Tag Archives: Grete’s Great Gallop

Race Report: 2015 Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Fred’s Team Presents Grete’s Great Gallop (13.1M), New York, October 3, 2015

by Paul Thompson

Today I ran in bib number 666 and came 13th. I’m not superstitious but was a bit wary of running in this bib number, so much so that I’d tried taking scissors to it and running as 66 until I realized I’d have to cut through the strip that records the chip time. After running my fastest half marathon for three years – in fact this very same race in 2012 – I figured the bib number and finish place were not so unlucky (and my Chinese friends advised 666 was indeed lucky). I did however destroy the bib as soon as I crossed the line.

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Jack Weitz, Grete’s husband, held the finish tape for the first men and women

I was nervous ahead of today’s race. More than normal. Having scorched to 53:36 in the Bronx 10 Mile last week I was worried the legs and heart would not be game for my longest race since 2013 barely 7 days after running on the Grand Concourse. Sham and I drove in and parked at Marcus Garvey Park. I then ran the 4 miles to the start just south the Tavern on the Green. Conditions were mixed – ideal temperatures in the low 50s (F) but cloudy and windy.

I’ve run this race many times. It’s often a club points race but more importantly it’s way for me to pay tribute to Grete Waitz by running a race in her honor. Since I can remember this race has been run clockwise – for two and a bit laps of the park – but this year’s route (Download Course Map (PDF)) was counter- / anti-clockwise and the final few meters took in the gentle ascent up the 72nd Street Transverse.

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Running with NYAC and WSX runners in the early stages

As last week soon after the start I settled in behind a group comprising a posse of New York Athletic Club (NYAC) (Gian-Paul Gaccia, Jmaes Kelly and Thomas Young) and West Side Runners (WSX) (Roberto Puente and Alejandro Ariza). We were clipping along at 5:20-22 mpm pace through to around 4 miles – reached in 21:26 – but then the NYAC members stepped it up and Roberto, Alejandro and I drifted off the back. I then found myself running alone. And until the last half mile it would stay that way. Fortunately I was able to maintain 5:26-30 mpm pace, sufficient to meet my target finish time of sub-1:12.

Running isolated at around mile 6.

Running isolated at around the 6 mile mark. Sid Howard is bellowing support and telling everyone I’m 49!

This half marathon – like all big races of two laps or more in the park – suffers from congestion as faster runners on their second lap overtake slower competitors. From around mile 8, reached in 43:20, I started lapping runners in large numbers. Some inadvertently run wide so the lapping runners like myself end up running outside the cones. It’s hard to know how this can be averted. Perhaps the answer is two lanes demarcated using cone and tape.

Out on the course I got great support from friends – all runners and those that support us are my friend. A special mention must go to Sid and Asteria Howard. Few couples, if any, give so much to running and runners young and old.

With barely half a mile left to run I comforted myself that a sub-1:12 was in the bag. Then Matthew Lacey, Central Park Track Club (CPTC), breezed past. As we approached the finish we then had to navigate the lapped runners to get an inside line in order to make the left turn onto the 72nd Street Transverse for the final 150m finishing straight. The slight rise up to the line sucked out what little I had left. I crossed the line in 1:11:35, good for 13th overall, 1st masters and 1st age-graded (92.74%, my second highest ever). A sub-1:15 also qualified me for championship entry to the London Marathon. Here are some more race photos.

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Crossing the finish line was a relief

In the men’s race, the West Side Runners, led by Ayele Megersa Feisa, solidified their club points lead by taking today’s top-five spots. The New York Athletic Club strengthened their women’s first-place ranking with a photo finish by Jeanna Composti and Megan Hogan with Composti taking the win. The Warren Street turnout was disappointing, not surprising perhaps given we pulled out all the stops at the Bronx 10 Mile.

West Side Runners made up the first three men

West Side Runners made up the first three men

This race attracted almost 4,400 runners, many doing their last race before the New York City Marathon. But there were no Norwegian festival with its Nordic goodies to replenish spent energy. Overall it felt a shadow of the race that many of us came to love, the race that honors the world’s greatest ever female distance runner. The Bronx 10 Mile partly stole the show. I do hope NYRR find a way to return this race to its former glory. We owe it to Grete.

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Grete at the start of the 2009 race – she would stand on the podium to wave the runners off and then be there at the end to see them come in.

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It Can Only Get Better

by Paul Thompson

Around this time last year, just as I turned 47, I reflected on what I’d done in 2012 and set out my goals for 2013. One year on I can safely say I comfortably achieved none of my 2013 goals – except collecting an award for 2012! It was a year plagued by injury and accident in which I scraped together 2,175 miles, more than 1,000 less than I chalked up in 2012.

On the big screen at the Hard Rock Cafe, New York

The year started out promising enough. I ran my all time highest mileage 0f 91 miles in the first week of January. Closing out progressive tempos in 5:10-15 suggested a PR/PB in April’s London Marathon was on the cards. In late January I said to a team mate that I “felt invincible”. I would eat those words.

A week later I was struck by what proved to be a persistent sciatic nerve problem. And in mid-May, while on a recovery run, I was ‘run’ down by a bike. That pretty much buried the season.

Incredibly I had to wait until September to cross the finish line of a race – that of the Fifth Avenue Mile. A few weeks later, in early October, I ran 1:12:10 at Grete’s Great Gallop (13.1M). That secured me 4th in the UK rankings for M45-49. But it was more important for what it taught me. That I could claw my way back from a fitness level I had not plumbed in decades. And at 47!

Mid-care in Grete's Great Gallop
Mid-race in Grete’s Great Gallop

I ran a total of three races in 2013, the third being the Philly Half in 1:13:20 in mid-November. I started that race pacemaking a friend entered for the full marathon and ended with my charging the second 10k in 35 minutes, only to find the first masters runner finished one second in front of me.

So what will 2014 have in store? Well after deferring my 2013 entry I have the option of running the semi-elite, UK Marathon Championships in April’s London Marathon. To stand any hope of running a PR at this would mean making a New Year’s pledge to pack in the miles starting tomorrow.

If I do decide to run London as part of the build-up I could do the USATF Masters Half Marathon Champs in Melbourne, Florida in early February and aim for something close to 1:12 and a top 3 AG placing. The Chicago Marathon on October 12 offers better odds of a PR and the Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half Marathon, the fastest in the US would be the ideal build-up race.

In between these ‘big’ races I aim to run as many New York Road Runner team scored races as possible. In 2013 my Warren Street masters team was 5th, the lowest placing since I turned 40. In the individual M45-49 I only managed 2 of the 6 NYRR races required to get a nomination. So for the first time in 8 years I will not be picking up an individual award at the Hard Rock Cafe in March. I hope to put this right in 2014, starting today at Rockefeller State Park Reserve.

Race Report: Grete’s Great Gallop (13.1M), New York, October 13

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson and Paul Thompson

On October 6 for the first time ever Paul and I ran in the same race. Grete’s Great Gallop is a half-marathon that Paul has done every year since 2008. It was his last race in 2012 before he got injured and now a year later he was hoping this would be his come-back race. I, on the other hand, had not done a half-marathon since my mid-twenties. I had signed up just five days before the race. Having trained with a friend who was doing a half-marathon that same week-end, I knew I was physically fit enough – whether I was mentally ready was another question.

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Paul’s Race Experience

Clocking 1:12:10 at Grete’s Great Gallop marked the culmination of a 3 month long comeback from a year wrecked by sciatica and an accident. Sure I had raced the Fifth Avenue Mile a few weeks before – my first race since Grete’s in October 2012 – but that was just an appetizer. This was the main course.

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The race left me jubilant, relieved and pissed – all in one. I felt jubilant in achieving my 1:12 ‘stretch’ target. I felt relieved in proving I could claw my way back from being so unfit in late July, maybe the least fit since I was in my early 20s. I felt frustrated in realizing, after the initial soreness wore off, that once again I was suffering from sciatica.

The 1:12 gave me a 90% plus age grade. Masters runners like me are unlikely to get PRs so we have to make do with KPIs like these. My aim in every NYRR race is to top the age grade. I often do when running well and the race has no pro athletes competing. And that’s what I did this time – as soon as NYRR had cleansed the results and gotten rid of the usual ‘errors’ in the first cut of the race results.

The race went pretty much to plan. I set off cautiously at around 5:40 pace and then started to edge my way through to the top 20 by mile two. I was further back than normal at this stage but then the race field was loaded with more fast guys than I can recall in the many years I have done this race. A slower start than normal kept me out of trouble – from getting carried away with an irrationally exuberant start. In any case I figured there was plenty of time to ‘make up’ for a slow start in a half. I also had to contend with not knowing what the body was capable of after a long layoff.

For several miles I was content to sit in with a group running around 5:30 pace. We gradually picked off some fast starters. I then found the group slowing to 5:40s so I struck out alone around 9 miles, just as we headed into the northern hills for the second time. For the last few miles I was trying to stay focused on chasing the runners in front who were becoming obscured by the many slower runners we were lapping. I reeled in a few on the bottom loop of the park and crossed the line sandwiched by two French runners.

Grete's Paul

While I was chuffed with the result – Warren Street also got first place in the men’s masters’ team – I was much less pleased with the legacy. My sciatica has returned, this time in my right butt. Warming down, and catching Shamala narrowly miss 2 hours, I sensed all was not well.

So here I am once more stretching, ball rolling, you name it, and hoping I do not have to leave it to fate to get rid of it – my last bout only went after 6 weeks of forced rest due to being knocked over by a bicycle.

Shamala’s Race Experience

This is one race I’ve always been interested in running.  Mainly because Grete Waitz, who passed away in 2011, has for many years been one of my running heroes. The first few years Paul did this race Grete was at the start and finish. I took photos of her but didn’t dare go up and speak to her. I wish I had. I didn’t want to regret never doing Grete’s Great Gallop.

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On the morning of the race I was up at 4:30 am. Nerves, excitement or plain fear. I really didn’t want to be on that start line. But at 8:45 am  I was  in my corral (which was quite a bit further back than Paul’s!), stomach churning as the announcements went on and on. I worried about not finishing the race, about running out of energy and stumbling to the finish. What on earth made me think I could run a half-marathon after all these years?

It got a lot better once we started. Somehow getting my legs moving calmed me down and I settled into a comfortable pace with the group around me. I knew that I had to start slow so although I was feeling good I kept to a steady trot. Still I covered the first seven miles in under 9 minute mile pace which if  I had kept up  would have easily got me in within my two hour goal.

Central Park is a very hilly course. And in this race you get to do the entire loop twice. There are big hills in the north and generally it is an undulating course that has almost no flat bits. I got through the first five miles, including the dreaded northern hills comfortably. The 80 percent humidity meant that I couldn’t avoid the water stations. Note to self: before the next race practice running and drinking at the same time.

Heading past the start line brought home the fact that the race was not even half over. A mile or so ahead was the finish line but I had another 7 miles to go before I could cross it.  At this point the first three runners came past me heading for the finish. I picked up my feet. The one thing I was determined to do was not get lapped by Paul! Getting past the finish line was a psychological milestone.  I knew at that point that I wasn’t going to stop after one round as I feared. Or maybe it was the Gu I’d taken at mile 7 kicking in.

The second half of the race was a lot harder. I got past the northern hills without totally fading but the miles following were slower.  The last three miles were tough. While my legs were getting tired at this point, the battle was all in my head. I wanted so badly to stop and walk or just stop and leave the race. I managed to keep going but I slowed down quite a bit. Paul found me at mile 10 and tried to run with me but I told him to go away. Having him and some of his running mates cheer me on though was uplifting although it did not  necessarily make me move much faster!  And  in the last mile as runners began to pick up speed I could only plod on.  I just didn’t have it in me to pull out a final sprint. Which is a pity because I finished seven seconds short of my goal of coming in under 2 hours. Still it wasn’t as bad an experience as I’d feared. Maybe I don’t have to let twenty odd years pass before doing another one.

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Paul and I after the race. One of us looks like a lot fresher than the other!

On another note, this used to be one of the best post-race events. For many years it was  part of the Norwegian festival. There were waffles with jam, bagels with salmon, Vikings and good music.  Now all you get is a dry bagel and an apple at the finish and few people stick around for the prize giving.  I hope they bring back those waffles and Vikings next year.

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One of my running mates, Robbin, and I hanging out after the race. She had a quicker race than last year but was disappointed that there were salmon bagels.

Road to Full Fitness: In the 50s

By Paul Thompson

Last week I logged 55 miles. This was my highest weekly mileage since early February – back then I was racking up almost 80 miles a week building for an assault on my marathon PR. It’s the high watermark of a summer spent largely under water. Significantly the week included two runs – a progressive tempo and a long run – that confirmed I am well on my way back to being fit following several months battling with sciatica and fixing fractures from an accident.

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Battling up a steep incline while on holiday in Dartmouth, UK

It was the sixth week of my comeback campaign. More telling than the mileage was the fact that I actually felt a lot like my old running self. On the tempo I found myself running reasonably quickly. And yet I did not realize it, let alone plan it. It just came – by accident not design. Sure it felt quite hard but my body and mind were complaining less than they had been of late. A few drinks the night before may have numbed the senses.

I have no clear route mapped out to full fitness. Rather a plan is slowly taking shape and evolving organically as time passes and I get fitter. That plan now looks like this. Add an extra 10 miles per week each month. Starting with July at 40 miles per week, August is my 50 miles per week month.The menu of runs is showing some resemblance to my regular diet of the past few years – repetition session, progressive tempo run and long run interspersed with recovery runs.

My first full race will likely be Grete’s Great Gallop half marathon: the exact same race as my last race when I clocked 1:11:15. I may drop in a NYC Runs 5k race in September to get body and mind accustomed again to the routine, pain and, hopefully, jubilation, of racing.

Getting Older but Running Further

By Paul Thompson

I turned 47 this past week and to ‘celebrate’ I ran 88 miles, my highest ever. I’d have eked out the ‘extra’ 2 to make it 90 had I correctly totted up the miles just before I headed out on a damp evening in Kettering, UK, my home town, for a 4 mile easy run.

My highest mileage week started with a 20 mile run with some 25 Kettering Town Harriers in garish Santa festive wear with a glass of mulled wine and chocolates at mile 16. Not the highest quality workout but a long run nonetheless. The week also included 15 miles, with my brother Stephen and Kettering Town Harriers training partner Ron Searle, and some shorter runs in the dark early mornings around Stratford-upon-Avon while on a city break with family.

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Kettering Town Harriers Christmas Run

The week crowned my year, one in which I spent the eve of many races anticipating the runner’s cliff, when age suddenly takes its toll and the times start to plummet.  And yet I never ran over the cliff.

I started the year’s racing in early March running 16:02 in the Coogan’s Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K and ended it in October with 1:11:15 at Grete’s Great Gallop, 13.1M. That latter race was a big morale booster and a turning point for the year. Mid-summer I decided I was not fit enough to have an autumn/fall assault on my marathon PR of 2:29:56 (from London 2006 when I’d just turned 40). So I spent several months unsure where my running was headed and turning in some good, if unspectacular, results.

Realizing I was stuck in a runner’s rut I decided to shake things up by throwing in a few high intensity weeks in early September, including a week-end in Boulder, CO.. It worked. 1:11:15 was 6 seconds faster than the same race in 2011 and barely a minute off my fastest time for in that race some 4 years previous. It also meant I finished the year unbeaten in all bar one race by an over 40 runner and first overall age grade in all except a few races. These races got me some top 3 rankings in the UK for M45-49.

So what will 2013 have in store? Well as I write, my entry for the semi-elite, UK Marathon Championships entry in April’s London Marathon has been accepted. All I have to do is fork out around 40 pounds, a bargain compared with its sister race, the New York City Marathon. And this is partly why I ran the 88 miles last week – to make a start on preparations as well as prove to myself that age is no barrier to running further, if not faster.

If I do decide to run London that will keep me occupied in the early part of the year. As part of the build-up I may do the USATF Masters Half Marathon Champs in Melbourne, Florida in early February and aim for something close to 1:10 and a top 3 placing. If London goes according to plan, and I get a PB/PR, I might be tempted with the Chicago Marathon in October. The Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half Marathon in September would make a great build-up race – or a great race in its own right.

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The start of the Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half-Marathon.

In between these ‘big’ races I aim to run as many New York Road Runner team scored races as possible. In 2012 my Warren Street masters team was 2nd: a night at the Hard Rock Cafe in March awaits to collect the team award – and hopefully the individual for M45-49. Winning back the masters’ team top spot is a goal for 2013.

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NYRR Club Night 2012 at Hard Rock Cafe.

Postscript: The week after I wrote this I ran 91 miles.

Race Report: Grete’s Great Gallop (13.1M) New York, October 14

By Paul Thompson

Grete’s Great Norwegian Gallop gives runners the opportunity to tread in the footsteps of perhaps the greatest female distance runner ever. Grete Waitz rewrote the history books for the women’s marathon bringing the record down from 2:34:47 to 2:25:29 – and proved that women could do just as well as men. She won the New York City Marathon (NYCM) a record nine times between 1978 and 1988. Sadly she passed away last year, a victim of cancer.

Grete at the finish line in 2010. She was always there at the start and finish of this race.

This year almost 6,000 lined up to run. Low 60s F, overcast with a light wind made for perfect race conditions. In the starting corral I met some rival masters runners from Urban Athletics. We discussed the merits of shaving the morning of the race. I always go for the clean cut look: they’d all opted for the primeval look. Maybe I secretly hoped to shave a few seconds off my time.

Hanging out with the Urban Athletics runners at the start.

My expectations for the race ran high. Training had been going well so I hoped to duck under 1:12 and if possible 1:11:20, the fastest time for a British athlete in the M45-49 age group for 2012. The key was to find a good group, or two, and share the work. The course was the full loop of the park, twice, plus a mile through to the finish at Tavern on the Green, where the NYCM ends.

I set off conservatively, settling into around 20th place and passed the first mile in 5:30. I then steadily stepped on the gas. It was one of those rare occasions where I felt confident of being able to push harder and sustain it.  One by one I picked off the athletes in front and edged into the top 10.

Passing 6 miles in 32:40 I found myself caught by Central Park Track Club (CPTC) runners Matthew Lacey and T Patrick Hynes. They were running a fraction faster so I hitched a ride. With a little drafting I got over the northern hills and past 10 miles in 54:09, faster than my recent Bronx 10-Mile clocking.

Coming down Cat Hill with some of the CTPC runners.

We started lapping a large number of slower runners. This made for a kind of slalom as I dodged runners and pedestrians in the closing miles. I crossed the line, legs wobbling, in 1:11:15, good enough for 7th place, the  highest age grade (90.9%), and first masters.

Heading for the finish line – clearly I’m a heel striker.

It proved a good day for Warren Street’s master’s mens team of Peter Heimgartner, Jeremy Johnson and I. It was our first victory of the year, beating Urban Athletics who’d won every other club scored race in 2012.

Post race I decided to substitute a warm down for a bagel with Norwegian salmon. Meanwhile Shamala and her friend and colleague Robbin commiserated over the fact that the freshly made waffles, a signature treat in previous years, were nowhere to be found.

We missed the waffles this year.

To Race or Not to Race?

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

I have said often and firmly that I run but do not race. But now that I’m running longer distances and not feeling dreadful at the end, something odd is happening. I’m beginning to actually want to do a race.

Perhaps it’s my new Nike Air Pegasus reminding me that I used to race.  In my twenties I raced often in prehistoric versions of this shoe! I was never fast but it was no big deal to sign up for a half-marathon or a 10K. I even did a marathon in humid Singapore. I was 23 and figured that my body could cope with it.

Now I’m quite a bit older than 23 and have shied away from racing for many years. And to be frank being married to a super fast runner does not make it easy for a “boom boom” runner to compete and not feel like a bit of a failure. But I have friends of  of all shapes and sizes and fitness levels who are running races. So really not being fast and getting nervous at the start of the race is really no excuse.

The question is which one. Do I run a big race in Central Park where I will know a lot of the runners or duck under the radar by doing an obscure race? And what distance would be best given my current fitness level? I’ve been training with a friend who is doing a half marathon, the Royal Parks, this weekend. I risk collapse at the end of a half but then a shorter race would be less of a challenge.

To help me decide I’ve compiled a list of possible races:

Grete’s Great Gallop (Half Marathon), Central Park, New York, October 14 

Pros: This race has been associated Grete Waitz, one of my all-time running heros and 9-time winner of the New York City Marathon, who passed away last year. I’d be able to share the experience with four colleagues though they’d be waiting for me at the finish line. Also as part of the Norwegian Festival as post-race goodies you get freshly made waffles and Norwegian salmon. Of course I can get these without running.

Grete Waitz at the finish line in 2009.

Cons: Lots. It’s a very public race so my slowness will be for all to see. Paul is doing it too and he might lap me on the second of the two laps of Central Park! I’d also miss cheering and photographing my colleagues. And maybe I’m not quite ready for a half as I’ve run no more than 11 miles in practice.

Runner’s World Half Marathon (plus 5K and 10K), Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, October 21

Pros: Runner’s World is holding three days of running-related activities over that weekend and there are shorter 10K and 5K options. It will be interesting to hang out with other running enthusiasts and attend some of the talks. And it should be pretty time of year to take a road trip through Pennsylvania.

Cons: Getting to the race will take some logistical effort. It’s about a three hour drive and we’d need to find a hotel. It is also a totally unfamilar course which might make it a more  difficult race.

Rocky’s 5K,  Rockefeller State Park Preserve, New York, October 27

Pros: A small race (325 people) in one of my favorite running spots. I’ve spent many hours running and taking photos in Rockefeller. This race, to raise funds to maintain the preserve’s trails, would be a way of giving something back to a place that’s been a source of great pleasure. It’s a short race so the pain will be over relatively quickly. Plus my Rocky’s running partner, Kelly Gould, is doing it.

Cons: None really except perhaps that it will not test my endurance that I’ve been building through longer runs.

I’ll have to make a decision soon. So which race should I do?