Tag Archives: London Marathon

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.


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.

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.


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.

London Calling but Injury Calls It Off

by Paul Thompson

Two weeks ago I completed a 20 mile run in Central Park, New York with the last 3 miles at 5:45 minutes per mile pace scorching my way through midtown Manhattan, dodging tourists and snow left over from Nemo. I finished at Grand Central Terminal (celebrating its 100th birthday), met Shamala, grabbed a latte and toasted bagel with butter, and boarded my train home for Peekskill. The London Marathon was calling and preparations were going well. Life was good.

Two weeks later my marathon plans are off. I am writing this while sitting uncomfortably on an aching butt having done 30 minutes easy on a Polar turbo trainer. London will have to wait another year. Life is not so good anymore.

Riding the train home two weeks ago I could sense something was not right. But like most of us runners faced with injury I steered clear of common sense. I spent two weeks in denial, hoping it would be a niggle that would soon pass. I was wrong. Despite running less and slower, the problem got worse.

So what am I doing about it. Well I am following the proven 4 step formula us runners are used to.

Step 1 – sulk and feel sorry for myself. That’s easy given that I feel I am owed some sympathy. Shamala is dolling it out but she has little left as she has her own injury woes. Eating (sugar, fatty) and drinking (alcohol) comfort food helps.

Step 2 – research online about what might be wrong and the consequences. According to some coaches few weeks off does little harm but of course  psychologically we aren’t convinced. Step one above may exacerbate this.

Step 3 – take to alternative forms of exercise. Hence the workout on the turbo trainer in the gym at our complex. Boy was it boring. I wonder how folk can bear running on a treadmill for more than 45 seconds. We are not cut out for being a mouse on a wheel.

Step 4 –  make an appointment with a specialist doctor, preferably one who understands the upside down mind of a sports mad person. Of course, in an ideal world we’d go to straight to step 4. But hell we just wanna run.

My injury is a mystery. The early warning signal was a slight ache at the top of my leg, just as the hamstring enters the butt area. Since then the pain has gotten worse and seems constantly on the move – turning up variously in the front, then the rear of my hip, top of my hamstring, top of my quads.

So life is not good right now. Barely a month ago I was running further than I’d ever done. Now I’m running less than I’ve done in years. But it will get better. Boulder beckons. Two weeks today we’ll be back in Boulder, CO.

Running in Boulder in February 2012.

Running in north Boulder in February 2012.

Marathon Duel: Boston vs. London

by Paul Thompson

The last two weekends have witnessed two of the world’s greatest marathons – Boston and London. (They are two of the five making up the World Marathon Majors.) Coming so close together makes it hard to do both in any one year. So faced with a choice, which should you do? Here is my assessment based on having spectated live and run both races (London in 2006 and 2007, Boston in 2008).

Running past the Houses of Parliament in the 2006 London Marathon.

Speed of Course
If you are looking for a PR/PB then London wins hands down. Both races descend in the opening few miles but while London is then pancake flat bar the odd bump Boston hits a long gradient in Wellesley (16 miles) and the Newton Hills (17-21 miles), culminating in Heartbreak Hill. The upshot is that London’s men’s race is typically won in around 2:05, the Boston men’s winner typically breasts the tape in around 2:08 – unless of course there is a following wind. (In 2011 when Geoffrey Mutai ran 2:03:02 – the fastest ever but ineligible for WR status according to IAAF rules owing to the net loss in elevation and the wind assist possibility from it being an A to B course).

Verdict: London

Geoffrey Mutai (in green) won the 2011 Boston Marathon,setting a new course record.

Caroline Kilel, winner of the 2011 Boston Marathon, dropped out at mile 25.

London can be relied upon for almost perfect conditions – for runners if not spectators. It’s often overcast with light winds and temperatures in the 50s (F) and 60s. In 2006, my marathon debut in London, we had a fine drizzle throughout. In 2007 temperatures peaked at 70F at the end. In Boston, however, the weather is a lottery. While ideal when I ran in 2008, the 2012 race saw the needle nudging 70F at the start and high 80s at the end. These furnace like conditions took their toll with many dropping out or running Personal Worsts. Many of the world’s best DNF. And this was not the hottest Boston.

Verdict: London

The Boston Marathon has heaps of history compared with its London counterpart. Boston is the world’s oldest city marathon dating back to 1887. Most runners also need to qualify – times matter more than fancy dress or charity when it comes to gaining entry. While London is run on the streets of a city that was once a Roman settlement its marathon is a relative new kid on the bloc, having started out in 1981 to emulate the New York City Marathon.

Verdict: Boston

The London Marathon takes in the London Eye.

The London course takes in some of the world’s most iconic sites – such as the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the London Eye, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace – and runs along the River Thames. Boston has only some quaint New England churches and the Prudential Tower. (Some might add the Wellesley girls as one of the attractions!) London wins by 26.2 miles on this metric.

Verdict – London

Poster from the 2011 Boston Marathon.

Quality and Depth of Field
London might be won in a faster time and boast more runners (almost 40,000 compared with 27,000) Boston’s qualification system means that just to stand on the start line, let alone cross the tape, is an achievement. Boston is geared more towards the serious runner, London the fundraiser be they Elvis, Batman, or the Pantomime Horse. Never mind the quantity, feel the quality that Boston has to offer.

Verdict: Boston

Heading to meet family and friends after the London Marathon.

Organization and Logistics
The Boston organizers have had time to hone their craft and it shows with impeccable organization. Unfortunately, having to bus 27,000 out to Hopkinton, a small village some 25 miles out of the city centre, makes logistics a stretch. For the 10 a.m. start you have to get on a bus from Boston Common before dawn and then spend almost two hours waiting in a field for the race to start.

London on the other hand you can turn up 30 minutes beforehand. Similarly post race is a breeze. Barely 2 minutes after crossing the finish line in my London races I had my kit bag, medal and goodie bag (the open sided trucks work far better than Boston’s school buses for baggage handing) and after 5 minutes I was telling war stories to family and friends outside Horse Guard’s Parade.

Verdict: London

The London marathon is the UK’s largest marathon, run on the streets of one of the world’s great capital cities, and watched live by hundreds of thousands. It’s more than a marathon. It’s an all singing, all dancing charity extravaganza unequalled in any sport anywhere anytime.

Verdict: London

Supporters in Boston cheering on runners at the finish,

London has a huge and enthusiastic crowd but Boston’s crowd know their marathon and their runners. It’s also a part of the Boston’s history. Train on the course in March and you will find home made refeshment stations set up along the route. At Wellesley College – Hilary Clinton’s old school – you feel like you are the Beatles setting foot for the first time in the USA: hundreds of screaming young women. On the 600m finishing down Boylston Street you are running through a cauldron of noise. In 1982 Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar battled it out in an epic race that entered marathon folklore as the ‘Duel in the Sun’: the crowd was awesome.

Verdict: Boston

Overall Verdict – London edges this. Judge for yourself by either running, watching kerbside or checking out the TV coverage for Boston and London.