Tag Archives: Urban Athletics

Race Report: 2016 Race to Deliver 4M, Central Park, New York, November 20, 2016

by Paul Thompson (with pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

While my sojourn to Perth, Australia to run the World Masters Athletics Championships was purely a personal indulgence this one was solely for the team – Urban AthleticsRace to Deliver promised to be one of NYRR’s lower key races coming as it does soon after the New York City Marathon, not being a club points race, and the absence of prize money. We decided if we turned out in force and populated the front end we’d get a lot of kudos and name recognition. And that we did.

Weather conditions dramatically worsened on the eve of the race. Peekskill encountered gale force winds and torrential rain overnight and as temperatures raced down to below freezing the rain turned to snow on higher ground. While the rain stopped it was no surprise to find it windy, cold and overcast on the start line. The weather seemed to reflect the rather gloomy mood of most New Yorkers as the election results have sunk in. And that mood was reflected in Peter Ciaccia’s words just before the start. He was in a mournful mood and suggested the New York running community needs to hang tough these next four years. And that’s exactly what it will do.

New York’s running community is a microcosm of all that  is best about New Yorkers – open minded, diverse, respectful of others. On the start line I realized we – just like the vast majority of Americans – were all immigrants in some shape or form, some whose families settled here in previous centuries through to some like me who had more recently got off the plane. The diversity – of gender, of ethnicity, of age, etc. – was clearly visible. And it’s this diversity that makes the New York running community so interesting.

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UA’s  Jason Lakritz, me, Stefano Piana-Agostinetti, Harriott Kelly and Fiona Bayly in front.

With the front end lacking depth there wasn’t the usual scrum in the corral. There was elbow room and none of the compression that characterizes typical NYRR races. I quickly got settled into a four man lead group comprising team mates Jason Lakritz – returning to form and hoping to run 5:15 mpm pace for the first three miles and then open it up in the final mile – and Javier Rodriguez and Alejandro Ariza of Henwood Hounds.

Jason, Javier and I after 400 meters just before the Boathouse.

The opening mile takes in Cat Hill and ends just after the Metropolitan Museum. As we passed the clock at the mile mark showing 5:20 Jason decided to accelerate. Alejandro made chase while Javier and I resigned to spectate from a steadily increasing distance. Jason slammed in a 5:03 second mile and half way through it Ariza slipped off his tail. That was my cue to make chase.

Jason in the finishing straight having just passed the Daniel Webster statue.

The course was the so-called Central Park inner loop, run counter clockwise. Javier and I, with me doing the pushing in pursuit of a fading Alejandro, reached the two mile mark on the 102nd Transverse, in around 10:35 according to my Garmin (the NYRR clock was not working).

Just after the two mile mark we caught and overtook Alejandro, clearly suffering from going with Jason’s second mile surge. The third mile, heading south down the West Side Drive, is arguably the toughest in the park as it takes in three hills and include significant net gain in altitude. I continued to push hard, albeit in surges rather than consistently. Javier and I were side by side as we passed the the three mile mark in 16:02. It was literally all down hill to the finish from here. Javier, in view of my doing most of the work, conceded a few meters in the finishing straight to let me take second.

Javier and I in the finishing straight.

I ran the last 200 meters hard, almost all out, and passed under the finish line clock as it showed 21:17-18. Disappointingly the final official result was 21:22 though that was good enough for winning the masters and getting an age grade of 89.61%. In any case NYRR is legendary for its :59 finish line clocks translating to :01 in the official online results.

Jason won comfortably in 20:55. With me in second and Javier in third UA took a clean sweep 1-2-3 in the men’s race. And for good measure Harriott Kelly won the women’s race in 22:56 and Fiona Bayly, 4th woman overall, the women’s masters in 24:23.

Harriott digging deep in the finishing straight.

That’s not all. UA runners were all over the leader board, many taking a Top 3 age group placing. The Javier was 1st M40-44 in 21:22, Carlo Agostinetto 1st M35-39 in 22: 25 (less than 24 hours after winning the NYRR NYC 60K in 3:57 minutes), Stefano Piana-Agostinetti 1st M45-49 in 22:46, Jonathan Schindel 2nd M50-54 in 24:10, Stephane Bois 3rd M50-54 in 24:18, Jim Olsen 1st M75-79 in 32:16, Michelle Goggin 3rd W35-39 in 27:30, Ellen Basile 2nd W40-44 in 25:42, Jennifer Harvey 2nd W45-49 in 25:59, Dominique Saint-Louis 1st W50-54 in 26:47,and  Ivy Bell 1st W60-64. It would have been quicker for me to list what we did not win.

Jason, Javier and I picking up our awards.

Immediately after finishing Jason, Javier, Harriott and I were rounded up and reminded repeatedly to be at the Naumburg bandshell to collect our awards at 9:30am sharp. Ans so we did, shaking and shivering as the windchill took the feel like temperature under 0 celcius.

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UA on parade. Photo credit: Sam LaFata

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Race Report: NYRR Retro 4-Miler, Central Park, New York, June 5, 2016

by Paul Thompson

It dawned on me today, as I lined up and observed the retro paraphernalia – the sweat bands, psychedelic colors, the mini shorts etc. – that I actually experienced much of the retro era. For many it was something they’d read about like  a history lesson. For me, and other masters runners, it was something we’d lived through. And for a moment it made me feel sentimental and old!

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This race fell on Sham and my anniversary. At 6 am, in pouring rain, she was driving us (or was it me?) to New York. It’s amazing sometimes what our partners, consciously, do for us.

After Sham had set me down at Marcus Garvey Park I ran the 3 miles or so south down to the start on the East Drive at 68th Street. As I reached the Boathouse I saw Urban Athletics team mates headed north for a warm-up. I was already warmed up – the  weather was as humid as a sauna though not so hot – but jumped in. This would be my first time running for Urban Athletics (UA) – in the US at least as I’d premiered in the Greater Manchester Marathon. This was also my first race since Manchester in early April. I’d finished that marathon with a chronic calf strain: question was would it re-emerge?

On the start line I was some way back from my usual position near the front. As

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Retro lead car at the start line

well as hearing a rendition of the National Anthem we also heard a tribute to The Greatest. Muhammad Ali passed away yesterday. As I get older I’m finding that not only have I lived through eras like retro, I’ve also lived during the lifetimes of iconic figures who have had a profound positive impact on our lives. Bowie now Ali.They show us what’s possible.

Right back to the race. Within seconds of the starting gun I found myself passing the Boathouse dodging traffic thanks to starting deep in the A corral. Club mate Javier Rodriguez ‘s rationale for starting deep was that it would moderate the early pace and help ensure we run 5:15 miles and finish  in 21:00. But I found myself panicked into trying to make up for lost time and get into my finishing position! The net result was a 5:07 opening mile, a mile that takes in Cat Hill. Too fast. I’d pay for that later.

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Heading up Cat Hill

In the second mile fellow masters runners Javier, who had never beaten me at distances over  a mile, and John Henwood, who  I don’t recall  I’d  ever beat, joined me. We’d end  up duking it out for the rest of the race: another masters runner, Peter Brady, was also in hot pursuit. We traded strides, sparring running style. We passed the two mile mark in 10:19 making it a 5:12 second mile.

Bobby Asher, who looked like Freddie Mercury but was  hoping for Mark Spitz, breezed passed us during the third mile as we navigated the hills on the West Drive heading south. Fellow UA club mate Jason Lakritz, nursing an injury, caught us. Approaching mile 3 we had Greg Cass in our sights and he’d stay there. During the third mile I found myself starting to pay for the fast opening. We passed mile 3 in 15:47: the 3rd mile had taken 5:28, the slowest of the race due in large part to the hills and fast opening.

The final mile drops down to the 72nd Street Transverse. Javier started to open it up and stole a small gap on me. John had dropped off. As we took the sharp left hand turn into the finishing straight I was 5 meters shy of Javier but I appeared to be catching him. I didn’t despite a 5:14 final mile. Bobby, Javier, myself and Jason finished in that order, and with daylight between us, but shared the same time of 21:01 in the official results.

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Jason, Javier and Paul heading to the finish line

I  had hoped to get under 21:00 not least since I’d tapered and had been doing some faster workouts with UA. But hey I can’t, or shouldn’t, complain. I got 31st overall (though I  was 30th over the line but that’s chip to chip timing for you), second masters, first M50 and best age grade with 91.08%. This suggested I had recovered from my spring marathon ordeal though my AG scores indicated I was better at longer races. UA got 4th in men’s open: The NYRR race report reveals WSX winning with its 5th scorer running 19 flat. With Aaron Mendelsohn closing in 21:24, and like Javier getting a PR, we comfortably won the men’s masters.  My Garmin race stats are here.

After driving home and getting a quick shower, Sham and I  were holed up at the Taco Dive Bar having a celebratory brunch. Sham had a potent cocktail with her breakfast burrito while I had water paired with a stack of pancakes inches deep. A few hours later I was at JFK. There I had a  frustrating 4 hour wait on the runway waiting for my plane to Las Vegas to depart due to foul weather. I’m now getting accustomed to a few days in 110F.  This morning I got out at 6 to beat the heat. I ran an easy 6. It was 85F.

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 to 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.