Tag Archives: Piriformis syndrome

Race Report: 2019 New Haven Road Race Half Marathon, September 2, New Haven CT.

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.

Race Day

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.

Post Race

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.

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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

Sometimes Victory is Bittersweet

by Paul Thompson

A few days ago I won the accolade of being Men’s Runner of the Year, 45-49 Age Group for the 2012 season at the New York Road Runners (NYRR) Club Night. It was one of my goals of 2012 so it was mission accomplished. But any desire to celebrate was tempered by a dogged injury.

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I’ve won the award for 6 straight years, every year since I turned 40 back in December 2005. My aim is to make it 10 out of 10 during my 40s. But these past few weeks I’ve come to realize that the biggest hurdle to achieving this is unlikely to be my ability to sustain the motivation and training nor is it likely to be my competitors, formidable as they are. Rather the greatest obstacle could be injury.

A month ago I felt invincible as I racked up the quantity and quality of my training. In January I was running 75-90 miles week and pushing low 5 minutes per mile (MPM) at the end of long tempo sessions. Now I have been humbled by piriformis syndrome which has so far proved hard to budge.

And so here I am in Boulder CO.. What was to be a long hard weekend of training as a final platform for a crack at running the London Marathon under 2:30, bag a PR and win the M45-49 age group has instead turned into a rehabilitation camp.

This morning, during a snow storm, I ran 6 miles at 8 MPM. And it did not feel anything like as easy as the pace would suggest. The past month I have run barely 40 miles versus over 300 in January. I’m now stretching.

The moral of the story is that when you are feeling invincible and lauding it over others you are at your most vulnerable and all set for a fall. As my mum would say “don’t get too big for your boots”.

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Watching from the Sidelines is Harder than Racing

by Paul Thompson

This morning I was in northern Manhattan watching the Coogan’s Salsa Blues and Shamrocks 5K. It was one of those rare occasions when I was watching from the sidelines rather than competing. And I learned it was not only harder to watch than race, as I did last year, I am also less good at it.

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The leaders make there way up the first hill

My spectating was forced on me by injury. I am three weeks into an injury which has gotten progressively worse, dragging my fitness and spirit down with it. Fortunately, since my last blog post, I am one step closer to getting over it. Thanks to Facebook friends I think I now know what I have and how to treat it.

The problem seems to be piriformis syndrome. A complex sounding condition which boils down to something very simple: a ‘pain in the butt’, literally not just figuratively. My physician confirmed it on Friday and at noon tomorrow I will be at New York Physical Therapy.

Self treatment started last week. As I write I am sitting on a baseball: I would not know how to throw one (I come from a country that plays cricket) but I sure know how to sit on one to get some relief. Another series of stretches I found useful were on Youtube. And yesterday I found myself rolling my feet on small balls (!) with five women. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Hence, with injury here I was standing roadside cheering on team mates, watching and listening to this colorful part of Manhattan. I found it colder, much colder, standing around in several layers than racing in singlet and shorts. Watching also reminded me of my problem: I just wanted to be running.

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On course entertainment

I am just plain out of practice when it comes to spectating: many of my Warren Street clubmates I came to cheer along went by without me noticing. I ‘practice’ running 20 hours week but I only spectate once in a blue moon. My wife, Shamala, a veteran of most of my races, is far better at it. I now know why she complains about ‘hanging about’ trying to catch a glimpse of me running

Though injured life has its consolations. Having entered the race and gotten a number I was able to share in the free post race refeshments, a curious combination of Guinness, shepherd’s pie and sesame seed micro muffins, at Coogan’s Restaurant, at 9:30am Sunday.

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An unused number but at least it got me two free drinks coupons