Tag Archives: marathon

Race Report: Virgin London Marathon, April 23, 2017

by Paul Thompson (photos by Shamala Thompson)

One Week On

Almost a week ago I crossed the finish line of the Virgin London Marathon. Usually I write race reports on the day of the race. This time I was simply too exhausted to write a good analysis of the event. I needed a few days to take it all in and make some sense if it. So here goes.

My main emotion on crossing the line was one of relief, relief that I’d survived. It took several hours before relief started to give way to a sense of achievement, joy even. Unlike some I did not fist pump the air as I crossed the line. I simply shook my head and cast my eyes to the floor. The marathon is like no other race. Period. Physically and psychologically it takes you places you never really want to have to go. And I think with age has come the knack of self inflicting pain. My coach Lee Troop calls it the hurt locker. You can spend a lot of time in there asking testing questions of yourself.

In my previous 4 attempts I’d always found myself switching from racing to surviving mode way before the finish was in sight. In my first three the ‘switch’ came around mile 20. In my 4th, last year’s Greater Manchester Marathon it came at around mile 23. Last week it came soon after 40K. In so doing it proved my best ever marathon. Not my fastest but rather the one I have come closest to mastering. I also came close to enjoying it. Sure I always enjoy the experience, not least the crowds who come out to cheer. But it’s hard to enjoy the running in those closing miles.

Build-Up

The build up to this race was mixed. In early March, with my longstanding IT band issue under control, I started to suffer from hamstring tendinitis. It first fully manifested itself in the Washington Heights 5K. Like most injuries I’d never suffered from before I’d never heard of this one. In sum it was a “pain in the arse”, proverbially and physically. Early diagnosis enabled me to monitor and treat it. Lee insisted I revert to just running steady, canning speed workouts and long runs. A 10K race two weeks out in my best time for almost 6 years confirmed that I’d somehow managed to keep in great shape on a diet of 70 miles a week of steady stuff. But would I pay for missing 22-23 mile runs? Lee suggested I plan for a cautious start and moderate expectations, 2:33 rather than 2:30.

The 10K race was just the fillip I needed. It had been a calculated gamble that had paid off. I then did a short taper of two weeks dropping my weekly mileage to 60 in the penultimate week and 50 in the final week. I traveled from New York on a red eye on Tuesday night. I got in a few good nights sleep and accelerated my adjusting to the time difference  – my body was on US time, 5 hours behind – by doing some early morning runs and early to bed. By race day I felt ready. Quietly confident.

Final Countdown

Like Manchester in ’16 I ran this with brother Stephen. We were with our respective families staying with long-time friends, Gary and Alison, who live in Wimbledon. After an early dinner – chicken kebab and couscous (and a glass of wine) – I went to bed at 10:00 pm and got at least 7 hours in. Steve had a less restful night. I got up just after 6:30 pm and downed a quick breakfast of porridge and banana washed down with coffee. That left me 3 hours before the 10:00 am start to digest it. During this time I drank a little water but often and then had a gel (Chocalate Outrage GU – I prefer these to the leading UK brands – smaller and easier to open packets, familiar flavors but you need water to wash ’em down. I planned to carry two salted caramel, one to take around mile 10, the other around mile 18).

The last supper

We then tripped by tube and train to Blackheath where we went our separate ways – Steve to the Green Start being a ‘Good for Age’ runner and me to the Blue Start as a ‘UK National Marathon Championship‘ runner. I sensed Steve was a little more nervous than me.

As a Championship runner you and around 500 other fast male and female UK club runners get a dedicated enclosure with changing facilities, toilets, water and baggage truck. I had just over an hour to the start. I chilled out, did some easy running to warm-up and slowly stripped down to my racing wear. While in the enclosure I met Joel Jameson as well as rivals Rob Downs and Graham Green who I’d only known previously through Facebook. I had a number of aims in this race but the primary ones were to be first Brit M50 and to run as close to my 2006 2:29:56 marathon PR as possible (5:44 minutes per mile average gets you 2:30).

Joel I knew from Manchester where he’d glided past me with a mile or so to run and finished in under 2:31, a minute ahead of me. He had a knack of running even splits so I took him up on the offer to run with him as far as possible. And was glad I did. As we got led out to the start line I stayed close to Joel and saw Graham up ahead. And then we were off.

Early Miles – To Cutty Sark 

In the opening mile there was a  lot of runner traffic. I guessed I was in around 300th place (of 40,000 starters) and predicted if all went to plan some 200 of these in front would slow down and I’d overtake: I was not planning to speed up! Indeed the RunPix data confirms this. The key was to keep my head down and be patient. I’m not good at that. I’m usually tempted to start competing with others but it’s best to keep the gloves on as long as possible, until at least half way. Joel ensured I did this. Slowly we weaved our way through the ranks. I ran in close proximity to Graham. We sensed each others presence but cut the pleasantries. I wished him the very best but I was here to beat him.

In the opening few miles, especially the 3rd mile as we head towards the River Thames, the course descends significantly. As a result my mile splits for the first 4 miles read 5:43, 5:37, 5:32 and 5:38. My official 5K time was 17:29. This put me a fraction ahead of the 5:44 pace needed for sub-2:30. Over the next few miles I settled into a 5:44 rhythm.

What I started to notice were how the crowds were vast. I’d last run London in 2007. Back then there were some quiet stretches especially south of the river and far reaches of Docklands. This time the only quiet stretches were two underpasses. At Cutty Sark, the first significant landmark around the 10K mark (reached in 35:17) it felt like running through a noise tunnel. The crowd somehow instinctively understands what you are putting yourself through. They come out selflessly to cheer complete strangers, people who they’ll never actually meet. It’s hard not to feel uplifted and emotional. You feel like you’re gotta finish as way of thanks.

Crowds at Canada Water

Cutty Sark to Half Way

Periodically I kept checking in with Joel. At around mile 8 he said it would be a hard day at the office. I took that to mean he would likely struggle to hold 2:30 pace and I might have to leave him soon. He dropped away soon after 10 miles. I also noticed Graham was no longer around. I assumed he’d fallen off the pace. I did a quick ‘cross check’ of how I felt: the legs, heart, mind. All was good. And so were the conditions. The weather was perfect. 12-15 C (55-60 F), overcast and light winds. In the latter stages we’d see some sun and I’d catch some sun.

My support team planned to be at Canada Water where you can catch the race at mile 9 and 11. As I approached the area the crowds swelled. Clearly lots of people live in this neighborhood now, unlike 2007. In fact the crowds were comparable with Cutty Sark. I figured I needed to be prominent if they were to see me so I pushed to the front of the pack I was running and run down the middle of the road rather than hug the curb. And sure enough I saw them and they saw me.

My younger supporters – from left to right: Sean (Keiko and Nial’s son), Daniel and Connor (nephews)

Tongue wagging is less tiring than waving. I ran in colors of my New York club, Urban Athletics, but as a British citizen scored for Kettering Town Harriers.

Through this section, the second quarter of the marathon I tucked into a group and clocked some consistent miles, my splits for miles 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 were 5:44, 5:41, 5:46, 5:44, 5:41, and 5:43. Bang on 2:30 pace. Soon after Canada Water I took my first gel and picked up a Lucozade one as a just in case for the closing few miles.

At Tower Bridge, just before half way, the crowds were again very deep. Clambering onto the bridge is the first upwards incline of any significance. The road rises gently for around 400 meters. Soon after crossing the bridge and turning right to head towards Docklands I saw the elite women, who’d started 45 minutes ahead of us, on the other side of the road at 22-23 miles. Mary Keitany had a big lead. She’d go on to set a all-women’s world record, shattering the record of Paula Radcliffe.

Mary Keitany on route to a world record

Laura Thweatt, Lee’s top charge, came into view. I careered across the road to the far left so In could get close and shout encouragement. She did not flinch. She was in the zone. She’d go on to run a PR in 2:25:38 making her a strong candidate for a place in the US team for World Champs in London! Soon after the half way clock came into view. I passed half way in 1:14:53 after covering the 13th mile in 5:47. I suspected the 7 second credit would be insufficient to get me a 2:30 finish. Some slowing seemed inevitable.

Laura Thweatt heading to a PR and sixth woman overall

Half Way to Docklands

For many miles now I’d been overtaking many runners. Not because I was speeding up rather because they, like me in my first attempts at London in 2006 and 2007 (2:29:56 and 2:31:47 after 1:12:06 and 1:12:20 at half way). At age 51 had I finally learned my lesson? I’d likely find out in the third quarter of the race. Unfortunately I was finding it hard to find a group, someone to run with for longer than a mile or so. I was still catching and passing rather than working with others. In the video below (@40 secs) at around 14 miles I look surprisingly relaxed.

At around mile 15 the route enters an underpass. Suddenly it fell quiet, for the first time since the start. It was a welcome break from the roar of the crowd. I could hear my footsteps and breathing. I was running strong and purposefully – miles 14, 15, 16 and 17 were covered in 5:41, 5:47, 5:45 and 5:41. I’d started to compete with other runners. But mile 18 was telling. I slowed to 6:01. For the first time I was outside 2:30 pace. I downed my second gel and in the shadow of Canary Wharf passed my support crew. I rallied slightly covering miles 19 and 20 in 5:50 and 5:47.

Still going strong at Canary Wharf

Docklands to The Embankment

For many, me included, the marathon really starts at around mile 20. That’s when the body rapidly starts to run out of gas and deep fatigue sets in. At a slightly elevated section I caught a glimpse of The City and The Shard, 3 miles distant. I was on the home leg towards the finish. I now needed to batten down the hatches and conserve energy in anticipation of the body starting to tire. I actually found someone who I could key off for a few miles though their pace was erratic.

On my last outing in London in 2007 it was around mile 20 that my body started to shut down and switch from racing to surviving mode. But this time I found myself able to register 5:49, 5:50 and 5:50 for miles 21, 22 and 23. Not quite fast enough for sub 2:30 but enough to clock 2:30 and change. I now started to enter ‘the zone’. That’s when the sole focus is on getting to the finish. Such deep focus that all sense of what’s going on around you disappears to the point you fail to recognize friends shouting right at you.

In the final mile at Westminster

The zone is a dark place. You start to look inwards, searching desperately for both the energy and will to finish. The mile splits evidenced the creeping fatigue. The 24th took 5:54. There was a small underpass and tunnel. It offered respite from the crowds. The small incline coming out felt like Everest. I was now on The Embankment. The sun was shining and the crowds roaring. I was gradually closing on the runners in front. Slowly. At this point of the marathon it’s ugly. Few are able to maintain good form.

The Finish

At 24 miles I glanced to my right to see the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. They looked distant. Each mile now felt long. Very long. It felt like an eternity had passed before you could see the balloon arch marking the next mile marker. At 40K the clock showed 2:23:18. At this point I finally realized and accepted beyond reasonable doubt that a sub-2:30 was out of reach. At 4 minute per kilometer pace I’d be home outside 2:31.

It took me 6:09 to suffer the 25th mile, my slowest mile of the race. As I turned right at the Houses of Parliament and headed towards Buckingham Palace (London outguns all the major marathons in terms of sight seeing eye candy) I feared a complete shutdown somewhere on Bird Cage Walk. I fixed my sights on the runner in front. I still had the Lucozade gel but figured it would take more than gel to rescue extremely tired legs. But then at this point we fail to see or understand a lot of stuff.

The last mile was like a death march. Whatever that is. At the end of Bird Cage Walk the course veers right across the large roundabout in front of the Queen’s pad. And finally a right turn onto The Mall and 200 meters to the line. I had nothing left to sprint with. Just a mild pick-up. I looked up at the clock showing 2:31:49 and then I was done. I was suddenly released from my sentence. My 26th mile had taken 6:05, the final 2K 8:28.

Bird Cage Walk

Post Race Analysis

My official time was 2:31:45 (bib 1676) and place was 82nd. As I staggered wearily towards the baggage truck I bumped into Hussein Ahmed (2:29:44), a London based Egyptian who I’d raced against when he lived in New York in 2006-2008, and Martin Fiz (2:29:32). It turned out Fiz had been beaten into second M50 by a French Algerian El Yamani (2:26:36) relegating me to 3rd M50. Imagine! What the f…k does one need to do to win M50 these days? It turns out Fiz battled with El Yamani but then slowed dramatically in the latter half.

Martin and me

I loitered in the baggage truck area for a while. Rob Downs (2:37:06) popped up and a few minutes later Graham Green (2:41:19). I gave Graham a big hug. For him it was like clutching a stick insect, for me embracing a bear. I have amazing respect for Graham, Rob and all the other masters runners who’d made such huge commitments preparing for this race. Graham and his legendary 100 mile plus weeks were my main motivator. I counted myself lucky. My network of masseur, chiropractor, acupuncturist, coach Troop and coach Jerry Macari, team, pacemaker, motivator and manager / wife had got me here. And on the day the stars aligned.

Eventually I exited the finishing area and rendezvous with my support crew in the meeting area (see picture below). Gary and Alison were the perfect hosts, feeding us pre- and post-race as well as traipsing across London to cheer us on. And to top it off Gary produced an album of pictures.

Left to right: Nial and Gary (University buddies from the mid-80s), Daniel and Connor (nephews), Sean (son of Nial and Keiko), Lynn (Steve’s wife), Keiko (Nial’s wife), Tim (Paul’s husband), Alison (Gary’s wife) and Paul (Tim’s husband)

Brother Steve then showed up. He’d run a PR of 3:08:37 and placed 2,861st. He passed half way in 1:31 but had slowed in the latter stages. He was, however, able to throw in a sprint finish. According to the Northants Evening Telegraph (ET) we were the fastest siblings. They may have jumped to that headline in the interests of boosting circulation. In 2016 it had been Callum Hawkins and his brother. We’re asking the organizers to confirm before opening the bubbly. It seems likely the ET are correct.

Fastest siblings (to be confirmed)

Full Virgin London Marathon results are here. My official pictures are here. My Garmin data is here (note for the first time I get above 200 heart rate). And the BBC finish line video stream is here (needs a UK VPN). The latter is revealing. Most good club runners clocking 2:30 or so look totally shot at the finish. Few if any can muster a sprint.

My time, worth an age grade of 91.2%, is good for top British M50 for 2017. But then there’s several more months to run. It also gets me 7th spot on the M50 all-time list, the fastest British M50 since 1999.

There’s room for improvement. Perhaps Graham and I should run Berlin in September with Joel Jameson as pacemaker. Now I should get in some R&R but then that would break the habit of a lifetime and Graham might scoff at my moment of weakness. So on Wednesday I was back out there doing an easy 5 miles. It felt amazing. But it was the hardest slowest run for a long, long time. Next up the Brooklyn Half in 3 weeks!

Race Report: Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K, New York, March 5, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

Today was possibly the coldest conditions I’ve ever run in. Leaving the house to drive south at 7:15am, my weather app was showing 12F (-11C), feeling like 2F (-18C). The bright sunshine was deceptive. It promised some warmth but gave none. Fortunately Urban Athletics came away with a truck load of team and individual awards, topped by first woman, enough to make it more than worth braving the cold. While some members were running in new, older, age groups, all of us felt like we were running in a new Ice Age.

When I first said to coach ‘Troopy’ that I wanted to run this for the team he suggested I run train through and not allow it to interfere with my London Marathon preparations. That’s what I did when racing the 2016 Gridiron 4M last February while building for the Greater Manchester Marathon. I’m not big on ‘training through’. I like to think I can give every race a fair shot. So I was relieved that  Troopy changed his mind. After hill repeats on Monday and 14 miles on Tuesday, he then adjusted my training to allow some tapering. I ended the week, Saturday, with 62 miles, almost 20 less than the previous week. And on Fridayt I saw DrStu who treated tightness where the glute meets the hamstring.

After parking the car at Marcus Garvey Park, Sham and I ran the 3.5 miles to the start via St. Nicholas Avenue. It was a warm-up of sorts. We arrived with barely 10 minutes to go, just enough time to squeeze in a few strides and ‘relieve’ myself behind the locked toilet block. Huddling with UA team mates in the starting corral offered some collective warmth but some face muscles were not working making for slurred conversation. It was a relief to hear the gun. Only 16 minutes until I got reunited with my warm clothing.

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Jason Lakritz, leading UA finisher

On the opening half mile climb I tucked into a group comprising team mates Javier Rodriguez, Carlo Agostinetto and Jamie Brisbois. Jason Lakritz was in a group several meters ahead of us. Several other masters runners were in close proximity including Peter Brady and John Henwood. Gradually Carlo and Javier edged away with John on their coat tails. I covered the first mile in 5:21.

The course then descends for some 500 meters into Fort Tyron Park. I was now chasing John. Carlo and Javier had gotten away. As we circled the Cloisters and started to head home – this 5K is an out and back with the Cloisters marking the lowest point of the undulating course – for the first time I can remember I snatched a view of the Hudson River.

The second mile is symmetrical – it descends for 500 meters, circles the Cloisters for 600 meters and then winds its way back up for 500 meters. I passed mile 2, the highest point of the course, in 10:43. At this point one is tempted to think one can cruise down to the finish. That’s a mistake. There’s still a steady 300 meter climb to tackle before the course drops down to the finish.  At the crest of that climb I pulled alongside John only to have him accelerate away.

In that final 800 meters of gently descending roadway I lost a few places and crossed the finish line in 16:36 per the official results, good for 33rd overall. It was a few seconds shy of my 16:30 target. My Garmin data is here but it’s mixed with my long warm-up.

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Crossing the finish line in 16:36

Javier won the masters in 16:09, John in 2nd in 16:31 and me 3rd, 1st M50 and top AG with 89.63%. UA won big. Harriott Kelly won the women’s race in 17:16 and Fiona Bayly, just shy of her 50th birthday, matched Javier by winning the women’s masters in 19:06. UA won the team races for masters men, masters women and veteran men (M50) and came 3rd overall for men and 5th overall for women.

Harriott was gushing with joy, pride and relief. Typically understated and super modest for a short while she wanted, quite rightly, to remind everyone “I won” and get the plaudits. That feeling I could tell she had was that priceless feeling that comes when all the hard work and commitment pays big dividends and you come out on top. Well done Harriott!

Other UA individual top 10 age group placers were as follows: Jason Lakritz 9th overall and 5th M25-29 in 15:46; Carlo Agostinetto 1st M35-39 in 16:10; James Brisbois 2nd M20-24 in 16:55; Matt Chaston 2nd M45-49 in 16:59; Aaron Mendelsohn 6th M40-44 in 17:06; Stefano Piana-Agostinetti 7th M45-49 in 17:47; Jonathan Schindel 3rd  M50-54 in 17:54; Theo Dassin 2nd M15-19 in 17:57; Adam Kuklinski 4th M50-54 in 18:44; Ellen Basile 2nd W40-44 in 19:25; Paul Wong 10th M50-54 in 19:32; Jennifer Harvey 3rd W45-49 in 20:17; Dominique Saint-Louis 1st W50-54 in 20:27; and Isobel Porteous 4th W15-19 in 23:53.

The NYRR race report, which runs a close second to this one, plus pictures are here and the full results, the format of which I’m still trying to master (!), are here.

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From left to right: Jacob Salant, me, Aaron Mendelsohn, Jamie Brisbois, Javier Rodriguez, Carlo Agostinetto, Jason Lakritz, Stefano Piana-Agostinetti, and Harriott Kelly

I won’t calculate the average age of our placers. Suffice to say we are working hard to lower it! Meantime our mature runners are the best in the New York area and look amazing.

Preparing for London and Avoiding Fake Injuries

by Paul Thompson

Back in January I was in Boulder CO.. I was there to plan and kick start my 2017 campaign. I landed at Denver International Airport (DIA) late morning. It was snowing, there was a 13 -inch deep carpet of snow and it was -17C. I arrived, as I explained a few weeks before, unsure whether to run any marathon in ’17, let alone which one, and when. After 10 minutes with coach Lee Troop I was doing London on April 23. It speaks volumes for Troopy’s power of persuasion and my belief in him. It was 14 January, 14 weeks to London.

Flatirons, Boulder under blanket of snow

It’s now eight weeks to London. Yesterday I closed out an 80 mile week with an easy 23 miles in Central Park. It was almost 70F, the sun was out, I was running (and talking!) with Urban Athletics team mates and Mike McManus, and I was injury free. Life is good. Let’s hope it stays like that.

On January 14,  Troopy said if I was to run a marathon in ’17 better it be a big occasion one. I ran 2:32:02 in ’16 at the super fast Greater Manchester and they were keen to have me back. But London is arguably the world’s greatest marathon and I get to join brother Steve, Jordanian friend Mo’ath Alkhawaldeh, and Troopy’s top charge Laura Thweatt. Some top M50 Brits are also running London, most notably Graham Green. Graham’s currently logging 120 miles a week and like me aiming for 2:30. I hope we can help each other.

In my last post I flagged some potential target races for ’17. Those targets are clearer now. In addition to London, I’ll aim to run the half marathon (and maybe XC) at the European Masters Athletics Non-Stadia Champs in Denmark and run as many of the NYRR club championship races as I can and, in turn, hopefully help Urban Athletics retain the masters’ team title we collected a few days ago at The Hard Rock Cafe, Times Square.

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Urban Athletics award winning masters’ team

At The Hard Rock , Urban Athletics team mates turned out in force and in full voice to support their 12 nominees. We clinched the masters’ team award and six individual awards. I won the M50-54 to add to the one from last year and the 9, of of 10, won while in my forties.

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L to R: Matt Chaston (M45-49 winner), me (M50-54 winner), Carlo Agostinetto (Ultra winner), Jonathan Kline (M55-59 winner), Javier Rodriguez (M40-44 winner) and Aaron Mendelsohn (M40-44 nominee)

In the past few days team mates, in particular project manager Moses Lee and dentist Ramin Talib, have asked how I avert injury. Truth is I’m not immune. Since 2011 I’ve had a constant battle with IT band issues and in early 2013, when I last attempted to train for London, was plagued with sciatica. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten wiser with age. But I’d be kidding myself. Sciatica proved stubborn and only went away when an accident forced me to take 6 weeks off.

My IT band issue is firmly under control thanks to regular visits to DrStu, a Bedford Hills based chiropractor, and a DIY self maintenance routine. My routine focuses on strengthening, rather than stretching, of glutes and hips. It comprises some gluteal exercises (given to me by Heather North when I tripped to Boulder before the Bronx 10 last September), together with some foam rolling and calf raises. The routine is repeated 3-4 times and takes 12-15 minutes on the floor of my lounge while watching some fake news.

In sum my routine looks like this (videos by Heather of her husband Ewen):

1. Glute max – 2 of following for 60 seconds, both sides and repeated: http://youtu.be/96sud2L5jiI


2. Glute med – 2 of following for 60 seconds, both sides and repeated:





3. Foam rolling – light rolling focused on mid-IT band. Note: I do not overdo it as this article cautions: https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/your-it-band-is-not-the-enemy-but-maybe-your-foam-roller-is/

4. Calf raises – 60 seconds, both sides and repeated: http://www.dummies.com/health/exercise/how-to-do-the-standing-calf-raise/

Well that’s all for now. Trump’s back on the TV so it’s time to roll and stop faking it.

 

 

Looking Back on 2016

by Paul Thompson

In the first few days of 2016 I did like many of us. I made some new year’s resolutions. Actually more goals for the year ahead, as a fifty year old. And I committed them to print – right here. I rarely revisit my new year’s resolutions. But this time I was intrigued to see whether what I achieved in 2016 I had remotely predicted.

Well that article I wrote in the first few days of January 2016 concluded with this: “By 51 I hope to have a World Masters medal and a new marathon PR”. Well I turned 51 a few days ago and have four World Masters medals and came within 2 minutes and 6 seconds of my marathon PR (having been on schedule until around 23 miles).

As far as I know that 2:32:02 was bettered only by one other runner age 50 and above – Martin Fiz. My times at 10 miles (54:16) and half marathon (1:12:48) topped the UK rankings. So I guess I can’t complain. Or at least I will but shouldn’t.

What then does 2017 have in store? Next week I’ll be in Boulder and get time with coach Troopy. We’ll map out the season ahead. At this time I have two ideas. Another stab at a marathon PR, either in the spring (I’m entered for London and Greater Manchester but, if any, one will do) or, as seems more likely, the fall (Chicago, New York, Berlin or Beirut).

If I don’t get on top of my game I may not do any marathons. If I do my game plan will be to do what most older elite runners do – run the second half quicker than the first. My 2:32:02 was as close as I’ve gotten in any of my four marathons and yet I still ran the second half almost 5 minutes slower than the first (1:13:34 to 1:18:28).

My favorite distance is the half. I’m almost certain to run the half at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Aarhus, Denmark in early August. On the right course and in ideal weather conditions 1:11 is doable. I may need to since in ’17 I’m joined in the highly competitive M50-54 age group by two prolific Brits in Kevin O’Connor (70:10 in 2016) and Paul Ward (sub-32 10K in 2016). As if Graham Green was not enough. And that’s just Brits.

To get the new year off on the right footing I went to see a cardiologist, Alan Hecht, today for a check-up. Back in 2007 I’d had a cardio scare but it turned out to be false alarm. The cardiologist back then suggested annual checkups so here I was NINE years later.

Alan was very good. He gave me the all clear though I suspect any cautionary words he may have uttered just got quickly filtered out of my memory.

Race Report: Greater Manchester Marathon, UK, April 10, 2016

by Paul Thompson

Reason for Running

Eight years ago I ran the Boston Marathon in 2:38:52. The wheels came off soon after getting over the ‘summit’ of Heart Break Hill, just as they had at 22 miles in my two other marathons, London 2006 and London 2007. At the end I made one of those running vows – this was my last marathon. And like all running vows this was destined for the breakers yard. All it needed for it to give was self-discipline to slip, memory to wane, or curiosity to return. And so here I was standing on the start line of the Greater Manchester Marathon.

Having recently turned 50 I made another vow that trumped (that word’s on my mind a lot lately, hopefully not after November) the one I made eight years ago. To try and get a PR at the distance as an M50 (sorry British readers but masters has a far better ring to it than ‘veteran’, a term that conjures up images of those wounded in war rather than those that have mastered something). My PR, from Flora London Marathon 2006, was 2:29:56.

There was more to it than that. This was a distance I’d yet to conquer. My three previous attempts were poorly executed, a combination of irrational exuberance in the early miles and inadequate fueling. On all three occasions my racing was done at 22. I’d been defeated long before the finish line, the last 4 miles typically being a funereal march to just get to the end. I’d stopped competing with myself, with others, with anyone. Many of us have been there. Deep down I had to put that to rights. Or at least collapse trying.

Race Preparations

This time I had taken a few crucial extra steps (!) to maximize the chance of success. The main one being getting myself a coach who has a word class pedigree at marathon running and a philosophy that sits well with mine. Lee Troop. And to top things off, on the eve of the race, Lee revealed he’d finished 7th in the Commonwealth Games marathon held in Manchester in 2002.

This time round I was stronger, smarter, and better prepared than before. As well as Lee’s expert guidance since 2011 I’d been running long easy distance of 18-21 almost every weekend. This started more by accident than design, dictated by a Metro North train schedule for Peekskill to New York that left me with 2:30 to get a run done (with trains every hour of course I could have opted for 1:30 but then I needed to justify the 50 minute ride each way with at least as long a time running!). 26.2 was no longer intimidating. I’d also made regular visits to DrStu to keep me in running order and was popping some pills.

Heading into the race I made no secret I was doing it. And the words of encouragement – text, email, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Strava, even face to face – boosted  motivation, pressure (living up to their lofty expectations) and accountability (explaining to them should I fail to meet those expectations). Thanks to all of you that sent me words of encouragement and / or congratulation.

I had three targets – an “ultimate” one of under 2:29:56, an “I’ll take that” one of under 2:33, and an “I’ll live with that” one of under 2:36. Why more than one? Well we need a goal to stretch us. But then if mid-race we find it beyond our reach we need an anchor to help us get safely ashore. And if that goal is beyond us we need something else that will keep us motivated to finish rather than throw in the towel – in this case catch the Manchester Metrolink to the finish!

The final count-down to race day had gone to plan. Sham and I were in Paris the previous weekend so I spent a few days running there with my final longish run on Sunday on the trails of the Bois de Boulogne, catching some of the Paris Marathon. In the final week I clocked 56 miles and as I tapered, simultaneously reducing the load and intensity, my legs started to feel fresher and the IT band steadily improved. Sham made sure I also stuck to Lee’s fuel plan, gradually moving to a largely carbohydrate diet in the final days.

On the Saturday, the Thompson Clan – my brother Stephen, hoping to run 7 minute miles and smash his PR, his wife, Lynn, and two boys, our parents, and Sham – drove to the Didsbury Travelodge located in a Manchester suburb conveniently located at the end of a Metrolink tram line. That afternoon we did a recce trip in to see the start and finish area, half a mile from a Metrolink station and collect my race number.

Red rose, Lancashire's symbol from the War of Roses, on gate to Emirates Old Trafford, Lancashire County Cricket Club's stadium

Red rose, Lancashire’s symbol from the War of Roses, on gate to Emirates Old Trafford, Lancashire County Cricket Club’s stadium.

Race Day

On Saturday morning, after an early breakfast of oatmeal and banana, Steve, Lynn, Sham and I rode the tram in and made our way to the start. I took a GU caffeine gel 30 minutes before the start. While thousands suddenly started descending on the start area it felt decidedly low key: no fencing in the runners and jostling for a good starting position. Athletes were casual and courteous. Altogether much less stressful than the Marathon Majors. The downside was that it did not have that big race feel. I was proved wrong.

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Runners arriving early at start area.

This was my first race in new club colors. I’d entered using my UK registered club of Kettering Town Harriers but was wearing my new Urban Athletics vest. Ever since settling in the New World in October 2004 I’ve run, through mainly thick and some thin, for Warren Street but it was time for a new chapter in my running. A new club, a stronger vibe, greater ambition, and more resources in form of store base and potential sponsorship. As well as being one of the best teams in the New York area for men and women the UA masters men and women can be the best in the US. But the main thing was that many of my old Warren Street buddies joined me at UA.

In the closing minutes Sham called me over to get a picture with Ron Hill. An athletic icon, famous for breaking all sorts of records, who at 77 is still looking incredibly fit. There’s a campaign to get him a knighthood. No one deserves the accolade more given his accomplishments and what he’s put into the sport.

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Talking to Ron Hill just before the start.

Race Start

Ron saw us off. The first few miles were out and back down a highway. By the second mile I was running with Michael Hargreaves of East Hull Harriers who was hoping to dip under 2:30. We passed the first mile in 5:28 and second in 5:29. As Salford Harrier Josh Tighe joined us I gently applied the brakes. But by 5 miles it was clear I was comfortably running 5:35-40 miles – ahead of my ultimate schedule but perhaps too fast for me to sustain.By this point I’d also come to understand what Lee meant by “Manchester’s roads are hard”. The stones laid down onto the tar are harder than the slick tar roads of the US.

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Trading strides with Michael Hargreaves of East Hull Harriers.

From miles 5-10, through the suburbs of Stretford and Sale, I was isolated but running strong in the 5:40 range. Soon after mile 9, a heavily spectated section,  I took my first GU gel. Suddenly I was slowed by a sharp deep pain in my left calf, similar to a pain I’d experienced a month earlier in training in new training shoes. Within a few hundred meters I’d gone from running at 2:28-29 pace to facing the prospect of an early retirement. My sudden slowing to around 6:00 pace helped a chasing group of four, led by Phill Taylor, catch me.

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Mile 9 with chasing pack of four closing in.

Half Way

I figured if I tough it out the pain might ease. And so it did, soon after settling into the pack of four who had joined me.We worked well as a group running at around 5:40 pace and taking turns leading. But at the half way point in Altrincham – the highest point of the course which the website boasts as one of the fastest in the world, faster even than Berlin and Chicago – passed in 1:13:34, Phill Taylor and James Turner broke away. I let them go as I was concerned I’d run the first half 2 minutes faster than I should have.

By mile 14 I found myself once again running solo. I slowed slightly and downed my second gel. I was now running 5:50 miles. Pacing was starting to prove difficult: tiredness makes basic maths a challenge and I’d also inadvertently stopped the Garmin for a few minutes. At around mile 18 I found myself gently accelerating and through 21 maintained 5:40-45 miles. I overtook Phil Taylor who had got away from me exiting Altrincham. And a lady on the roadside shouted “Good run young man”. The best cheer of the race even if inaccurate.

Closing Stages

For the first time in my marathon running career I found myself enjoying it and confident of a strong finish. It did not last. At 21 I was again struck by sharp pain in my calf, only this time the left one. This forced a slowing in my pace as I again focused on running through it. I did  only this time there was no increase in pace. Deep fatigue was setting in and it was now a case of hanging on. The final few miles felt like hard labor. There was a head wind. My pace gradually slowed to 6:00 then 6:10 then 6:20. I was back in that zone – surviving as opposed to competing. I guessed I was on track for 2:33-35 but was almost past caring.

With less than a mile to go I got overtaken by a fast finishing Joel Jameson, a triathlete debuting at the marathon, but caught Michael Hargreaves (who would clock a PR but was clearly paying for a 1:12:30 first half). A spectator called out “you still have good form” which roughly translates to “you’re slowing down but at least still looking good.”And then Old Trafford football stadium,  home of Manchester United, and Emirates Old Trafford, home of the Lancashire County Cricket Club (LCCC), came into view.

That final mile, a long straight ending right outside the LCCC, seemed to take a little longer, actually a lot longer, than forever. Eventually I passed under the finishing gantry with the clock reading 2:32:02. I was very happy, at least as happy as you can be after a marathon which leaves you so completely exhausted that there’s little if any energy left to celebrate with. Steve, pictured gallery here, went even better clocking 3:11:56, several minutes inside his previous best.

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The end is nigh.

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Steve approaching the finish line.

Race Analysis

I finished 14th of the 9,500 starters, the fastest M35 upwards. My time placed me top of the UK 2016 M50 marathon rankings, just seconds shy of the leading time from 2015 of 2:31:56 by Graham Green. Manchester put on a great show – super fast course, enthusiastic spectators, relaxed atmosphere and even dry weather. Unfortunately there were baggage issues leaving some disgruntled.

Here’s the official review, race video, my official race picturesmy official results, the Garmin data (missing segment near mile 16 of 0.2-3 miles and forgot to stop the watch at the finish line), and Strava data (again missing segment but edited out the failure to stop the watch). My heart was unusually high in the first 10 miles but then moderated.

This is my last marathon. At least it might be. Somehow I need to trump Manchester. But maybe I’ll wait until Donald is behind us all. Either way I’ve ticked off one of my 2016 goals. Steve (pictures here) meanwhile said “there’s unfinished business”: he’ll likely aim to go sub-3 hours in 2017.

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Replacing calories and discussing with brother Steve what went right and wrong.

Race Report: 2016 Gridiron 4M, New York, February 7, 2016

by Paul Thompson

Today was my first race as a M50. It was also the first time ever, or at least as far as I can remember, that I was on the start line having not adjusted my training in preparation for a race. Quite the reverse. I did a long easy, or as easy as I could make it, 18 miles the day before. And it was the first time I completed a race having wished New York Road Runners (NYRR) operated a double dipping awards program. I’ll come back to that later.

This race was not on my bucket list for 2016. The USATF Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon (the M50 title I coveted was won by Carl Combs) was but the logistics – 5 hour flight then 3 hour drive – together with flight and hotel costs ruled that out. So with Bend out of the reckoning I had no viable excuse when team mate Carlo Agostinetto started press ganging his Warren Street team mates into running this race in the hope of picking up some team prize money. His methods proved very effective. Pretty much the entire racing team towed the line having gone to great lengths, and no doubt great ‘cost’, to get ‘leave’ from partners.

I explained to coach Lee Troop that I’d like to do this one “for the team”. He said OK. But there was a catch. First he suggested I make it part of a long run but eventually he settled on my running at least 1:45 the day before. In the early miles I thought about not racing but imagined Carlo’s disappointment so I focused on putting as much easy into that long easy run as I could and worked on managing expectations. My slowest time for 4 miles in the part was 21:11 on a hot September’s day back in 2014. A personal worst was on the cards.

I rode the train in to Harlem 125th Street from Peekskill. My driver, manager, cheer leader, bag carrier and photographer (hence no pictures for this post except for MarathonFoto!) wife Sham was in Singapore with family seeing in the Lunar New Year following a work trip to Bangkok. I then ran over to the Upper West Side to drop my bag and collect team mate Aaron Mendelsohn. We ran to the start picking up team mates en route.

The weather was near perfect. Still, bright sunshine and a few degrees above freezing, quite unusual for early February in these parts. Standing waiting in the starting corral for the gun I tried to seek some place in the sun. I only had a vest, shorts and gloves. And then we were off.

My new Garmin got to tell the story and passed it onto Strava. Three runners stole a big lead within the first quarter of a mile. Meanwhile team mates Carlo and Sebastien Baret and I chased 4th and 5th placed Bobby Asher and Tesfaye Girma. We caught them during the undulating first mile heading south down the West Side Drive. I passed mile one with Carlo in 5:21. We traded places – we may be team mates but we typically compete hard against each other – in the gently descending second mile. We passed the second mile marker in 10:34.

As we crested the high point of the 72nd Street Transverse I opted for the Denver Broncos channel owing to my liking for Boulder (for those that did not run please see the NYRR race report for an explanation). As did Carlo. And as we ascended Cat Hill Carlo started to edge away. I was running strong but I had no gears or speed to respond with. I covered the third mile in 5:29 and Carlo stole 5 seconds. He went on to rob me of another 4 seconds by the finish line. He posted 21:15, close to a PR, while I breasted the tape in 21:24, a PW.

In the finishing channel Carlo and I waited for the team. They all followed in quick succession – Sebastien Baret (21:38), Fabio Casadio (22:20), Aaron Mendelsohn (22:23) and Alex Lorton (22:37). All six of us either won our age group or else were in the top 5. But more importantly we were top team and NYRR owed us $500.

Now back to the double dipping. Were NYRR to permit double dipping my net worth (can’t you tell I’m an accountant) would have increased $425 ($100 for 5th overall, $150 for 1st 40+, $75 for 1st M50 AG and $100 for my share of the $500 team prize) in 21 minutes. That’s a great hourly rate. Unfortunately NYRR applies the following rule: “Unless otherwise noted, runners with multiple eligibility will be awarded the highest prize money amount only.” So I’ll have to settle for $250 – or $150 as likely the whole team will get to blow the $500 on beer.

The big consolation of the day, after a warm down, was being treated to a slice of chocolate brioche by Aaron and his fiancee Aviva. We might spend our $500 on these.

 

Day One of Spring Marathon Build-Up

by Paul Thompson

A few weeks ago I shared my running plans for 2016. I’m pleased to say that two weeks into 2016 I’m still pretty much on track. Significantly today marked the first proper day of my preparations for a spring marathon – the ASICS Greater Manchester on April 10 where I hope to duck under my PR of 2:29:56. I’m now following a 12 week program from new coach Lee Troop. Today, 84 days out, was day one. I ran 10 miles at 6:35 pace, a little faster and further than Lee had me down for, the day after I did an easy 20 miles in Central Park (that 20 rounded off a 70 mile week, one of many as I laid a base for a spring marathon).

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Lee Troop at the 2014 New York Marathon where he ran 2:25.

Today’s slightly irrational exuberance I figure is in order as I board a Etihad plane – in case you’re wondering ask any Manchester City fan – on Friday night to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and arrive at the other end Sunday morning. My Saturday run will be the 15 minute walk between gates connecting in Abu Dhabi Airport. Once in Colombo I’m then stuck for five days with hot sticky weather in the low 30s Celsius and limited running options in a crowded city. The only real place to run, on basis of past experience, is Galle Face Green.

I had a new partner on my run today – a Garmin Forerunner 235. It’s quickly living up to the promise of DC Rainmaker. Yesterday it came with me on my 20 miler in Central Park and owing to some widgets (I thought these were only to be found in educational text books) my run was regularly interrupted by notices for weather updates, Facebook comments and more. Today I did not carry my phone so the widgets were impotent and the silence was bliss. And by tomorrow I’ll have figured how to turn ’em off!

Garmin

Maybe I’m biased in my initial reaction to my new toy by all the good news its sharing. Yesterday it told me – I didn’t even have to ask it, this thing almost has a life of it’s own – my VO2 max was 57 and today 60. This prompted me to do a crash course 101 on what’s VO2 max and whether 60 was worth sharing with you. With a little help from Google of course.

Google eventually led me to this article about VO2 max and aging athletes. I spent time in academia so  I was enjoyed reading the dense text spiced with footnotes, equations et al. If it deters you or you simply lack the endurance needed to get to the finish line(s) of this article the conclusion reads:

“In summary, Masters endurance athletes are capable of remarkable athletic and physiological functional performance, thereby representing a uniquely positive example of ‘exceptional ageing’. Nevertheless, endurance exercise performance decreases during middle-age and declines at an even more rapid rate in older age. The available data indicate that decreases in VO2 max are the most clear and consistent contributor to these declines in performance. Reductions in the lactate threshold also may contribute, whereas submaximal exercise economy is preserved with ageing in endurance athletes. The age-associated decreases in VO2 max in endurance exercise-trained adults are mediated by reductions in maximal cardiac output and maximal arterio-venous O2 difference, with reductions in both maximal stroke volume and heart rate contributing to the former. The decreases in endurance exercise performance and VO2 max with ageing in endurance exercise-trained athletes are associated most closely with reductions in exercise training intensity and volume, probably as a consequence of changes in a number of physical and behavioural factors (e.g. increased prevalence of injuries, and reductions in energy, time and motivation to train). The ‘Masters athlete model’ continues to be a rich source of insight into our ability (or lack thereof) to maintain peak physical performance and physiological function with human ageing.”

In plain English what these academics are saying is that the main reason for our getting slower with age is a reduction in the amount and intensity of training. So maybe my slight exuberance today is vindicated. As for my VO2 max of 60 well all I’ve read suggests its good. It will be interesting to see what it is when I really crank it up. And what my heart rate is when digging: today it was around 140 while cruising at 6:30 pace.

It’s now time for me to rest and relax in time for the second day of Lee’s program. Maybe I’ll go play with my new toy and upload some more widgets.