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Race Report: Percy Sutton Harlem 5K, August 25, New York

by Paul Thompson

It’s been a while since I last raced. And hence a while since I’ve written a blog post. May in fact. I dropped out of the Brooklyn Half Marathon, having just passed 10 miles in 55 minutes and loose change, with a hamstring injury. Since then I’ve travelled extensively for work and pleasure – UK, Belgium, France, Italy, Montenegro, Romania, D.C. – but somehow got the running in except for some quality workouts and long runs. So here I was on the start line of the Percy Sutton Harlem 5K looking for signs that I was ready for the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMA)

I’ve raced Percy Sutton before, the last time in 2016 when I ran 16:31 as part of the build-up for the the last WMA (where I got gold in the half marathon for M50-54). It’s  one of my favorite races despite the course being quite tough and the weather typically too hot. A course change this year introduced a steep incline – 10% or more for 250 metres – just before half way making it tougher than ever for 2018. However, with cooler temperatures than late – low 70Fs – I was shooting for 16:15-20.

I settled into the corral several rows back but figured that would help me avoid an  exuberant start. I need time to fire up the engine. After a rendition of the national anthem by a saxophinist – he added his own twist at the close –  we were off and soon taking in a chicane of consecutive 90 degree left and right hand turns. At the first turn teammates Paul Sorace and Bob Smullen were on NYRR volunteer duty, as part of the 9+1 guaranteed entry to the New York City Marathon, and Paul snapped the picture below.

Percy Sutton 5K Start

Brad Kelley (CPTC), me, Javier (4th from right in red) and Flavio (3rd from left in pop socks) rounding first turn (picture credit: Paul Sorace)

And then we started the steady 2-3% grade kilometer climb of St. Nicholas Avenue. I struggled to get into a groove and promptly dropped off the back of a pack containing club mate Javier Rodriguez. I was laboring heavily when I made the U turn at one mile (passed in 5:25).

On the decsent back down St. Nicholas Avenue I chased the runners just ahead of me and caught Javier. We worked together, as we’ve done many times before with much success, and reeled in a few runners paying the price of a fast uphill opening mile. We were running 5:10 pace. But at the back of  my mind was the steep climb around half way.

And suddenly there it was. A sharp right hander and in the space of a few strides we went from descending a 2.5% grade to ascending a 250 metre perfectly straight and uniform 10% grade hill. I did what I do best. I edged in front of Javier so I could take the turn wide and then ground it out at around 5:45 pace. I was in the hurt locker.

Percy Sutton 5K Hill

Ryan, Javier and I grind out the hill at half way (picture credit: Sam LaFata)

The hill was over and done with in barely a minute but the damage was done. As we made the left hand turn towards City College, still with a few metres left to climb, Javier threw the hammer down and encouraged me to join him. It was an invitation too easy to decline (and too hard to accept). So I did (and I didn’t). We passed two miles in 10:45 (5:20 second mile). I spent the next 400 metres or so running along the ‘upper’ west side of St. Nicholas Park watching Javier edge away. I tried to get back into my rhythmn and, unlike the saxophonist, I did.

As we started to make the precipitous descent with half a mile to go I pulled alongside Javier and a runner wearing that familar Britsh club vest (of hoops or stripes). Post race I found this to be Ryan Prout of Brentwood, recently having made the Manhattan transfer. The three of us duked it out for the firstpart of the long, too long, straight to the finish. Ryan dropped off and then, sensing he had gas in the tank, I told Javier to stop waiting for me. He took my advice for once and kicked away crossing the line as first Urban Athletics (UA) runner in 16:31 to my 16:36 and Ryan’s 16:39. I  failed to see the three mile mark  – my faculties are usually shutting down at this stage of a race –  but my Garmin data suggested it was around 16:00 (third mile of circa 5:15). Flavio De Simone was third UA man in 16:56, first time ever under 17.

As usual I stood around in the finishing funnel for some time soaking up the atmosphere, chatting to team mates and rivals, eating NYRR’s free handouts of apple and bagel, and posing for pictures. Despite 35th overall, 1st M50, 3rd masters and top men’s age grade of 90.31%, I was a little disappointed: my season’s best is around 16:25 at half way in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K. Nevertheless, it was great to be back racing with my UA team mates and sharing in individual and team accolades which, thanks to Flavio’s blog, were:

  • Master 40+ Female: 1st place by minutes (Fiona Bayly, Ellen Basile, Dominique Saint-Louis)
  • Master 40+ Male: 1st place by seconds (Javier Rodriguez, Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone)
  • Master 50+ Female: 2nd place (Fiona Bayly, Dominique Saint-Louis, Jen Braunmiller)
  • Master 50+ Male: 3rd place (Paul Thompson, Richard Temerian, Michael Rustin)
  • Open Female: 5th place (Fiona Bayly, Saudy Tejada, Ellen Basile, Dominique Saint-Louis, Katharine De Simone)
  • Open Male: 7th place (Javier Rodriguez, Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone, Stefano Piana-Agostinetti, Alex Lorton)
  • Javier Rodriguez: 1st 40-44, 16:31
  • Paul Thompson: 1st 50-54, 16:36 (also 1st age-graded)
  • Flavio De Simone: 2nd 45-49, 16:56 (PR)
  • Stefano Piana-Agostinetti: 3rd 45-49, 17:00
  • Fiona Bayly: 1st 50-54, 18:07 (also 1st age-graded on 92.23% and 5th woman overall)
  • Ellen Basile: 1st 45-49, 19:26
  • Richard Temerian: 3rd 60-64, 19:32
  • Dominique Saint-Louis: 2nd 50-54, 20:20
Percy Sutton 5K Team

UA team shot: Javier, me, Stefano, Flavio, Saudy, Mike Rustin, Peter Heimgartner, Ellen Basille, and Andres Pareja (picture credit: Kieran Sikso)

Here’s what the run, including warm-up, race, idling around and warm-down through Central Park, looks like on Relive.

In the overall reckoning the West Side Runners’ Tadesse Yae Dabi was the men’s individual winner, breaking the tape in 14:48, while the New York Athletic Club claimed the top spot in the team competition. In the women’s race, fellow West Side Runners member Emebet Etea Bedada took first individually in 17:29, with the Dashing Whippets Running Team earning first place in the team race. See here for the 2018 club standings.

The WMA kicks off in Malaga, Spain on September 5. Running for Team GB I’ve entered the 8K XC, 5000m track, 10K road and half marathon road. The XC is already scratched as we fly in the day of the race. I  may drop the 5000m as it’s wedged in between the other two races and it’s my weakest event (of the entrants listed, with their most recent best times, I rank 3rd for the 10K, 6th for the half and outside the top 10 for the 5000m).

Percy Sutton proved that I’m injury free but not firing on all cyclinders. So this morning I revisted the hurt locker for a few miles on my run in Rockefeller State Park. Incredibly, but inexplicably, I hit a higher average and maximum heart rate than yesterday.

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Race Report: Percy Sutton Harlem 5K Run, New York, August 23

by Paul Thompson

I have to confess the chance of winning the masters category and pocketing a princely prize purse of $150 dollars ($120 net of expenses like race entry fee, post race coffee etc.) was not an insignificant motivation for running this race. As it turns out I was 2nd and after dinner with Sham the same evening there wasn’t much change. So for now I’ll stick to making ends meet with my day job at IFAC.

Aside from the cash incentives, which extended to top 5 teams (we are still waiting to see if Warren Street got 4th or 5th in the final results), the other great attraction of this race is the fact it’s a break from the NYRR cookie cutter affair in Central Park. This one is deep in Harlem and follows a varied urban loop which, apart from some initial climbing, is relatively fast.

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The streets of Harlem.

This was my second stab at this event, the first being back in 2012. My race report back then tells a story of the politicized countdown before the starting gun and ending up with 16:02. This time I wanted to duck under 16 and, knowing Bobby Asher shared the same aspiration (according to his Facebook post at least), I figured he’d be a good man to target.

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Paul keeping an eye on the competition at the start of the race.

So after the first quarter mile I settled onto the tail of a group of 4-5 runners including Bobby. The first three, which included former clubmate Emiliano Garcia, quickly got a sizable gap on us. I got to the one mile mark in 5:15, slightly slower than my goal pace of 5:10 which would give me 16 dead. I was now trading strides with Peter Brady, USATF Masters 800m champion in 2013 and 2014. It was only when checking the results after the race that I realized who he was – and that he’d gotten that $150 cheque for first M40 plus.

While the course is advertised as flat or downhill from one mile the reality is, at least according to my Garmin data, the course keeps rising gently until around 2 miles. I got to 2 miles in 10:26 and was now starting to slip away from Peter and Bobby. The final mile is fast – a steep descent past City College, followed by two sharp left handers and then flat 800m on a great wide roadway gets you home. I chased the 6th placer hard but 16 minutes slipped away from me.

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Paul pushing hard towards the finish.

As team mates gathered in the finishing area – Carlo Agostinetto, Aaron Mendelsohn and Michael Watling blew big holes in their PRs with 16:34, 16:43 and 19.54 respectively (boy it would be nice to run a PR).

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Carlo looking strong heading to the top of the final hill.

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Aaron on his way to a PR.

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Michael heading to the finish.

I quickly got acclimatized to 16 minutes and 6 seconds change and being 2nd masters. After all I did win the M45-49 and was 3rd AG with 90.17%. But on the warm down with Carlo, Aaron and Mike I realized I was the odd man out. The only man without a PR from the race.

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Warren Street team post-race.

Race Report: Percy Sutton Harlem 5K Run, New York, August 25

by Paul Thompson

Almost to the day in 2011 Anderson Cooper was standing in his wellies in an inch of water in downtown Manhattan as Hurricane Irene ran short of breath.  But it was too late. While the hurricane slowed to a storm New York Road Runners (NYRR) had already canned that years Percy Sutton Harlem 5K race for fear we’d all get swept into the Atlantic, bags an’ all.

On that occasion NYRR got caught up in a storm of its own making. For those entered it offered to count the race as one of the 9+1 for guaranteed entry to the ING New York City Marathon (NYCM) – but no refunds. Big deal if you were one of the majority like me that had no intention of running the NYCM. Eventually, after a lot of flak, they conceded to offer credit for a future race. Smart move.

Well this year NYRR are once again caught up in storm of its own making – its no baggage policy. This one is more like a Category 5, having hit the headlines. I wonder if the outcome will be the same: a climbdown. We’ll see.

So today was my first actual attempt at the Percy Sutton Harlem 5K Run. It was a nice change to Central Park and offered all the color of Harlem. Standing on the start line there was a long line up of speakers, some passionately pressing their religious views on arguably the world’s most diverse running community, and a musician with some wind instrument who knocked out some great renditions of the African-American National and US National anthems.

Then we were off on this 5K loop around West Harlem. Starting and finishing next to St. Nicholas Park at around 135th-138th Street it heads north for a mile, much of it uphill. At 155th Street a sharp left hander sets runners on a southerly trajectory. I hit the mile mark here in 5:11, on track for my target of 16 flat.

The lead pack at the 2 mile point.

The next mile and a quarter is mostly along a gently rolling tree lined avenue flanked by brownstones. I hit mile two in 10:20. Just on track. The final three quarters of a mile includes a steep descent, two 90 degree left handers, and rounds off with a flat straight half mile into the finish.

It was one of those finish straights that teases you, the finish gantry looking almost like you can touch it. Except that it’s a lung bursting 2-3 minutes away. At the 3 mile mark, reading 15:30, I thought I had my target in the bag. I didn’t. I lost concentration, slipped off the group I was chasing and the results showed me with 16:02, but with first age grade and first masters as a consolation.

In the finishing straight.

Warren Street’s open men’s team finished 5th, barely 10 seconds a man behind 3rd place. The team was led home by Sebastien B with Charlie Baily, Ryan Korby and Robert Dugger making up the scoring five. Unfortunately our men’s masters team, weakened by summer vacations, slipped to 3rd place but retained 2nd overall for the season.

Ryan and Charlie at the 3 mile mark.

Photo Gallery from the Race:

Runners conserving energy before the start of the race.

Others were a lot more energetic.

The route took runners past some of Harlem’s churches.

Sebastien B. leading the Warren Street team at the 2 mile point.

Fabio Casadio giving it his all.

Warren Street’s youngest team member, Nick E.

Mary Wittenberg, NYRR president, gets out on the course to take photos of the runners coming in.

Over a 100 runners from “Black Grils Run” too part. The group’s aim is to fight obesity in the African-American community.