Tag Archives: Cross Country

Reflecting on 2018, Lessons Learned and Looking Forward to 2019

by Paul Thompson

Reflecting on 2018

The year just ended proved a mixed one for running, one in which I achieved some but not all of my 2018 goals. I plumbed the highs and lows, from a world medal at the through to tripping and breaking my right shoulder and, consequently, failing to run 6 NYRR races necessary to get nominated for the 2018 NYRR Age Group Awards.

Rather than run a marathon, I decided to focus on winning a medal at the World Masters Athletics (WMA) Championships in Malaga, Spain in September and logging some fast times, hopefully sufficient to top  the UK and USA M50 rankings for 10K, 10 miles and half marathon. For the most part I succeeded despite lots of work travel to, from and within Europe.

Things started well enough. I ran 33:10 in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in April. That would be good enough for topping the 2018 UK M50 10K rankings. But then in May at the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon I passed 10 miles in around 55 minutes flat and 200 meters later pulled up nursing a hamstring tear. In the early summer plenty of TLC enabled me to mend and prepare for the WMA.

At the WMA I ran a poor tactical race in the 10K road race and finished a disappointing 4th with a mild hamstring strain to  boot. I bounced back to snatch a silver medal in the half marathon a week later. And then soon after returning to the US rocked the New Balance Bronx 10 Mile logging 54:29, enough to top the UK and USA M50 rankings.

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Receiving the silver medal in the WMA in Malaga, Spain.

In the final quarter of the year things went awry. I tripped and fell while running the Lake Garda bike path in fading light. I was left with a badly bruised right arm and thigh. Barely 9 days later I ran for England in the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International and was a sluggish 6th and last scorer. On arrival back in the US an X ray revealed I had a fractured right shoulder, a non-displaced humerus. Since then I’ve been seeing physical therapist Miranda Lyon at the New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital and doing lots of home exercises.

Learning in December that I’d failed to win nomination for the 2019 NYRR Age Group Awards was disappointing. Since turning 40 I have won every year bar one when an accident got in the way of my running the required 6 races. In 2018, I ran 6 races but 2 of these was guiding visually impaired runners – Paraolympian medalist Jason Dunkerley in the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon and Jared Broughton in the Achilles Hope & Possibility 4M. In the half I had no race tag, just a guide bib, so was excluded from the results. That left me a race short. But I’d not have it any other way. Guiding Jason was awesome, on par with my best races of 2018.

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Guiding Jason Dunkeley in the New York City half-marathon.

Lessons Learned

I learned a lot in 2018. I think. First, recovering from serious injury, such as my hamstring tear in May or fractured shoulder in November, demands patience and plenty of TLC. Second, staying fit and fast in your fifties demands a range of ingredients.  Training is important but then so is mindset, diet and strength exercise. So one year on I’m a year older and, maybe, a few days wiser.

Looking Forward to 2019

As for New Year’s  resolutions it’s more of the same. My main aims are to run a spring (London) and autumn (Berlin or Montreal) marathons, top the Abbot World Marathon Majors for M50 and qualify for the World Masters Marathon Championships in London in April 2020. Running two marathons in one calendar year will be a first. The risk of injury or illness looms large. In my wife and coach Lee Troop I have the best early warning stystems. The work starts here. And this week I’m on track to run 70 miles.

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Race Report: British and Irish Masters Cross Country International, November 17, Swansea, Wales

by Paul Thompson

Team GB team mates, from England, caught me in a moment of weakness at the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMAC) in Malaga. They ganged up and unilaterally decided I should seek selection for England for the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International in Swansea, Wales on November 17. As it turns out I was due to be in Europe for business from October 16 to November 20 so I had no good reason not to.

The main challenge to gaining selection was not so much having a solid case. I had just gotten a silver medal at the WMAC in the half marathon and was at the top of the M50 UK rankings for 10K and, afer the Bronx 10 a few weeks later, top for 10 miles. The challenge was navigating the selection process which hailed from a bygone age – post a letter of application with a self addressed envelope. Imagine in the age of driverless cars.

So barely two months later here I was crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales with Simon Baines, one of Team GB’s top M45 runners. I had bumped into Simon while running in Richmond Park, with Peter Clarke and David Smith, near the start of my trip and he had kindly invited me to ride with him to Wales.

It was a great privilege to be selected to run for England. It was my first time having narrowly, and annoyingly, missed out on selection some years before when I finished 2nd M40 at the BMAF to Ben Reynolds. Unfortunately the stars were far from aligned for this race.

Almost 5 weeks into my trip to Europe I was tired, from some 20 flights, out of my routine, out of practice from real cross country racing, and, as I would soon discover, carrying a torn rotator cuff. The injury resulted from tripping in fading light while running on a cycle path on Lake Garda a week earlier. And then there were my ill-fitting spikes falling apart at the seems. They’re now in a Welsh landfill. So I had plenty of excuses not to run but instead chose to use them as excuses for not running well. In short my expectations were low.

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Looking good but feeling less good 

My main goal was to run hard, ensure I did not hit the deck and excerbate my injured shoulder, and, if possible, finish as one of the 4 scorers. The day started out overcast and damp but then brigthened up such that by the time the race started we were bathed in sunshine. My race was the second of the day. I lined up with male and female runners from ages 50 to 64. I stood alongside Tim Hartley, the race favorite who’d picked up a silver medal at the WMAC for 5000m, and the rest of my England M50 teammates. And then we were were off, sailing down a 400m hill, with 4 laps of 2K to tackle.

I had a brief moment of exuberance but then quickly dialled it back. Northern Irish runner Steven Cairns led the charge with England team mates Tim Hartley, Phil Leybourne, and Andrew Leech, who topped the M50 half marathon rankings with 1:11:59, in hot pursuit.

This was my 5th outing on the country since 2004. And this course, unlike the one in Boulder I had excelled on while picking up medals at the 2014 and 2015 USATF XC Nationals, was a true XC course. Twisting and turning, continuously undulating, and occasionally heavy underfoot. When I last lived in the UK in the late 90s XC was my forte and I reveled on this type of course. Now I was a novice, running wide, losing traction and steadily losing places. I was overboard without a lfe jacket. Up the creek without a padle. You get the idea.

By the end of the second of four laps I had settled into 9th place – behind all five England team mates as well as lead runners from Northern Ireland (NI), Ireland and Wales. The top three of Hartley, Cairns and Leech had a big lead. Over the next lap I consolidated, overtook Welshman Jeff Wherlock, and then started to chase Dermot Hayes (NI), Mark Symes, 1500m gold medalist for M45 at the WMAC, and a fast slowing Leybourne.

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Final hill of final lap and making some progress chasing Symes and Leybourne

On the final climb of the final lap, with 600m left, I had all three runners in my grasp but they all proved to have faster finishes. So 8th M50 in 28:06 it was with all five England team mates in front, albeit three of them less than 16 seconds ahead. I was deeply disappointed and dissatisfied even though I had my excuses.

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M50 team mates Phil Leybourne, Andrew Leech, Mark Symes, and Tim Hartley

Post race I warmed down with Simon Baines, who’d run well in the M45 race, and Tim Hartley. Back at my hotel I sought comfort in bad food and drink and analyzed the race. XC and road are very different. It’s horses for courses and this was not my course. Once a good XC runner I had now totally converted to road. In road races I get into my groove and grind it out. On the country I simply failed to find any groove.

A comprehensive suite of pictures by Robert Gale are below.

That evening I attended the presentation dinner. England won all categories bar one. I collected a medal, my first representing England. Long overdue. The drink helped drown my sorrows and even got me on the dance floor. Sunday morning I ran with England team mates Stephen Watmough (11th M55), Andrew Leech (3rd M50) and Nick Jones (3rd M40) along the Swansea seafront. A perfect end to a not so perfect trip to Wales.

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Andrew Leech, me and Nick Jones by Stephen Watmough 

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: Northamptonshire County Cross Country Championships, 6 miles, Wellingborough, UK, January 3

by Paul Thompson

No sooner had 2014 ended than I had started my 2015 running campaign in the shape of a traditional English cross country race – the Northants County Cross Country Championships. Traditional as in the usual concoction of wet, windy, and muddy. And no where to shower post race. I slipped and slid around the waterlogged muddy four lap 6 mile course, with much effort wasted going every way but forwards, and came 5th in 37:37.

Opening stages of Northamptonshire County Cross Country Championships, Kettering, Dec.1989 wearing bib 498

Opening stages of Northamptonshire County Cross Country Championships, Kettering, Dec.1989 wearing bib 498

My decision to run rested on a variety of factors, one being the connection I felt with the venue, Croyland Park in Wellingborough. Wellingborough is a rather uninspiring market town in middle England but is my, my parents and my grandparents place of birth.  The park is where we would occasionally hang out some Saturday afternoons, kicking ball or just larking about. And the park was where I last ran this very same competition back in 2003, watched from the sidelines by my grandfather who was then still alive. On that occasion, on a visit home while resident in Malaysia, I was runner-up, ten seconds shy of the winner.

I wore my old cross country spikes, the ones that had gathered dust in the closet, last used in the same championship race at the same venue back in 2003. Unfortunately the 10 mil spikes, permanently resident in the shoes owing to their being rusted in, were not up to the task. These were some of the worst underfoot conditions I can remember running in. The short spikes left me warily descending inclines, half scrambling up steep inclines, taking corners wide, and vainly trying to navigate the driest route.

As in 2003 I competed for my UK club, Kettering Town Harriers. The men’s open team could only manage 3rd place – with me and my brother Steve being 1st and 2nd scorers. A respectable result but well out of contention for first place. However, there was success for the younger age groups. As an old running rival Terry Egan pointed out that fifth place was a repeat of my placing in 1989 at the more tender age of 23! And was enough to earn me a spot in the Northants’ team for the UK Inter Counties Cross Country Championships on March 7, a race which is also a selection race for the British team for the World Cross Country Championships. If I happen to be in the UK around that time then I will run. My best placing in this national championship race is 32nd, some 23 years ago   This time 132nd might be a more realistic goal. It’s got me thinking about my running game plan for 2015.

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!