London or Chicago, at my 2:29:56 marathon PR. As team mate Carlo Agostinetto said getting a PR at 50 has a better ring to it than 49. 49 is like a no man’s land.

I’d like to return to San Francisco to retain my masters crown at the Bay to Breakers but it clashes with a family event. And while on a planned vacation to the UK in late July I could do the British Masters Athletic Federation 10 km Road Race Championships in South Wales.

What would like to do before I turn 50 this December?

A fast half marathon, sufficient to get me guaranteed entry to the London and/or Chicago marathon in 2016, would be ideal. So I have my sights set on the Rock ‘n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon,where Deena Kastor set a world record for women masters in 2014. By fast I mean 1:10-1:12, not as fast as Deena.

I’d also like to notch up a masters victory in a big classic US race like the  Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run (April), where I ran 51:36 at age 42, and Peachtree Road Race (July).  And maybe have bash at other USATF National Championship events, like the 5 km cross country (October).

To some extent what I end up doing will be determined by what team mates talk me into. Presently they are softly selling the Breakneck Point Trail 25k in April. The hard sell is sure to come. Watch this space.

Race Report: Boulder Distance Classic 5K, Boulder CO., April 26, 2014

This was my third race in Boulder, after this February’s USATF 2014 Cross Country Champs and the Bolder Boulder 10K back in May 2012. These two races had proven that altitude is not conducive to fast times. This race would be no different. And I got beat by both a 2 and 48 year-old!

While not expecting a great time I had reasoned that the flat course – an out and back at Boulder Reservoir – would get me close to the 16:12 I recorded at the hilly Washington Heights 5K I ran in March. I was wrong. I ran 17:03 for fifth overall and second masters.

It’s not often I fail to win the masters age group, especially the M45-49. But this time I had to contend with fellow 48 year-old Simon Gutierrez. Simon won the USATF 2014 Cross Country M45-49, comfortably pushing me into second. On this occasion I was 30 seconds in arrears, running a time I last ran in my late teens. Still back then I’d never been as high as 5,400 feet above sea level let alone run at it.

I entered this race a few days after Sham and I arrived in Boulder to vacation with her sisters. I had been struggling with my ITB and hip flexors (I think). This time round I found the altitude, hills and trails particularly hard going – harder than I can ever remember. So I had modest expectations for the race and had acclimatized to the idea of running a slow time but hopefully pocketing the masters’ purse of $100. That would net me $70 after the race entry. Retirement as a full time runner is still some way off.

But as I warmed up with Sham, who had decided against doing the race after coming down with a cold, I spotted Simon. I deduced he must have made the trip from his home in Colorado Springs to run the 5K rather than the accompanying 15K. So I quickly re-acclimated to the idea of running a slow time and finishing second masters. At the start line Sham’s sister Ramola, husband Kevin and their toddler Eloise, joined Sham to form my support team. Eloise had been in great voice so I expected to hear her throughout the race.

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My support team cheering me on at the start.

Soon after the gun went I settled into fifth place and that’s where I’d stay. The gap in front to Simon, in 4th until around half way, steadily widened. Just after the turn at 3K he moved into 3rd and that’s where he’d stay. I kept my eyes singularly focused on him, counting the deficit in seconds at various checkpoints.

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Simon finishing strong.

This race proved to be one of the most uncomfortable I have ever run. Psychologically, since I was resigned to running for second masters place from the gun. And physically, since after barely a quarter of a mile I was getting that feeling one gets as you crank it up in the final quarter mile.

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Feeling the altitude at the start of the race.

I breasted the tape and noticed Simon already headed off for a warm-down. I embraced my support team and took comfort in knowing my street credibility with Eloise was at a new PR. It would climb higher still. My race entry brought with it a smorgasbord of free breakfast goodies – yoghurt, chocolate milkshake, bratwurst, breakfast burritos, even Avery IPA.

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I then went for a complimentary massage and had Eloise in close attendance trying to figure whether my expression spoke for pain or pleasure. The therapist, Kat Hearty, worked on my legs, especially the problem areas, and explained that certain muscles needed to be ‘fired up’ using special treatment. I guess the old body is overdue a full service or at least some TLC.

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Getting a long over-due massage.

And finally I took the stage to collect the prize for first masters. Simon’s third place overall meant he took that prize rather than first masters. My retirement plan was back on track. But Eloise beat me on the race back to the car.

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Eloise was ready to race with the 12-year olds but she might have to wait a few years.

Race Report: 2014 USA Cross Country Championships, Boulder, CO., February 15, 2014

by Paul Thompson

A few weeks ago Shamala reminded me that the Flatirons Golf Course, Boulder CO. was the host venue for the 2014 USA Cross Country Championships and that masters races were on the program. We were planning to go to Boulder to spend some time in our apartment there so it made sense to sign up. It also presented me with an opportunity to try and better the silver medal I collected in the M45-49 category at the British Masters Cross Country Championships in 2011.

To get my spot on the start line I renewed my USA Track and Field (USATF) membership and was pleased to note that as I was now a permanent resident I could compete in the championship – though not pick up any prize money! A few years ago I ran in an event that incorporated the USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships – and on that occasion had to return my medal, seconds after receiving it, as I was only a ‘resident alien’.

The day promised to be unseasonably warm but turned out to be seasonably cold, thanks to a strong chilling wind. The course was fast – an almost pancake flat golf course of well-groomed grass spiced with a few wet patches, ankle deep mud on one 180 degree corner and a mini creek crossing. The men’s masters’ race was 8k, four laps of 2k.

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Runners had very different approaches to crossing the little creek.

On the basis of some pre-race research I figured a top 3 placing was doable but that top spot was unlikely as Simon Gutierrez, a prolific master’s runner who on the basis of recent races looked likely to beat me comfortably, was entered.  My homework proved accurate. I placed third M45-49 in 27:58, 9th overall and over 40 seconds behind Gutierrez (see the video here). But then to my surprise I was awarded silver at the awards ceremony, beamed live to my nephews in the UK thanks to Face Time, as the second placed M45-49 runner, Ecuadorian Olympian Silvio Guerra, did not seem to qualify.

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The first three in the M45-49 age group.

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Showing my nephews in the UK my medal via Face Time.

My race went largely to plan. I got a clean start and settled behind the lead group of 8-10 runners. I could see, thanks to age group patches on the backs of all runners, three M45-49s ahead of me on the opening lap (the rest were younger!). I tried to stay in touch with this group as long as possible. Mid-way through the second lap I started to drift off the back but shortly before the start of lap 3 I passed a M45-49 runner, placing me in medal contention. And that’s where I stayed despite my lap splits showing I slowed down significantly. For once the legs held out but the lungs gave in to the effects of the mile high altitude.

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Hanging on to the lead pack in the early stages of the race.

Sham and I stuck around for the main course (here’s the video coverage) – the men’s and women’s open events. The bitterly cold wind made spectating a bigger test of endurance than the race itself. Free coffee, bagels and Danish pastries from the athlete’s tent – actually the golf buggy garage – helped pass the time and provide some relief from the cold.

Chris Derrick, who won his first USA Cross Country Championship title in 2013, arrived in Boulder as favorite to win. The Portland-based runner, 11th in last year’s World Cross Country Championships and fresh from winning the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country 2014, bided his time in the opening laps. But at 6k he surged, dropping all bar a few rivals, before ultimately running solo around the 8k mark. Over the final two miles of the race, Derrick extended his lead and crossed the tape  in 36:14, 20 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.

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Chris Derrick, the winner of the Senior Men’s race, beginning starting to surge away.

In the women’s 8 km race, there were a few surprising results, including a breakthrough performance for Flagstaff-based Amy Van Alstine. From the gun, a pack of a dozen women grouped up and ran together for much of the first half of the race, including pre-race favorite Olympian Jenny Simpson. Before  the 6k point Van Alstine surged ahead and over the final 2k pushed hard and opened up a big lead, finishing some 22 seconds ahead of the runner-up Simpson in 27:35.

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Amy Van Alstine crossing the finish line in a surprise win over pre-race favorite Jenny Simpson.

Sham and I spent most of the main races jogging around the infield area. This  enabled us to catch athletes 2-3 times per lap. As soon as Chris passed us in the finishing straight we made a break for the official athlete’s car park some 600m away. We hopped on a waiting shuttle bus for the short ride, only to find Kara Goucher and family, Boulder residents again, seated just behind the driver. That evening we celebrated my second national individual silver medal like only runners can – with modest amounts of alcohol and food at 4580 Broadway – content that my injury is behind me. At least for now.

Post Script

One week after the event USATF contacted me to advise that they had mistakenly awarded me the medal. They had overlooked the fact that my USATF profile stated that I was a UK citizen and as a non-US citizen I was not eligible to win a USATF award. The medal is now in the post!

Sometimes Victory is Bittersweet

by Paul Thompson

A few days ago I won the accolade of being Men’s Runner of the Year, 45-49 Age Group for the 2012 season at the New York Road Runners (NYRR) Club Night. It was one of my goals of 2012 so it was mission accomplished. But any desire to celebrate was tempered by a dogged injury.

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I’ve won the award for 6 straight years, every year since I turned 40 back in December 2005. My aim is to make it 10 out of 10 during my 40s. But these past few weeks I’ve come to realize that the biggest hurdle to achieving this is unlikely to be my ability to sustain the motivation and training nor is it likely to be my competitors, formidable as they are. Rather the greatest obstacle could be injury.

A month ago I felt invincible as I racked up the quantity and quality of my training. In January I was running 75-90 miles week and pushing low 5 minutes per mile (MPM) at the end of long tempo sessions. Now I have been humbled by piriformis syndrome which has so far proved hard to budge.

And so here I am in Boulder CO.. What was to be a long hard weekend of training as a final platform for a crack at running the London Marathon under 2:30, bag a PR and win the M45-49 age group has instead turned into a rehabilitation camp.

This morning, during a snow storm, I ran 6 miles at 8 MPM. And it did not feel anything like as easy as the pace would suggest. The past month I have run barely 40 miles versus over 300 in January. I’m now stretching.

The moral of the story is that when you are feeling invincible and lauding it over others you are at your most vulnerable and all set for a fall. As my mum would say “don’t get too big for your boots”.

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Chasing the Buffaloes

By Paul Thompson

On our recent trip to Boulder Sham and I went in search of buffaloes. With a little research we managed to track them down. We’d heard they herd every Sunday during fall at a parking lot just south of Nederland on Route 119, the Peak to Peak Scenic Bypass.

As we pulled into the parking lot we saw around 40 of the Colorado University(CU) Buffaloes, one of the top University teams in the US, with their coach Mark Wetmore. Within minutes they were off and I decided to try and hang with them. At last I’d get to experience Magnolia Road with the Buffaloes, both made famous by the book Running with the Buffaloes.

Mark Wetmore giving the CU Buffaloes their instructions before the run on Sunday.

Initially we headed along West Magnolia Road. Turns out after 1.5 miles we’d reached a dead end and we U turned back to the parking lot. The girls had already headed out on Magnolia Road (affectionately known as Mags) for an out and back 10 miles. We had a Flotrack video crew for company: they were doing a video documentary of top US university teams and it was the CU Buffaloes turn.

Starting some 30 seconds after they departed I struggled to catch them. It was my first run at 9000 feet for over two years. Fortunately a few stragglers dropped off the back, including Ammar Moussa (Flotrack video), a phenomenal young freshman who’d clocked a 14:05 for 5000m at age 17, so I had someone to run with. From the parking lot, where many discarded their black CU tee shirts as the 70F was warm enough for no tops, we headed south on Route 119 for a mile or so. The 16-18 mile run meant they had to log some extra miles before getting onto Mags.

The view along Magnolia Road on the way back.

We turned left onto Route 72, Coal Creek Canyon Road and I was now running with two guys from New Jersey (fancy that, coming all this way to run with guys barely 30 minutes from our place in Peekskill, NY. ) I told them that being an old fart and having run 16 miles the day before I’d be looking for a shorter run. They said that we’d soon be turning left and heading up Monster Mile on County Road 97. At the top if I turned left onto Mags I’d be 3 miles from home making it 12 all in: they’d turn right and do more miles out and back on Mags.

The CU runners doing the 16 mile run had this as their view heading down Magnolia Road.

Monster Mile did not sound promising and sure enough it lived up to its billing. I ground out the climb. At the top I was fried. It felt like I’d been trampled by buffaloes rather than run with them. While I took some satisfaction from there being three behind me this quickly evaporated when I realized I was the only one taking the short cut home. They all pressed on for at least 16. These guys have it.

The last 3 miles were brutal. At each ascent along the dirt road I slowed to a crawl: there was barely one degree of separation from standing still but it was enough. I got back to the parking lot after 1 hour 20 minutes of running.

This was the start of the run on West Magnoliai Road.

Sham decided we’d take the rest of the day easy with a 5 mile hike to Diamond Lake. That turned out to be a 12 mile hike from 9,000 to almost 11,000 feet.

But that’s another story.

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Boulder to Boston

by Paul Thompson

This past weekend was the first time I’d trained in Boulder with anyone else. Sure Shamala and I often start out together but typically next see each other at the end of our run, often at our favorite post run coffee venue, the North Boulder branch of Spruce Confections (the scones, especially raspberry-cream cheese, hit the spot after a hard run).

My sparring partners were Fabio Casadio and Sebastien B. who’d come to Boulder to get in some hard training at altitude as part of their build up to the Boston Marathon. Fabio and Sebastien are hoping to break their PRs of 2:42 and 2:29 respectively. So for 4 days we went at it hammer and tongs – until we could barely stand anymore let alone run.

We did most of our running on the North Boulder trails. They offer undulating off-road running with breathtaking (what breath there was left to take) vistas of the snow sprinkled Flatirons, mountains which visually define Boulder. The sun shone and the skies were a perfect blue. Temperatures were often in the 40s. But when the wind blew the windchill took it into single digit fahrenheit.

Here’s a blow-by-blow account:

Day 1 – steady 10 miles – http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/152256442

Day 2 AM – steady 6 miles –http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/152256446

Day 2 PM –  4 mile fast tempo with warm up and long warm down – http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/152256451

Day 3 – 13 mile steady run – http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/152853571

Day 4 – 14 mile steady run – http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/152853606