Tag Archives: USATF

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

by Paul Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Race Report, USATF Cross Country Championships 2015, Boulder CO., February 7

By Paul Thompson (Photos by Shamala Thompson)

Yesterday was a day of several firsts for me. The first time I ran a cross country race and came away sunburnt. The first time I ran a cross country race in the North American winter in temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit. And the first time I shared the 3rd place podium spot with another runner.

The USATF Cross-Country Championships was the first race on my 2015 list of races. Having raced the exact same race in 2014 and came away, albeit temporarily, with a silver medal for the M45-49 age category, this time I was keen to get a top three placing and avoid receiving a national medal on loan. It also gave Sham and I a great excuse to spend a weekend in Boulder where we have an apartment.

The race conditions, bar the altitude, were near perfect. As you can see from the full race coverage on USATF TV. A pancake flat golf course featuring gently twisting turns and carefully cropped turf with just the odd damp patch. The weather was still and warm, good for short shorts and vest.

As I warmed up Francis Burdett introduced himself. He hails from Springfield CT. and wore an M50 tag on his back (all masters run in one race and you distinguish your age group competitors by the color coded tags on their backs. I wore a green M45 tag). As a 49 year old this would be the last year in the M45 category. As I did strides I could see my chief age group rivals Simon Guttierez and Rusty Snow, pre-race favorites according to some pundits.

Warm-up time.

Warm-up time.

Looking back on 2014 I recalled going out hard and mixing it with the early leaders only to find out they were faster than me. My lap splits, the masters men run four laps of 2k, drifted from an opening 6:15 to almost 7:20. So this time when the gun went I settled into my game plan of aiming for more even splits, circa 7:00  by running half a dozen or so runners further back than my 2014 9th placing.

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Into the second lap I found myself chasing Burdett and in 3rd place for M45, a good distance behind Guttierez and Snow. Not only was Burdett steady but he was my benchmark – he was in pole position for the M50, a title I would be coverting in 2016 when the race heads to Bend, Oregon.

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Much of the rest of the race was rather a grind and far from pretty. I had bouts of self doubt but was comforted that I could just about hang onto Burdett and was in 3rd place M45. Burdett did much of the work. I let him tow me around. I only pitched in with the pace work towards the end of each lap (here’s a rare glimpse of me ahead of him) and that was only because he seemed to make a meal of tackling a dry creek. The creek, and some soggy grass 400 metres into each lap, were the things that made this a remotely true cross country course: it was a far cry from the conditions in my last race.

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Into the last lap it seemed there was just one athlete close behind. With 800m to go I sensed Burdett up the ante. I hung on and hoped that he would make heavy weather of the creek some 4oo metres from the finish. He did and that enabled me to pull alongside and with 200m left to run I found myself sprinting for the line. It was desperate and ugly but I edged in front to take 14th spot. The results had us on identical times of 28:17. Burdett was first M50 and I third M45.

Soon after finishing I was contemplating crashing onto the grass but instead found something to lean against while catching my breath. In the finish area I chatted with Burdett and the second M50, Spyros Barres, another East Coaster. We warmed down together, spectating the younger age group races. It turns out Burdett has some track pedigree so had I been competing as an M50 he might have had the legs and motivation to beat me.

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At the awards ceremony USATF added a nice touch – while third place M45 I was ineligible for an award but they called me onto the stage to receive a finisher’s medal and stand on the third place podium with Robert Sweeney. Athletics legend Frank Shorter, who was giving away the prizes, glanced over at me and said, “Well done Simon”. Simon Guttierez was AWOL. I was not sure whether to be flattered or not.

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The afternoon ended with the main events – open women and open men, not only championship races but also selection races for Team USA’s runners to compete at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in China in March. In the women’s race, USATF National Cross Country Club women’s champion, Laura Thweatt, took the first place.

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Chris Derrick won the mens’ open for the third consecurive year with ease, in 36:18 , as this video testifies. Former Colorado resident, Dathan Ritzenhein, was third after Robert Curtis of Rochester.

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My 28:17 finish time was some 20 seconds slower than 2014. Not bad perhaps given a heavy work week and nagging ITB and ankle issues. I was also pleased that I was comfortably ahead of Christian Cushing-Murray – in 64th place having placed 3rd in the US Masters Long Distance Runners of the Year 2014 – and had achieved one of my 2015 targets. Next year this race is in Bend, Oregon so maybe Sham and I will get to visit a new state.

This morning Sham and I ventured out in what looked like perfect conditions. I ran almost 11 miles on the trails just north of Boulder. A 30-40 mph wind made it a not so easy recovery run!

Race Report: 2014 USA Cross Country Championships, Boulder, CO., February 15, 2014

by Paul Thompson

A few weeks ago Shamala reminded me that the Flatirons Golf Course, Boulder CO. was the host venue for the 2014 USA Cross Country Championships and that masters races were on the program. We were planning to go to Boulder to spend some time in our apartment there so it made sense to sign up. It also presented me with an opportunity to try and better the silver medal I collected in the M45-49 category at the British Masters Cross Country Championships in 2011.

To get my spot on the start line I renewed my USA Track and Field (USATF) membership and was pleased to note that as I was now a permanent resident I could compete in the championship – though not pick up any prize money! A few years ago I ran in an event that incorporated the USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships – and on that occasion had to return my medal, seconds after receiving it, as I was only a ‘resident alien’.

The day promised to be unseasonably warm but turned out to be seasonably cold, thanks to a strong chilling wind. The course was fast – an almost pancake flat golf course of well-groomed grass spiced with a few wet patches, ankle deep mud on one 180 degree corner and a mini creek crossing. The men’s masters’ race was 8k, four laps of 2k.

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Runners had very different approaches to crossing the little creek.

On the basis of some pre-race research I figured a top 3 placing was doable but that top spot was unlikely as Simon Gutierrez, a prolific master’s runner who on the basis of recent races looked likely to beat me comfortably, was entered.  My homework proved accurate. I placed third M45-49 in 27:58, 9th overall and over 40 seconds behind Gutierrez (see the video here). But then to my surprise I was awarded silver at the awards ceremony, beamed live to my nephews in the UK thanks to Face Time, as the second placed M45-49 runner, Ecuadorian Olympian Silvio Guerra, did not seem to qualify.

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The first three in the M45-49 age group.

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Showing my nephews in the UK my medal via Face Time.

My race went largely to plan. I got a clean start and settled behind the lead group of 8-10 runners. I could see, thanks to age group patches on the backs of all runners, three M45-49s ahead of me on the opening lap (the rest were younger!). I tried to stay in touch with this group as long as possible. Mid-way through the second lap I started to drift off the back but shortly before the start of lap 3 I passed a M45-49 runner, placing me in medal contention. And that’s where I stayed despite my lap splits showing I slowed down significantly. For once the legs held out but the lungs gave in to the effects of the mile high altitude.

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Hanging on to the lead pack in the early stages of the race.

Sham and I stuck around for the main course (here’s the video coverage) – the men’s and women’s open events. The bitterly cold wind made spectating a bigger test of endurance than the race itself. Free coffee, bagels and Danish pastries from the athlete’s tent – actually the golf buggy garage – helped pass the time and provide some relief from the cold.

Chris Derrick, who won his first USA Cross Country Championship title in 2013, arrived in Boulder as favorite to win. The Portland-based runner, 11th in last year’s World Cross Country Championships and fresh from winning the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country 2014, bided his time in the opening laps. But at 6k he surged, dropping all bar a few rivals, before ultimately running solo around the 8k mark. Over the final two miles of the race, Derrick extended his lead and crossed the tape  in 36:14, 20 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.

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Chris Derrick, the winner of the Senior Men’s race, beginning starting to surge away.

In the women’s 8 km race, there were a few surprising results, including a breakthrough performance for Flagstaff-based Amy Van Alstine. From the gun, a pack of a dozen women grouped up and ran together for much of the first half of the race, including pre-race favorite Olympian Jenny Simpson. Before  the 6k point Van Alstine surged ahead and over the final 2k pushed hard and opened up a big lead, finishing some 22 seconds ahead of the runner-up Simpson in 27:35.

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Amy Van Alstine crossing the finish line in a surprise win over pre-race favorite Jenny Simpson.

Sham and I spent most of the main races jogging around the infield area. This  enabled us to catch athletes 2-3 times per lap. As soon as Chris passed us in the finishing straight we made a break for the official athlete’s car park some 600m away. We hopped on a waiting shuttle bus for the short ride, only to find Kara Goucher and family, Boulder residents again, seated just behind the driver. That evening we celebrated my second national individual silver medal like only runners can – with modest amounts of alcohol and food at 4580 Broadway – content that my injury is behind me. At least for now.

Post Script

One week after the event USATF contacted me to advise that they had mistakenly awarded me the medal. They had overlooked the fact that my USATF profile stated that I was a UK citizen and as a non-US citizen I was not eligible to win a USATF award. The medal is now in the post!