by Paul Thompson (photographer Shamala was off duty)
I went into this event with trepidation – about whether I could get there and once there whether I could race well. Getting there proved easy as my best laid plans came to fruition. Getting a good confidence boosting race under my belt proved a tougher nut to crack. The silver lining lay in the way the race motivated me to ramp up my game leading into the half marathon at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Denmark.
In recent weeks I’d been travelling extensively throughout Europe for work. My employer is a tiny Brussels’ based association. No Brexit for me. I typically spend 2-3 weeks a time, 5-6 times a year, based in the UK with friends and family and sandwich together meetings and events to maximize the bang for the buck. This time, as my running log shows, for some 14 days I was working and running in Brussels, Vienna, London (ironically in Wimbledon running around the Common), Kettering, Warsaw and finally Berlin.
Try as I might to maintain my running routine – including a 11 miles along the river in Vienna at 10 pm soon after touch down – eventually long runs and workouts gave way to steady runs and then no runs for two days in Berlin. For good measure I brought a cold back with me along with dirty laundry. The one positive was that Russ Stram seems to have sorted my hamstring tendinitis.
Getting to the race start line was always going to pose a challenge. I’d decided to use public transit. I boarded the train at Peekskill at 5:10 am, arriving at Harlem 125th Street at 6:10 am where I met Urban Athletics (UA) team mate Ramin Tabib. We boarded the M60 SBS to La Guardia, getting off at the furthest most stop at Terminal D. At this point Ramin had a rather skeptical but my iPhone helped us navigate the two miles – a useful warm-up – to the venue.
At the venue it was as if the entire NYRR running community, with all its clobber and paid parking of $25 to boot, had been accidentally teleported into Queens. Many Manhattan residents (sorry folks but I couldn’t resist this) seemed to be lost overboard, some 6 miles from the familiarity of Central Park. Queens is typically viewed from the ‘safety’ of their taxi or Uber en route to LGA or JFK.
At the venue – the 900 acre Flushing Meadows Corona Park – I seemed to have gained new found notoriety thanks to Will Sanchez. Will, a real connoisseur of the New York running scene, had invited me on his show ‘Gotta Run with Will’. The show was cut in early April just ahead of my running the London Marathon and went on general release in mid-May. I usually cringe at videos of my talking on camera but Will did a great job of making me look quite interesting. The phone hasn’t started ringing yet from Hollywood. I’m all set to guest star in a real life drama ‘Escape from Queens’.
Back to the race. My target was to run even 5:20 pace which would give me around 33 minutes. The course was about as flat as they come but included a number of sharp turns. The temperature was a perfect high 60s but the humidity was tropical. The first mile proved tricky to navigate as it was narrow and winding. I settled into a large pack which included team mates Jason Lakritz, Javier Rodriguez, Jamie Brisbois, Sebastien Baret (first race as M40+) and Aaron Mendelsohn. We had many for company including top masters John Henwood and Memo Morales Peres who I’d duked it with in Brooklyn.
Promising start with John Henwood (left) and Bobby Asher (right) (Photo credit: Sam LaFata)
I did my fair share of the pacing. We navigated past the bunch of elite women who’d started out fast. The group was so large and tightly packed we kept clipping elbows and feet but fortunately no one tripped. We passed the mile mark in 5:20, some 20 seconds off the lead group. Midway through the second mile the roadway was water logged and left us all covered in muddy spray. We passed the two mile mark in 10:40. The group was working together, as though there were an unspoken truce.
In the third mile Jason threw the hammer down and the truce was over. The group went from close knit bunch to a long thin line, me nearer the back of the line. Sebastien and John had dropped away. Javier and Memo were up ahead, leaving me 3rd masters. I quickly came to realize this was going to be a hard day at the office, one for the team. I passed mile three in 16:10 and the half way in 16:41, 20 seconds slower than my last 10K.
Losing contact with the group (Photo credit: Sam LaFata)
In the latter half I concentrated out damage limitation – time and place. I figured I could just about hold this pace and clock around 33:15. As we headed out to Citi Field (the last time I ran here in the NY Mets Run to Home Plate 5K in 2005 – won by John Henwood – it was Shea Stadium and Citi were a profitable bank) past the National Tennis Center the road was flat, fast and largely straight. Pity my legs and lungs failed to capitalize. I got to four miles in 21:30, the fourth mile of 5:25 being my slowest so far. But not the slowest. I held my pace for the fifth mile, passing five miles in around 27:00, and then started to unravel as I circled the Unisphere in the final mile. I covered the sixth mile in 5:30. Rarely do I close out a race with my slowest mile, except the marathon.
My 33:36 finish time was good for 1st M50, 3rd masters (after Memo in 33:12 and Javier in 33:21) and 24th overall. My age grade was 90.2%, 2% lower than my average for 2017 races, and second overall. I forgot to stop my Garmin. Some day I’ll remember. The heart rate readings were way off, likely due to my wrist band not being tight enough.
I milled around the finish funnel talking to rivals and team mates. Many of UA team had run slow times. We scratched around for an excuse and unanimously decided on the humidity. But then Ellen Basile breezed up to announce she’d smashed her 10K PR by over a minute. We were all very happy for Ellen but sad our excuse had been trashed.
Discussing best excuse for a bum race
As NYRR reported this year’s race had more than 10,800 finishers, the most ever. Ayele Megersa Feisa of the West Side Runners broke the finish tape in 30:25 in a close finish over teammate Mengistu Tabor Nebsi. Belaynesh Fikadu, also of WSX, was the winner on the women’s side in 34:13, six seconds ahead of Roberta Groner of the New York Athletic Club.
UA turned in stella team performance. The men were 2nd in the open division (at the time of writing they were showing 4th since the NYRR results service was only scoring 3 runners rather than the 5 of Jason, Javier, me, Sebastien and Jamie), the women 4th (Harriott Kelly, Fiona Bayly and Ellen). Our W40+ team knocked the competition out of Citi Field: Fiona, Ellen and Cathrine Wolden won with over 16 minutes to spare. Javier, me and Sebastien won the M40+, albeit in less emphatic style. To complete the set (!) UA (me, Jonathan Schindel and Adam Kuklinski) won the M50+.
Ellen shows up to blow away our excuses
43 UA runners towed the line, a large proportion of the total active membership. Many placed in the top 10 for their age group and there was some great packing: Jason (16th overall and 7th M25-29 in 33:07); Javier (21st overall and 2nd M40-44 in 33:21); me (24th overall, 3rd M40+ and 1st M50-54 in 33:36); Sebastien (27th overall and 3rd M40-44 in 33:57); James (32nd overall in 34:02); Aaron (6th M40-44 in 35:10); Harriott Kelly (7th overall and 2nd W25-29 in 36:23); Stefano Piana-Agostinetti (7th M45-49 in 37:30); Adam (4th M50-54 in 37:47); Jonathan (5th M50-54 in 37:53); Peter Heimgartner (10th M45-49 in 38:07); Fiona (1st W40+ and 1st W45-49 in 38:18); Ellen (2nd W40+ and 2nd 245-49 in 38:52); Stephane Bois (8th M50-54 in 39:23); Paul Wong (9th M50-54 in 39:45); Cathrine (5th W45-49 in 41:23); Jennifer Harvey (6th W45-49 in 41:37); and Jennifer Amato (5th W40-44 in 42:42).
So it was game, set and match to UA. Ramin was a wee bit disappointed, running oustide 42 minutes. As we left the venue to retrace our steps back to Manhattan via the M60 SBS most Manhattan runners were seen ‘legging it’ for the 7 train to whisk them back to their island. I’m sure they’ll look more fondly out the car window when stuck in traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway on their next ride to JFK. That’s it for Manhattan bashing. For now.
Ramin and me waiting for the M60 SBS back to Manhattan