Tag Archives: recovery

Running Europe: Switzerland

by Paul Thompson (Photos by Shamala Kandiah and Mala Gehri)

A few years ago, on the occasion of my wife Sham’s 50th birthday we were in Europe visiting, running and blogging our way through Vienna, BudapestBratislava, Salzburg and Innsbruck. This year we were back in Europe to celebrate her and her sister Ramola’s birthdays with their cousin in Thun, Switzerland. Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB), with its great mobile app, got us from place to place on time – give or take a minute. On the way out we had a one night layover in London. On the way back we both flew into London and while Sham then transferred to a flight to New York I headed to Brussels for work. The runs are here (June 8 to 17) while the links in the text below are to 3D videos.

London

We landed in London after a red eye from New York and a few hours later were settling into a friend’s place – Nial, wife Kieko and son Sean – near Wimbledon Village. After a mid afternoon easy run through Wimbledon Common to Putney Heath and back we cracked open a bottle of Opihr gin that helped us get a good night’s sleep.

The next morning I met Peter Clarke and pack of elite masters runners including David Smith, Paul Cheetham and Simon Baines at Robin Hood Gate for a lap of Richmond Park and the Common.

Geneva

Our second destination was Geneva. After a short flight and 10 minute Uber ride we were at Sham’s friend’s place in Prévessin-Moëns, a village just across the border in France. We opted not to run the following morning but rather wait until we arrived in Berne, the  Swiss capital. We’d have a chance to savour the countryside around Geneva on the return leg.

Berne

Berne was wet and cold. Berne is a beautiful human scale city.  Once the rain abated Sham and I  stepped out. Our run took us along the river which was bulging with snow melt from the mountains of central Switzerland to the south. One could feel the force of the torrent. From the river we passed through the Old Town, a parade of historical buildings, and then the government quarter. I added a few miles by popping into the forest immediately to the north of the city centre.

Thun

We arrived in Thun after a short train ride from Berne Where Sham’s cousin, Mala met us and showed us the way to their place. Mala and Swiss hubby Adi live in a duplex apartment at the top of a 5 storey building on the central pedestrianized shopping mall. They have an incredible view from their balconey of the city’s castle which looks like it’s lifted straight out of a fairytale. Sham’s sister’s family – Ramola, Kevin and daugther Eloise – arrived in the evening. That day I decided to rest and enjoy the pre-birthday drinks and view.

The next morning I ventured out for a mid-week semi-long run along the shoreline of Lake Thun (Thunersee). While much of the run is on a paved path alongside the road the unobscured views of the lake and mountains were a perfect backdrop.

The following day I got my run in on the way back from a trip to Lauterbrunnen and Mirren – in a valley at the heart of the Swiss Alps – by train, cable car and hike. The hike culminated in amazing views of the Eiger and Jungfrau.

(Photo Credit: Mala Gehri)

I stepped off the train on the way back to Thun at Spiez . I ran 8 miles, with a few short diversions, back to Thun. While mainly alongside a road, descending gently, the run’s closing few miles took me through the picture postcard lakeside parks of Bonstetten and Schadau.

The next day we were back in the mountains this time  at Beatenberg. And again after a bus, cable car and hike started my run from a cable car station on the way home. While  the others descended via cable car to the Thunersee and owards to Thun via boat I ran the 12 miles back to Thun.  The route was mainly a small side road that followed the mountainside and slowly descended before I took a small detour to walk across a spectatular panoramic footbridge. The descending allied with hot weather took its toll. I  crawled into Thun and dipped my feet in the ice cold river.

The next day I ran easy with Sham through the parks of Bonstetten and Schadau. My plan was to recover for a long run the following day. It seemed to work. Early Sunday morning, a few hours before we caught the train to Geneva, I ran along the banks of the River Are north towards Berne for 7.5 miles before turning round and retracing my steps. It was a key test for my Hoka One One Carbon X. Fast paced long runs were their forte. The shoes passed with flying colours: 6:40 pace felt effortless. Unfortunately the sole unit was showing signs of wear from offroad running.

Geneva

Our final night of our Swiss vacation was spent again with Sham’s friend Laura in Prévessin-Moëns. The following morning,  our last of our vacation in Europe, we went out for an easy run along the farm trails around the village. It was little more than a shakeout after the previous day’s fast paced long run.

The holiday was a crucial test of my recovery from piriformis syndrome. I logged 63 miles and two 1:40 runs. Troopy had me down for two workouts – tempo and fartlek –  which I deferred a week due to some bruising around my ankles. I last raced in November 2018.  This is  my longest period of no racing since arriving in the US in 2004. If all goes to plan I’ll be ready to pin on a race bib in September.

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Reflecting on 2018, Lessons Learned and Looking Forward to 2019

by Paul Thompson

Reflecting on 2018

The year just ended proved a mixed one for running, one in which I achieved some but not all of my 2018 goals. I plumbed the highs and lows, from a world medal through to tripping and breaking my right shoulder and, consequently, failing to run the 6 NYRR races necessary to get nominated for the 2018 NYRR Age Group Awards.

Rather than run a marathon, I decided to focus on winning a medal at the World Masters Athletics (WMA) Championships in Malaga, Spain in September and logging some fast times, hopefully sufficient to top  the UK and USA M50 rankings for 10K, 10 miles and half marathon. For the most part I succeeded despite lots of work travel to, from and within Europe.

Things started well enough. I ran 33:10 in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in April. That would be good enough for topping the 2018 UK M50 10K rankings. But then in May at the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon I passed 10 miles in around 55 minutes flat and 200 meters later pulled up nursing a hamstring tear. In the early summer plenty of TLC enabled me to mend and prepare for the WMA.

At the WMA I ran a poor tactical race in the 10K road race and finished a disappointing 4th with a mild hamstring strain to  boot. I bounced back to snatch a silver medal in the half marathon a week later. And then soon after returning to the US rocked the New Balance Bronx 10 Mile logging 54:29, enough to top the UK and USA M50 rankings.

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Receiving the silver medal in the WMA in Malaga, Spain.

In the final quarter of the year things went awry. I tripped and fell while running the Lake Garda bike path in fading light. I was left with a badly bruised right arm and thigh. Barely 9 days later I ran for England in the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International and was a sluggish 6th and last scorer. On arrival back in the US an X ray revealed I had a fractured right shoulder, a non-displaced humerus. Since then I’ve been seeing physical therapist Miranda Lyon at the New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital and doing lots of home exercises.

Learning in December that I’d failed to win nomination for the 2019 NYRR Age Group Awards was disappointing. Since turning 40 I have won every year bar one when an accident got in the way of my running the required 6 races. In 2018, I ran 6 races but 2 of these was guiding visually impaired runners – Paraolympian medalist Jason Dunkerley in the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon and Jared Broughton in the Achilles Hope & Possibility 4M. In the half I had no race tag, just a guide bib, so was excluded from the results. That left me a race short. But I’d not have it any other way. Guiding Jason was awesome, on par with my best races of 2018.

Credit-JohnLeTran

Guiding Jason Dunkeley in the New York City half-marathon.

Lessons Learned

I learned a lot in 2018. I think. First, recovering from serious injury, such as my hamstring tear in May or fractured shoulder in November, demands patience and plenty of TLC. Second, staying fit and fast in your fifties demands a range of ingredients.  Training is important but then so is mindset, diet and strength exercise. So one year on I’m a year older and, maybe, a few days wiser.

Looking Forward to 2019

As for New Year’s  resolutions it’s more of the same. My main aims are to run a spring (London) and autumn (Berlin or Montreal) marathons, top the Abbot World Marathon Majors for M50 and qualify for the World Masters Marathon Championships in London in April 2020. Running two marathons in one calendar year will be a first. The risk of injury or illness looms large. In my wife and coach Lee Troop I have the best early warning stystems. The work starts here. And this week I’m on track to run 70 miles.

Race Report: British and Irish Masters Cross Country International, November 17, Swansea, Wales

by Paul Thompson

Team GB team mates, from England, caught me in a moment of weakness at the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMAC) in Malaga. They ganged up and unilaterally decided I should seek selection for England for the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International in Swansea, Wales on November 17. As it turns out I was due to be in Europe for business from October 16 to November 20 so I had no good reason not to.

The main challenge to gaining selection was not so much having a solid case. I had just gotten a silver medal at the WMAC in the half marathon and was at the top of the M50 UK rankings for 10K and, afer the Bronx 10 a few weeks later, top for 10 miles. The challenge was navigating the selection process which hailed from a bygone age – post a letter of application with a self addressed envelope. Imagine in the age of driverless cars.

So barely two months later here I was crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales with Simon Baines, one of Team GB’s top M45 runners. I had bumped into Simon while running in Richmond Park, with Peter Clarke and David Smith, near the start of my trip and he had kindly invited me to ride with him to Wales.

It was a great privilege to be selected to run for England. It was my first time having narrowly, and annoyingly, missed out on selection some years before when I finished 2nd M40 at the BMAF to Ben Reynolds. Unfortunately the stars were far from aligned for this race.

Almost 5 weeks into my trip to Europe I was tired, from some 20 flights, out of my routine, out of practice from real cross country racing, and, as I would soon discover, carrying a torn rotator cuff. The injury resulted from tripping in fading light while running on a cycle path on Lake Garda a week earlier. And then there were my ill-fitting spikes falling apart at the seems. They’re now in a Welsh landfill. So I had plenty of excuses not to run but instead chose to use them as excuses for not running well. In short my expectations were low.

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Looking good but feeling less good 

My main goal was to run hard, ensure I did not hit the deck and excerbate my injured shoulder, and, if possible, finish as one of the 4 scorers. The day started out overcast and damp but then brigthened up such that by the time the race started we were bathed in sunshine. My race was the second of the day. I lined up with male and female runners from ages 50 to 64. I stood alongside Tim Hartley, the race favorite who’d picked up a silver medal at the WMAC for 5000m, and the rest of my England M50 teammates. And then we were were off, sailing down a 400m hill, with 4 laps of 2K to tackle.

I had a brief moment of exuberance but then quickly dialled it back. Northern Irish runner Steven Cairns led the charge with England team mates Tim Hartley, Phil Leybourne, and Andrew Leech, who topped the M50 half marathon rankings with 1:11:59, in hot pursuit.

This was my 5th outing on the country since 2004. And this course, unlike the one in Boulder I had excelled on while picking up medals at the 2014 and 2015 USATF XC Nationals, was a true XC course. Twisting and turning, continuously undulating, and occasionally heavy underfoot. When I last lived in the UK in the late 90s XC was my forte and I reveled on this type of course. Now I was a novice, running wide, losing traction and steadily losing places. I was overboard without a lfe jacket. Up the creek without a padle. You get the idea.

By the end of the second of four laps I had settled into 9th place – behind all five England team mates as well as lead runners from Northern Ireland (NI), Ireland and Wales. The top three of Hartley, Cairns and Leech had a big lead. Over the next lap I consolidated, overtook Welshman Jeff Wherlock, and then started to chase Dermot Hayes (NI), Mark Symes, 1500m gold medalist for M45 at the WMAC, and a fast slowing Leybourne.

British & Irish Masters XC, November 2018 11

Final hill of final lap and making some progress chasing Symes and Leybourne

On the final climb of the final lap, with 600m left, I had all three runners in my grasp but they all proved to have faster finishes. So 8th M50 in 28:06 it was with all five England team mates in front, albeit three of them less than 16 seconds ahead. I was deeply disappointed and dissatisfied even though I had my excuses.

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M50 team mates Phil Leybourne, Andrew Leech, Mark Symes, and Tim Hartley

Post race I warmed down with Simon Baines, who’d run well in the M45 race, and Tim Hartley. Back at my hotel I sought comfort in bad food and drink and analyzed the race. XC and road are very different. It’s horses for courses and this was not my course. Once a good XC runner I had now totally converted to road. In road races I get into my groove and grind it out. On the country I simply failed to find any groove.

A comprehensive suite of pictures by Robert Gale are below.

That evening I attended the presentation dinner. England won all categories bar one. I collected a medal, my first representing England. Long overdue. The drink helped drown my sorrows and even got me on the dance floor. Sunday morning I ran with England team mates Stephen Watmough (11th M55), Andrew Leech (3rd M50) and Nick Jones (3rd M40) along the Swansea seafront. A perfect end to a not so perfect trip to Wales.

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Andrew Leech, me and Nick Jones by Stephen Watmough 

Fighting Fit and Fast in Fifties: The Ingredients

By Paul Thompson

This article is a personal view, informed by what I’ve read, heard and learned by doing, on how to stay competitive at distance running as age tries to catch up with us. It’s written against the back drop of mankind’s obsession with avoiding the effects of old age. But before we find a way of arresting the onset of old age what can masters runners do to stay fighting fit? This article, more anecdotal self-reflection than scientific analysis, explains how I have navigated the physical and psychological to keep the effects of creeping age at bay. We will slow as we age, but as this New York Times article explains we may not need to slow too much. Although declines in our running are unavoidable, they may be less steep than many of us fear. The article looks at the key ingredients, and their relative importance, to mastering masters athletics from training, recovery and mindset and motivation through to time management and planning, diet and support network.

The Author

Let’s start with a few words about me. That way you can judge whether or it’s worth reading what I have to say. I’m 52. I’ve run consistently, and competitively, since I was in my early teens. I ran for school, town, county and region but was never good enough to cut it a national level in the open age category. Until, that is, I turned 40. Since then I’ve been one of the top masters’ runners on both sides of the Pond – in the UK, where I was born, and in the US where I have lived since joining the masters’ ranks. It seems that as I’ve aged I’ve slowed down slower than most. Today I am proud to be a world class masters runner and able to compete and win medals at world masters athletics championships. My full running resume is here.

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Silver medel in the half marathon at  the World Masters Athletics championships, Malaga, Spain, September 2018

Review of the Literature

Before I tell my own story a few observations on what the literature is telling us about how to stay fit in our fifties. Arguably the most significant writer on the subject is Joe Friel. His book Fast After 50 was written primarily with endurance cyclists in mind but much of it is just as relevant to endurance running. Friel starts out by looking at the what is holding us back as we age — our specific weaknesses, or “limiters.” He notes that while many areas of our life can nurture limiters, such as time available to train, diet, amount of sleep, and speed of recovery, and much more, the “big three” aging limiters are as follows:

  • Decreasing aerobic capacity – we lose the ability to deliver oxygen to our working muscles.
  • Increasing body fat – we can expect more fat and less muscle, a transition that accelerates in our 60s.
  • Shrinking muscles – starting around age 40, a progressive decrease of muscle begins.

Friel encourages us not to be defeatist. While these limiters can’t be dodged there’s much we can do to slow the pace of change. The book describes in considerable detail several key training, recovery and nutrition strategies that can limit age-related losses to performance. Below I’ll try to fuse my own ideas with those of Friel and others.

Training

The single most important ingredient to our athletic success irrespective of age. My running log looks much like it did when I was younger. I run around 70 miles per week. This includes a 2 hour plus long run, longer than when I was younger, a mid-week medium long run, and two work-outs. Friel’s foremost recommendation is to maintain aerobic capacity through continued high-intensity training. I agree. As we age the natural tendency is for us to concede defeat and quit high intensity training on the basis that we should take it easy and push back. This is in keeping with the prevailing general view that as we age we should retire, take up golf and all that. So many of us revert to just steady running. Unfortunately, this just speeds up our rate of decline. Accepted it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea of running repeats slower and slower. But to stop high intensity training altogether will make us even slower, sooner.

Before I describe a few workouts I do on a regular basis, and how they differ from what I used to do, let me say a few words about how I approach them. First, get my mind and motivation right – see the section below. Second, while I may record the workout on my Garmin I tend to only glance at it during the workout to get a rough idea as to the time and pace. I try to avoid being a slave to the device or schedule. Organic is preferred. Third, I typically do a warm-up run of at least 25 minutes. Fourth, like all my runs I tend to start easier and slowly step up the intensity. In this way all my runs have a progressive dimension. For example, like this workout  or this steady run. And finally, I do workouts mainly alone, partly to avoid the stress of chasing others and being reminded that I’m getting slower. When I’m rocking them I’m happy to have company.

Mona Fartlek

One of my staple speed endurance sessions. The 20-minute version consists of 2 x 90sec, 4 x 60sec, 4 x 30sec, 4 x 15sec with a slower tempo recovery of the same time between each repetition. I approach the session as though a steady run with timed efforts. To be able to run the recoveries at a reasonable pace, ‘float’ recoveries, the efforts need to be fast but not all out. I aim to cover around 3.5 miles as I did on this one. This workout is great for shorter races and offers a varied high intensity session.

Hill Repeats

My typical hill work-out is 10x60secs with jog down recovery. The hill I use is of varying gradient but none of it is steeper than 10%. Close to the top is levels off enabling me to close fast. Like all hill sessions this one works the glutes and hips, maintaining muscle strength and power. I concentrate on form rather than speed. I did this one recently.

Other

Like most runners I also do repeats on track or flat road. Typically these are longer efforts with short jog recoveries and ladders.

Recovery

As we age the rate at which we recover, especially from high intensity sessions, slows markedly. Hence, getting recovery right assumes heightened importance as we age. When my daily run is done it’s all hands-on deck to recover as soon as possible. Except when it’s very cold I apply ice to my legs with an ice cup – this not only speeds up muscle recovery but in hot weather offers relief by lowering my overall body temperature – roll my legs and back on a foam roller and do a few strength exercises. Given my slow recovery I avoid back to back hard sessions: typically, I do steady runs of no more than an hour the day before and day after high intensity work-outs and long runs.

Mindset and Motivation

The second most important ingredient after training. As older athletes we have accumulated experience and grit. I can, if necessary, grind out training sessions and races even when the chips are down. I can eke out that extra few percent of effort on race day. Going into every work-out or race I moderate my expectations. I avoid comparing with yesteryear. For workouts the goal is to more to complete rather than to excel. Easing into the session, holding back early on, helps ensure I get it done. I know that I’ll struggle to run them anything like as fast as I used to. I also need to make allowances for the fact that age slows down the ability to recover so I may struggle to replicate the times the last time I did that same work-out. Similarly, my race goals differ to when I was younger. I’m looking to top my age group and maximize my age grade percentage (often at or around 90%) rather than bag a PR.

If I fear anything it’s injury rather than pain. I often have a contingency plan, or secondary goals, to avoid being like a ship at sea without anchor, in case things don’t play out the way I’d planned. In a recent 10K race my ultimate aim was to run under 33:00 but my back-up plan was to revert to 5:20 minute per mile pace. At 5K I reverted to Plan B and ran 33:10. When injury strikes one needs to be especially careful to ensure full and timely recovery. In a recent race I pulled a hamstring. I had to quickly bail out to avoid making matters worse. I rested, maintained cardio vascular fitness by cycling, and got treatment. Patience is indeed a virtue.

Finally, I’ve gotten a fillip of extra motivation from guiding visually impaired runners including Paralympian medalist Jason Dunkerley in the New York City Half Marathon. It feels good to help others enjoy something that I enjoy so much. And Jason has taught me that age, like blindness, is not a disability but a challenge to be overcome.

Time Management and Planning

Time is perhaps our most precious resource. There’s never enough of it. My wife and I are lucky in that we don’t have kids or pets or high maintenance parents. However, I like many in their fifties are at or close to the peak of our careers. This means a demanding day job and work travel. I invest considerable time in planning my week ahead to ensure I get the training done no matter when and where. Sometimes this demands last minute adjustments like moving a work-out to a less time constrained day.

Diet

There’s nothing special about my diet. I eat most things in moderation. But what has changed in the past few years, thanks to my wife Sham, is increased consumption of protein, to aid recovery, and fruit, nuts and seeds, sometimes in smoothies.

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Eating and drinking with family and friends on eve of 2017 London Marathon

Support Network

My support network is bigger and more important than ever. It includes coach Lee Troop, Urban Athletics team mates, manager, counsellor and wife Shamala, and physical therapist / acupuncturist Russell Stram at Runner Clinic NYC.

PostRace

Urban Athletics team mates

Measuring Success

To see how you successfully you are holding back the years, slowing the rate of decline check out this calculator. I plugged in 2:29:56 for my marathon PR / PB at age 40 in London. It predicted I run 2:47:03 at age 51: in April 2017 at age 51, exactly 11 years after I ran my PR I ran 2:31:45 in London.

Concluding Remarks

The ingredients to being fighting fit and fast in your fifties described above are not mutually exclusive. They overlap and interrelate. Get them right and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And it’s important to work simultaneously on all ingredients, more so that ingredient in the shortest supply, our weakest link.

Race Report: New Balance Bronx 10 Mile, September 30, New York

by Paul Thompson (pictures Shamala Thompson and Nigel Francis)

It’s been barely two weeks since I ran in the World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga, Spain. I was still enjoying the warm afterglow of having come back to the US with a silver medal in the half marathon for the M50 age group. But I was unsure how I’d fare 14 days later in what’s my favorite race of the NYRR calendar – the Bronx 10 Mile.

My uncertainty was made worse by the roller coaster training since getting home from Malaga. The half marathon, largely due to the oppressive hot and humid conditions, had been one of the hardest of races I’d endured. It left me reeling like a full marathon. And then I’d had the flight home via Madrid, some 16 hours door to door. And yet I seemed to  quickly get back into the swing of things sufficient to run for over two hours with team mates Flavio De Simone, whose race report is here, and Jordan Wolff over the hills of Rockefeller State Park on Saturday Setptember 22

The next day I was exhausted and 3 kilograms lighter than Malaga. A long run too far. All last week training had been mediocre, capped by my worst 20 minute Mona Fartlek measured in distance covered (3.2 miles versus the more usual 3.5 miles). I tapered after Wednesday and on race day morning felt sharp and rested. The previous day Sham and I went to a friends’ party at a building on Ocean Parkway (close to the 8 mile mark of the Brooklyn Half). I sampled the alcohol and picked away at the smorgasbord of food, much of it different to what I’d normally eat on the eve of a race, and then crashed at another friends place at Marcus Garvey Park (aka Mount Morris Park).

On race day morning waking up in Harlem meant an extra hour of sleep and a short 1.5 mile run to the start area over the Madison Avenue Bridge. I was at the race start around 7.15am. I’ve typically run well in this race. In 2015 I’d scorched to 53:36 at age 49. Last year I was slightly off the boil and ran 55:24 in warm weather. This year the weather was perfect – high 50s F, clear blue skies and gentle breeze from the north. The course is fast but not completely flat. My aim was to run 5:30 pace and hope to hold it for a sub-55 clocking. The object was to take a shot across the bows of my main M50 rivals in the US and UK.

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In first mile behind Beverly Ramos (#1)

After a delayed start we were away and I quickly settled into a pack running at 5:30 pace. The leading woman was in front for a short while: she went on the run 55:15, one of the fastest ever times by a woman in this race. My pack included three Dashing Whippets Running Team (DWRC), and regular competitors in my ballpark Bobby Asher of Van Cortlandt Track Club (VCTC) and Greg Cass of Central Park Track Club (CPTC). In the opening miles northbound on the Grand Concourse – one of the most spectacular boulevards for running, it being modelled on the Champs Elysees and punctuated with Art Deco splendor – I sat in the group as we reeled off 5:30 miles.

Approaching the turn onto the Mosholu Parkway just short of 4 miles I then started to do some of the heavy lifting. I was gaining in confidence, enough to dole out some pain. That exuberance was short lived. On the parkway a posse of CPTC runners and someone from Prospect Park Track Club (PPTC) breezed passed me. As we descended towards the New York Botanical Gardens they started to open up a gap. I passed mile 5 in 27:24, bang on schedule, ran the U turn wide and started to steadily climb the half mile back up the parkway to the Grand Concourse.

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I sensed I had a big group in tow. I led the charge up the Mosholu Parkway hoping to shake ’em off. I was firing on all cylinders as we got back on the Grand Concourse and passed mile 6. The beauty with a target of 5:30 MPM is that the math is simple. The clock at each mile simply needs to read :00 or :30 or thereabouts. As I tire I struggle with the math and to see my Garmin splits. If I could hold my pace from 6 through 8.5 miles then the downhill to the finish would see me comfortably under 55 minutes. I’d soon find out.

As I made the turn onto the Grand Concourse I heard “Go Paul” ring out loud and clear. You could measure it on the Richter Scale. Nicole Sin Quee has some big triathlete lungs! Heading south on the Grand Concourse one is met with a tide of humanity, the thousands of slower runners heading north on the other carriageway, many cheering us on.

I was now running for home, albeit with over 3 miles left to run. I felt strong and confident. I just needed to get to 8.5 miles and then the descent would carry me to the finish. Southbound the miles seemed much longer. The boulevard is immense, largely straight, almost like a runway. As I started to dig deep the roadway started to gently descend. As I started to inch up my pace a DWTC runner came past. And I sensed others were in the wings. So I kept putting the hammer down. With a quarter mile to go the course takes a sharp right and descends steeply to the finish just outside Yankee Stadium. I was being hunted down but got to the tape just ahead of two DWRC runners.

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Passing Mile 9 with game face on (picture credit: Nigel Francis)

I clocked 54:29, good for 23rd of 12,590 finishers. I was 1st M50 and 2nd masters after Guillermo Pineda Morales, over a minute in front in 53:28. At the sharp end Harbert Okuti of the Westchester Track Club was the top men’s finisher in 48:35, and New Balance athlete Beverly Ramos won the women’s race in 55:15. Read the NYRR race report here.

I was satisfied, almost very satisfied, with that. It was perhaps the best performance of 2018 so far, bagging me top age grade (AG) runner on the day with 91.97%. The Garmin data showed the even splits with slightly faster running down the Mosholu and in the final mile. My heart rate averaged 176 bpm and maxed out at 189 bpm. I clearly worked hard. The 7th mile, in 5:23, was decisive. At this stage one can easily lose focus. I didn’t. I was on a mission for home.

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Engraved bling

I hung out in the finishing area to see team mates and rivals, like my closest M50 challenger Brad Kelley of CPTC, cross the line. This is always the best part of the race where we get to talk and laugh rather than pant or gasp.

PostRace

Team catch-up – Ellen, Ada, Flavio, me and Saudy Tajeda

The Urban Athletics Team, though low in total number, did well:

  • Female Master 40+: 1st place (Cathrine Wolden, Ellen Basile and Jennifer Amato)
  • Male Master 40+: 2nd place (Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone and Jordan Wolff)
  • Male Master 50+: 2nd place (Paul Thompson, Adam Kuklinski and Richard Temerian)
  • Open Male: 7th place (Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone, Alex Lorton, Jordan Wolff and Adam Kuklinski)

UA’s masters women are hot favorites to win the NYRR 2018 masters 40+ team title but the men, in a distant 2nd place after West Side (WSX), have work to do. In the individual stakes, Urban Athletics got 4 podium finishes: Cathrine Wolden, 1st 45-49, in 1:04:57; Ellen Basile, 3rd 45-49, in 1:06:41; Kathleen Horton, 2nd 70+, in 1:36:20 and me. Flavio and Jordan got PRs of 57:25 and 59:21 respectively.

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After the run I spent some time reflecting. I read this New York Times article again and was reminded how fortunate I am to have a relatively easy day job in terms of physical demands and hours. Occasionally I travel a lot for work but, as my mother use to say when i was a kid whining about not having something, “there’s always someone worse off than you”. It also reminds me what a great running community we have – globally, nationally, and locally here in New York City. It’s diverse, socially, ethnically, economically. And yet shares much in common – a love of running and fellow runners.

In the end it played out as best I could have ever hoped for. I had self doubts before the race. but these were quickly put to bed. And I came away top of the UK M50 rankings for 10 miles to go with my 10K top spot.

 

Race Report: World Masters Athletics Championships – Half Marathon, September 16, Malaga, Spain

Paul Thompson (pictures Shamala Thompson)

Before

Here I was again standing on the start line of the half marathon hoping to make up for the disappointment of finishing 4th in the 10K a week earlier. The half is my preferred distance. I appeared to be over a hamstring strain and resumed coach Troopy’s inter race schedule. And I was fully adjusted to the time zone. So this was the day to put it right. I needed to run my own race, stay composed and make adjustments for the hot and humid weather. Turns out a few seconds would make all the difference.

Rather than jog from the apartment to the stadium I got the metro  with Sham and decided to run the area surrounding the stadium to get familiar with the course near the start and finish and midway: the course was one small lap and two large with our passing the stadium three times before finishing with a lap in it. I was more relaxed about this race than the 10K though more nervous about the effects of the hot weather. My game plan was to run 5:30-5:40 miles to close in around 1:13, a minute slower than what I figured I could run in more favorable weather.

I met Edo Baart, who’d gotten silver in the 10K, on the metro ride in. Baart had a similar game plan to me so looked like we’d be running together, collaborating, and then start competing in the latter stages. But time was a secondary consideration. The goal was to get best possible finishing position, preferably one that came with a gong. That meant racing rather than time trialing as I tend to do in club races in New York where I take for granted winning my age group in distances of 10K or more. In the entry list my best recent time of 1:12:01 from Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon 2017 ranked me 7th fastest and there were 5 guys who had beaten me before. Pre-race favorites were Benita from Spain, gold medalist in the 2017 European Masters Half Marathon, Eichwein from Germany, silver medalist in the same and gold for 8K XC and 10K road in Malaga, and fellow Brit Tim Hartley, silver medalist in the 5000m a few days earlier. But Benita and Hartley did not show up.

We were lined up in corrals by age – M35-49 men and women in the first corral, M50-59 in the second. This meant having some 200 athletes, many much slower, in front. I reconnected with Baart. As a few older guys and girls ducked under the corral tape to join the first corral Baart and I, suspecting the floodgates would open, decided to follow suit. But the floodgates did not open. As I did not want to find myself beating someone simply because I started ahead of them I told Baart he was on his own. As I rejoined my corral I got that ‘look’ from many M50s. Turns out it would all prove academic as just before the start the corral breaks were removed and I forged my way nearer the front. So near I was able to tap Baart’s shoulder. He looked relieved.

During

And then we were off. I still had around 100 athletes in front of me but figured I had time to pass and settle into a group nearer the front. I went through the first mile with Baart, and Eichwein, in 5:39 (Garmin data is here). Slightly slower than goal pace but Baart said it was OK for him. I felt relaxed and we shared words. Though we sped up to 5:30 in mile two Eichwein started to charge away from us. Looking down the road I could see at least three M50s ahead of us: Eichwein, Joaquim Figueiredo (Portgual) who had gotten bronze, just ahead of me, in the 10K road race and the 5000m behind Hartley, and Luc Van Asbroeck (Belgium) who was just behind me in the 10K. Likely there were others. But how many?

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Edo Baart (Netherlands) and me being chased by Miguel Melero-Eichwein (Germany) in opening few miles

I covered the third mile in a solid 5:29. I was torn between holding back and hoping the M50s ahead would start to fade, or chasing them. Baart dropped away seemingly preferring the former (after the race he confessed to tight achilles, a result of his tip toe style). But I was now starting to cautiously chase or at least prevent them getting further ahead. Figueiredo and Van Asbroeck were some 20 seconds / 80m in front (in a race I often keep count of the seconds I’m behind a few key runners). Shortly before the U turn around 5K, covered in around 17:15, I could see all the runners in front as they ran in the opposite direction. I saw at least one Spanish and another Portuguese M50. So I was in 6th. Or worse. (reviewing pictures after the race revealed 7th – this picture shows a 3rd Portuguese M50 in front me.)

The conditions were deteriorating. They were starting to be reminiscent of my races while living in South East Asia. Only it was later in the day, there was no shade and the sun stronger. Unlike other half marathon races I was taking on water at each drink station. A few quick gulps, a splash on each arm, and a few drops over my head. I did not fancy getting my head too wet. Despite my writing this a few days after the race I have little memory of much of the race. I just ground it out, chasing M50s that came into view.

In the 4th mile a taxi passed me,  its passengers bellowing encouragement with Swedish  accents. It turned out to  be New York-based Swede Stefan Lingmerth, who later that morning would finish 12th in the final of the 1500m M40, and his brothers. I covered the 4th, 5th and 6th miles in 5:39, 5:37 and 5:39 passing the Spanish M50 at some point. Figueirido and Van Asbroeck were locked together still some way ahead. I was passing other runners one by one, including the first lady,  jumping from one small group to the next. And yet my pace was starting to slow. I guessed I was slowing slower than most. I ran 5:44, the slowest of the race so far, for mile 7. I was running solo at this point and thinking I needed to dial back a little for the next 5K to ensure I would run strong in the final 5K.  I was running by feel now pretty much ignoring the watch.

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View from a taxi during the 4th mile (picture credit: Stefan Lingmerth)

That plan lasted less than 5 minutes. Soon after mile 7 I realized that Figueirido and Van Asbroeck were slowing and I was closing the gap which was now around 10 seconds / 40m / . Van Asbroeck had dropped off Figueirido. I sensed blood and my killer instinct kicked in. No wonder a young family member once said I resemble a shark. I chased hard and accelerated. My race was on.  In earnest. I was committed. I covered mile 8 in 5:36 and mile 9 in 5:34.

Soon after mile 9 I breezed passed Van Asbroeck. Under his breath I heard “shit”. It sounded strange coming from a Belgian. Clearly “shit” is part of the universal runners vernacular. Translated it meant “I’m  toast”. And he was. For a fleeting moment he tried to follow me. But soon his heavy signature breathing ebbed away. And I was now closing on Figueirido whom I gobbled up soon after the final U turn around mile 10 after a 5:44 10th mile. I figured I was now in the medals. Eichwein was way in front and there were no other obvious M50s ahead of me but somewhere I must have passed Manuel Ferreira (Portugal).

I was now heading home, for the stadium. I  was startiing to struggle like I do in the latter stages of the marathon. But I ignored the watch as it started to chime slower miles. And yet I was catching other runners including Melvin Wong an M35 from Singapore. Mile 11 took 5:43. I was now in damage limitation mode. And then into survival mode. Kerry-Liam Wilson, Team GB, who I’d only seen on the switchbacks way ahead of me, was now just 20m down the road.  He was clearly slowing fast. So I made chase. And in so doing caught and passed Albinio Costa, a Portuguese M50. Surely I was now in silver spot! And yet mile 12 was my slowest so far – 5:53.

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In the final kilometre with Kerry-Liam Wilson on my tail

Passing the stadium with just a mile to go –  a small 1K loop around an arena followed by  one lap of the perimeter of the stadium track – I caught Wilson and urged him to follow me. Which he did for a few metres. Can you imagine this was how he’d chosen to spend his 48th birthday? I can. With 1K left I passed a very slow M50 Spaniard – was I lapping a back marker or passing an elite M50 in trouble.

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In survival mode about to enter the stadium (picture credit: Stefan Lingmert)

Entering the stadium I realized we had an extra big lap to complete. As the 1500s were underway we ran the outer perimeter, lane 10 if you like. I eked out a slight increase in  pace –  I covered mile 13 in 5:49 – and finished in 1:14:53. I saw Wilson wobble as he crossed the line and pasesd him a water bottle. Wong followed soon after and a little later friends Francis Burdett, USA (11th M50) and Stephen Watmough, Team GB (6th M55). Now the race was over all runners were my friends again.

FinishLine

Last few metres (picture credit: Mark Havenhand)

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Kerry-Liam Wilson celebrates his 48th birthday

After

I breathed a great sigh of relief. It had been a battle of attrition and I seemed to have come out on top. Almost. The hardest part of the day was to follow. Dehydrated and hungry we now had to wait some 3  hours for the results and medal ceremony. When the results did come I got confirmation of a silver medal. I  was happy. While the time was ugly, I’d executed well,  running with my head for 15K and my heart the final 5K. I’d left it all out there and placed as high as I could have hoped.

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I spent hours in the tent hanging with Team GB team mates, including the aforementioned, Mike Trees and Guy Bracken who won the 1500m M55 gold in emphatic style We were comrades in arms. The battle had been fought and the war was over. Once we’d got our gongs, individual and team, a group of us then headed to the city to refill the tank with alcohol  and food. The following day I realized just how important it is to  eke out everything you’ve got. Team GB topped the medals table, edging the Germans by one silver medal. There were many silvers won by Team GB but I’d like to think mine was that one. Won by 10 seconds in the final kilometre.

Results for all age groups are here while the overal results, showing me in 24th place, are here. A short race video is here: I can be seen at around 7 miles at 0:29. And a comprehensive gallery of pictures is here with me at the finish line here.

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Another silver for Team GB

On reflection Malaga was far more than just a competition. It was a great holiday, in  a fascinating place with friends from around the world. Friends who get you and care. It was a time to represent, to vacation, to chill, to endure and test, and much more. Thanks to many for getting me here, especially my wife Shamala, Urban Athletics and Team GB team mates and coach Troopy.

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My new Team GB team mates

Time to Reflect: First DNF Since Early 80s

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

Today I have the weary legs common for the day after a race. Only this time, for the first time since I stepped off a track in the early 80s during a 10,000m track race, I did not finish the race. The race being the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon, one of NYRR’s premier race fixtures. And today not only did I have weary legs and the tail tangled between my legs, I also was physically unable to run so had some spare time to reflect as I walked on my own through Rockefeller State Park.

Going into the race I sensed I was ready for a fast one. The only question mark was to what extent the forecast persistent rain and unseasonably cold temperatures would weigh on my time. My target was to run sub 1:13, enough to lead the UK and USA M50 half marathon rankings. In 2017, I’d run the same race and clocked 1:12:01. Recent training had been going well and deep down I was very confident. So I figured I’d go out at 5:30 MPM pace and see if I could hold on.

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Throwback to 2017

The race largely went to plan. It had been raining all morning so most of us were wet even before the gun went off.  The beauty of running New York races is the sea of familiar faces. In the starting corral I knew pretty much everyone except for those coming from out of town. We were, all 26,000 if us, in this together. It was 7am, piss wet and cold. But we would  not want to be anywhere else even St George’s Chapel. This was our thing. And we were hoping  for the best for each other.

Looking for a group too work with in the opening mile

It seemed like it was Boston all over again. The roads were also pockmarked with puddles. Before long racing shoes and socks were soaking. I quickly settled into a group running at 5:30 pace including fellow Brit Ben Leese of North Brooklyn Runners. He like me, had opted to run the half instead of go to a royal wedding. Actually our invites had not arrived, lost in the post no doubt by either the Royal Mail or US Postal.

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About to enter Prospect Park around the 4 mile mark, with Brent Frissora (far left), Ben Leese (2nd from left), and Jeff Poindexter (far right)

I passed the first 5K in 16:58 and soon our group was joined by my team mate Askale (Asku) Meraichi. Asku was the 2017 NYRR Women Runner of the Year. It was nice to have a team mate to work with. And so we did until I dropped out! We passed 5 miles, the highest point of the race in Prospect Park, in 27:45. The pace had slowed a little due to the half mile climb to get to this point. From here it’s all down hill to the finish on Coney Island Boardwalk and that’s what makes the Brooklyn Half a pretty fast race. Faster still when it’s dry. The interactive map is here, the PDF with elevations here (see right hand panel).

Asku, the leading woman, and I were stride for stride for the next 5 miles. We passed 10K in 34:33 and descended the hill on the south west side of Prospect Park. It was here that I had an inkling of what was to come. I felt a slight twinge in my left hamstring, the same hamstring that had been strained after an indoor track meet followed by a long run the next day in the wet and cold. And I felt it again as we descended the ramp onto  Ocean Parkway.

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Stride for stride along Ocean Parkway with Asku Mariachi (picture credit: Kari-Ann Wanat)

One by one we overtook runners as we hurtled along the parkway. And then got overtaken by two, one  of them Philip Falk of CPTC., around mile 8. Running the parkway is like running on a treadmill. It’s straight as a dye, apart from one kink, for 5 miles. You have 3 lanes to work with. And much of the roadway  is like a bowling green, unlike a typical New York roadway.

We passed 20K in 51:34 and 10 miles in 55:05, and Ben Leese and Brent Frissora in the process. These times were good enough to lead the UK and USA M50 rankings and suggested a 1:12:30 finish was on the cards. Fearful I was holding her back I encouraged Asku to start chasing those in front. She started to edge away. Desperate to see her all the way to the finish, I accelerated slightly. And then the hamstring came back to haunt me.

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In the space of a few hundred meters a rapidly tightening hamstring reduced me to a heavily labored running style. And then I just stepped off the roadway, gripping the hamstring in a vice like hold to relieve the pain. I tried twice to reignite but quickly came to the conclusion that running to the finish would be painful. slow and carry the risk of lasting damage.

I started a slow, ungainly 3-mile walk to the finish. Team mate Javier Rodriguez jogged up with a quizzical expression. As we walked I tried to make some sense of it all. This was only my 4th ever DNF and the first one due to injury. Reagan and Thatcher were in power when I last failed to finish – a 10,000m track race.

While part of me was bitterly disappointed, especially given I was clearly in great shape. But part of me was content. Content in having played some small part in helping Asku have a good race (read the NYRR race report here). That contented part of me grew as I saw and got to learn later of team mates that had, in difficult conditions, great races, including Jordan Wolff (2nd M40-44 and masters PR of 1:14:40), Flavio De Simone (2nd M45-49 and all time PR of 1:14:53), Fiona Bayly (1st W50 and top women’s AG in 1:22:19), Ramin Tabib (all time PR of 1:27:37), Bob Smullen (2nd best ever of 1:36:08), Jennifer Harvey (3rd W50 in 1:31:24) and Kathleen Kilbride (2nd W60 in 1:45:15). And then to learn that the M40 team got 2nd (Jordan, Flavio and Sebastien Baret, who hobbled home injured), W40 4th (Fiona, Jennifer Amato (1:30:19) and Jennifer Harvey). and W50 2nd (Fiona, Jennifer Harvey and Kathleen).

Flavio De Simone at the finish line

 

Jordan Wolff at the finish line

So what of the self refection. Well first it’s the realization, or confirmation of what I’ve known for a while, that I am a runner. It’s what I am and what I do. Second, running comes with a big family of like minded people. I ran with 26,000 of them on Saturday. In foul weather at the crack of dawn. Third, while my DNF was a disappointment it came with a silver lining. That I’d played some small part in helping other runners. And recognition of that is as priceless as the crown jewels. A team mate paid me the ultimate tribute, thanking me for helping him dramatically improve. This will help me get back on the saddle and back to the top of the M50 rankings on both sides of the Pond.

Flatbush Avenue