by Paul Thompson (Photos by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)
Well this race was a long time coming. Almost a year since my last injury free race, the Bronx 10 in late September 2018 (in November 2018 I ran the British and Irish Masters Cross Country Champs unaware I was nursing a broken shoulder). And of all the days I chose to make my comeback it had to be Labor Day. It turned out to be hard labor. But let me stop laboring that point and get to explain that year out and the race.
My Year Out
The past year consisted of 3 phases. The first phase, what I called pain in the shoulder phase, was 2 months of intense PT rehab through December and January to get the shoulder back to normal, in terms of movement and strength, during which time I built up my mileage by end of January to 70 miles per week, all set for the 12 weeks through to the 2018 London Marathon.
The second phase, what I call pain in the arse phase started in early February. In the closing miles of my first long run as part of my London campaign while in Singapore I noticed a sharp pain in the butt and hamstring brought my 20 mile long easy – as easy as it can be in 32C and 90% humdity – to stand still. It took a while to figure out it was piriformis syndrome rather than high hamstring tendinitis. This phase lasted to the end of May. The piriformis proved stubborn but not as stubborn as me.
By early June I was back to normal training mileage but without the speedwork. This marked the start of the third phase which ended on Labor Day. I call it the hard labor phase since it was all about getting back to the normal routine including getting reacquainted with time in the hurt locker. On Labor Day I spent 1:14:33 in that locker.
Going into the race I was cautiously optimistic. A 20 minute Mona Fartlek, in which I covered 3.53 miles at an average pace of 5:40 mpm, the farthest and fastest I can remember in the 3 years I’ve been doing them, gave me confidence. But set against this was the fear the piriformis would reemerge: its still lurking albeit only rearing its head during intense workouts . And this was the longest time ever between races since I started running seriously in my early 20s. How would I take to racing again.
Sham and I, with running mate Mo’ath Alkhawaldeh and his wife Maira, had driven up the day before from Peekskill. After picking up race numbers – having switched from the USATF 20K National Championships to the half marathon that starts with and shares the same finish line but includes a 1.1K ‘detour’ at around 11 miles (course map) – I grabbed an early dinner and settled into my bed early at a rather unkempt La Quinta Hotel (never again).
The alarm rang at 6am for the 8:30am start from New Haven Green, barely a mile away. I had my small bowl of oatmeal and coffee and then jogged to start area, picking up Mo at another hotel en route. Conditions were favorable, for the time of year. It was slightly overcast, a little breezy, quite humd and in low 20sC / 70sF.
The great thing about this race is that being a USATF National Championship it has quality and depth at the front, and feels like an occasion, but has none of the heavily regulated corral arrangement of a NYRR race.
New Yorkers make for such a stressful final countdown to a race. After a 3 mile warm-up I lined up about three rows back. I now run for 212 Track Club (#212TC) but as I’d yet to get a vest I decided to race in my Team GB masters vest.
My plan was to settle into a group with some of the leading women and run 1:13:30 to top the 2019 UK and US half marathon rankings for M50-54. And sutre enough soon after the race started I was running alonside a group of some dozen women (see picture below), including 2018 champ Sara Hall. Turns out most of this group would end up finishing in front of me, at least in front of me at the point when I had to add the 1.1K detour.
It felt great to be back at it. And it showed in my fast start, clocking 5:20 for the first mile. Realising this I then tried to make some adjustments, slowing down slightly but not much as I was keen to stay in contact and work with a small group. I reeled off miles in 5:30, 5:32 and 5:34, passing 5K in 17:00 and 4 miles in 22:00. The course was fast – flat, long straights, few turns and good road surface. And I was happy racing for the first time in the Hoka One One Carbon X having been using the Adidas Adizer Adios since 2016 (though the Carbon Rocket may have served me better).
Up ahead of me was NYAC runner Jerry Faulkner running with Katie Newton – and even further ahead Michael Cassidy, who I used to trade strides with in NYRR races when he was slower and I faster, duking it out with Mo’ath. I passed mile 5 in 27:40. My mile splits were now slowing slightly – I clocked 5:39 and 5:42 for 5th and 6th miles, passing 10K in 34:40. I caught Jerry and Katie. Jerry dropped off.
Along the long straight tree-lined Chapel Street heading east to wards the city centre I worked with Katie (see picture above) chasing the pack of women some 100 metres up ahead. We ran miles 7, 8 and 9 in 5:39. I was now outside my goal of 1:13:30 and hurting. During the 10th mile, that ends near the high point of the course at an elevation of 140ft (verses 50ft at the start / finish area and 5ft at mile 9), I started to crack. This is unknown territory for me at point in a race: typically I’m either holding pace or accelerating slightly.
As I ascended the hill, most appropriately on English Drive, Roberta Groner, the 41 year old masters standout who will run for the USA at the marathon at the upcoming World Champs, caught me. We worked together and crested the hill. The 10th mile had taken 5:48 and I passed mile 10 in 56:05. But as we descended Roberta stole a lead. While I had to conserve a little, as I had my 1.1K detour coming up, if I was doing the 20K she’d have beaten me.
As the 20K runners made a right just before 11 miles I turned left. Just before the turn I saw Mo, leading the half with me in 2nd, pass in front of me having just done the 1.1K detour, a straight out and back before rejoining the 20K course. That 1.1K included a steady descent followed by a steady ascent. I was now treading water, in survival rather than competing mode as I typically find myself in a marathon. I’d covered the 11th mile, largely descending, in 5:40 but the 12th in 5:55. I was glad to rejoin the 20K runners. The 3rd place guy was some distance behind me.
The last mile felt like a procession, a slow funereal one, despite being flat and straight. I was focused on limiting my losses and hoping to get as close to 1:14 finish as possible. I ran mile 13 in 5:52 and crossed the line in 1:14:33. This was 2nd place after Mo with 1:08:48. Race results are here (and 20K, won by Leonard Korir and Sara Hall, here) and my Gamin data with splits and heart rate here. It gets me =5th in the UK M50-54 rankings.
Overall I enjoyed being back racing and relieved I got this one under my belt. I was back doing what I love, maybe a little slower than I’d like but unjury free and hungry for more. Perhaps I pushed too hard in those early miles.
I now look forward to the 2020 London Marathon and World Masters Athletics Champs Toronto 2020. The inaugural AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championship race will be part of the London Marathon. While I did not qualify via the rankings system – based on finishing places in 2 major marathons over the past 2 years – I will able to compete for this as I’m in the race.
This race has left me as tired as if I’d run a full marathon. Tired enough to prompt me to take today off and instead write this! Needless to say the tiny bottle of champagne I got for being first masters, and the one Mo gave Sham as he’s teetotal (see picture below), have already been consumed.