Tag Archives: half marathon

Running Beyond Fifty

by Paul Thompson

At this time of year we spend a lot of time reflecting as well as planning, predicting and setting resolutions. So I thought I’d join the habit, look back on my last year running in my forties and look forward to my first year running as a fifty something.

In turning 50 in the final few days of 2015 something dawned on me like a proverbial rock hitting me on the back of the head. As a 49 year-old I’d gotten use to the ‘consolation’ of being able to tell folk I was in my forties. As a 50 year-old there’s no such opportunity: it’s better to be precise.So I’m 50. On the positive side I’m once again the youngest. In my age group that is. And as such have age on my side so to speak.

This time last year I made plans for 2015 and summarized them in this post. The title, Running Plans for the Year I Turn 50, had that air of resigned inevitability. Writing the post was easier than manually totting up my 2014 mileage, and in any case at 50 my ability to do math(s) is worse than at age 15 (or 5). But for what it’s worth I reckon I did around 3,300 miles. If you wanna tot it up and let me know in the comment box below please do: my log is here.

2015 Resolutions: Shaken, Stirred or Broken?

So let’s see which, if any, of my aims I achieved.  First I said I’d run the USATF Cross Country Championships in Boulder CO and get into the top three, like I did in 2014, “but avoid having a medal on loan”. Well I ran and placed 3rd, and rather than be loaned a medal was awarded a token medal. ( I was ineligible as a non-US citizen to win the real thing.) I also got to share the podium with the athlete that got the bronze medal! Nice. Check box.

Second, I said I’d aim to  win the NYRR Runner of the Year for the M45-49 category on the basis of my performance in NYRR races, and help the men’s team improve on its 2014 performance. Well as it happens I helped the team to a repeat of their 2014 standings – 2nd masters and 4th open. On the individual front I have to wait until NYRR Club Night in late Feb. to hear whether or not my seven, out of nine, M45-49 age wins in NYRR races are enough. Matt Chaston, my closest rival, beat me convincingly at the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile, where I placed 3rd, and NYRR Retro 4-Miler, where I was 2nd, but I got him back on at least four occasions! Almost check box.

Third, I did not run London or indeed any other marathon. I resolved to wait until I turned 50 before taking a shot at my marathon PR. I have in mind Manchester (UK) in early April 2016. Some strong races in the fall including the Bronx 10 in 53:36, with highest ever age grade of 93.26%, and Grete’s Half in 1:11:35 were the icing on the cake of the 2015 season. The latter was enough to get me automatic UK Championship entry to the London Marathon which likely I’ll pass in favor of Manchester where I get to run with my brother and running pal Mo’ath Alkhawaldeh.

New Year’s Resolution: Appoint a Coach

So what’s in store for 2016? Well for starters I am now, as of December 31, under the guidance of a coach for the first time since leaving the UK in 1998: I was then running for Holmfirth Harriers under the guidance of Alwyn Dewhirst.

Lee Troop has great credentials as an Olympian and Australian national record holder. Now in his early forties he coaches a few dozen elite younger athletes from his base in Boulder where he is coach at Boulder Track Club. I’m perhaps his oldest charge. His most prolific athletes include Olympic hopefuls Laura Thweatt and Sean Quigley. Most significantly his training philosophy and overall approach suit me.

2016 Plans

What ‘Troopy’ offers is access to his experience, born of running at an elite level into his forties, focus and motivation. He’s a larger than life extrovert which means his opinions come at you in spades. That’s saying something coming from a strong extrovert himself.

His first objective is to help me get a marathon PR – my best time of 2:29:56 dates from London in 2005 when I was ‘only’ 41 – in the Greater Manchester marathon in early April. During the build up I’d like to get in a fast half and win the M50-54 age group at the USATF National Cross Country Championships in Bend OR. In 2015 I was a neck in front of the M50-54 winner. Unfortunately at the time of writing Bend is doubtful.

After Manchester we’ll take stock and then make plans for the World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth, Australia in late October. There are many options but likely I’ll plump for the 8k cross country and half marathon. These are perhaps my best events and fall conveniently at either end of the 20 days program. A 1:10-1:12 in the latter, which is in my wheelhouse on the basis of recent performances, could secure a medal in the M50-54 age group.

For the rest of 2016 I have in mind helping the Warren Street team as far as I can by supporting workouts and racing in NYRR team points races, competing for national honors at a USATF National Championship such as the half. and running a classic like Peachtree on July 4 or Bay to Breakers on May 15 (the latter I did in 2014 and had a ball).

At 50, poised to start working with Lee, I’m in the starter’s blocks. By 51 I hope to have a World Masters medal and a new marathon PR.

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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.

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: Philadelphia (Half) Marathon, November 17

by Paul Thompson

Last weekend I started the Philly Marathon with Mo’ath Alkawaldeh. Mo completed his in a little over 2:37, a great debut. I meanwhile DNF. Or more precisely I took ‘advantage’ of the option to bail out at half way. This option, open to all marathon entrants, gets you timed and scored as though you had started the half that’s run simultaneously.

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Mo and I just before the start.

My game plan all along had been to pace Mo through half way. Approaching 13 miles the course does the splits – turn left for another 13 miles or turn right for a 100 metre dash across the finish line. As I turned right course officials, spotting my marathon bib, gestured me to turn left. I almost had to run over them. I had mixed feelings crossing the line. I felt relieved not to be in Mo’s shoes with 13 miles left. I felt great for having logged 1:13:20 after weeks of battling sciatica. But I felt a bit of a fraud with the marathon bib – a job half complete. Was it a DNF? And, soon after crossing the line just ahead of me, Eric Shafer turned to announce he was a masters runner. That left me in second place for the masters, a one second deficit costing me $500.

Mo followed his first half 1:17 with a solid 1:20 second half. Mo and I used to train together when he lived in New York. Keen to run a fast debut marathon in the 2:30s he flew to New York from Jordan to stay with us for the week leading up to the race. We drove to Philly where we stayed, with Mo’s friend Osama Al Qattan (who PR’ed with 3:26) at a hotel in the city’s suburbs.

I had offered to pace Mo to half way at around 2:30 pace. We set out at 5:45 pace but after 2 miles he was a few seconds adrift. I felt ‘up for it’, my sciatica lost without trace. Pre race he suggested I race it. So I did. My pace making days were over before they even started.

As 6 miles approached, in the spectator packed Downtown area, I decided to step on the gas and, hopefully, do enough to take first masters and the $500 prize. My 10k split of 35:23 (5:41 average) compared with 5:30 average for the latter 11k which took in the two hills in West Philly.

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Racing to the finish

Philly is a great race. Some 23,000 ran the half and full combined. The course was pretty fast and varied – city center, riverside, park ‘an all. Spectators came out in their thousands to bellow their support. In the Drexel University area this extended to students completing a marathon night of revelry with beers on the sidewalk.

Mo and I enjoyed elite entry status. This meant we had the ‘luxury’ of hanging out in the elite tent pre- and post-race.  And a designated restroom with no line. The elite tent gave us the opportunity to study the pre- and post-race routine of real elite athletes.

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Chatting to some Kenyans post race

One standout was the heightened security, a legacy of the Boston bombing. This extended to clear only baggage and restrictions on spectator access. But what was clear was that New York and Philly have overcome the restrictions and put on even better marathons than before.

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UPS vans ready to take the clear bags to the finish area

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.

Staying Motivated as Age Sets In

by Paul Thompson

As the days start to shorten I’m reminded that it will soon be fall. Earlier this year when I set my goals for the year I said I’d consider a marathon this fall like Chicago if the stars aligned and my training was going real well around this time. Well I’m in a hole – a black hole. My legs feel beat and I’m running slower than I’d like. So I’ve canned the idea of a fall marathon. Instead I will likely have crack at breaking my PR on a fast course like London in the spring of 2013.

It seems I’m down to the last few grains of sand in the egg timer as far as setting a marathon PR is concerned. At 46 going on 47 (I hear the violins) the chances of my beating 2:29:56 are getting slimmer by the day. So how can I stay motivated enough to keep chalking up 70 mile weeks. Aside from the club races I’m committed to doing I need a big race this fall if I am to stay motivated.

My shortlist is short – the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon (Philly). Last year I ran 1:10:48 and came 84th (you read it right, eighty fourth!): what does a guy need to do! The winner came in at 58:46. I had a slight handicap – a full day of travel from southern Italy the day before. But that excuse only goes so far.

Matthew Kisorio and Sammy Kitwara, who came in 1st and 2nd, heading to the finish.

Philly is perhaps the best half in the US and possibly the world. In 2011 it witnessed U.S. All Comers records for both men and women. It’s great depth means there’s people to compete with the whole way. And it’s expertly organized under the stewardship of Tracy Sundlun, one of Warren Street’s founders.

Warren Street entered a mixed team at at last year’s Philly half marathon.

These past few weeks I’ve racked up my training to 70 miles per week including 20 mile plus runs and speed endurance workouts. But am I ready to put it on the line and see whether I can dip under 70 minutes. I have little time to decide. Should I stay or should I go?