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One Second From Perfection:Race Report from 5th Avenue Mile

Posted Sep 25 2011 5:17pm
Ever since I became what I would consider a good road racer, I’ve always prided myself on my versatility.  From 5Ks to marathons, it is rare that I don’t take the time or have the interest to do at least one race in every race distance between the two extremes at least once a year.  And aside from the curse of  my half-marathon jinx for the past 2 years, generally speaking, whenever I get a PR in one race distance, it is usually followed  by a corresponding PR in other race distances as well.  It may shock some of you then that despite a dozen plus marathons, two dozen plus half-marathoners and countless other shorter road races, I have not previously had the occasion to race just one mile all-out.  My annual excuse for missing this race has always been that I’m too busy with marathon training to bother with racing anything as short as a mile.  After all, NYRR usually schedules a half marathon or an 18 mile race the day after the 5th Avenue Mile, and for marathon preparation, I’d much rather run/race the second as opposed to the first option.  But since I promised my brother after this race last year that I’d do it this year and it is a NYRR club points race after all, I took a plunge and ran this race almost on a whim and without much short distance specific training.  Truth be told that I did do 10x800s at 2:46 pace on Tuesday as my crash course speedwork for this race and besides, it’s not really a goal race for me.  So despite feeling physically fit and mentally strong to run/race, I really had no clue what to expect today as I wait by the starting line of today’s 5th Avenue.

After going through last minute tips and strategies from  blogs, news articles and friends yesterday and playing with the race calculator ‘til late last night, I was convinced that my goal time for this mile race should be 5:10 (Prediction based on all PRs ranged from 5:12-5:16).  I situated myself quietly behind the front line of runners and sized up my fellow mates.  I had arrived early, ate, hydrated, and had a decent warm-up so I was eager and ready to race.  Unfortunately, there was no one from my running club in my immediate vicinity so I had to randomly pick an unknown  rabbit to be my pacer that day.  I picked a CPTC runner who looked focused and subdued like I was and waited for the starting horn to sound.  Once it did, we crossed the starting mat  just as quickly and  the race got underway.

First Quarter

I settled in behind the rabbit and allowed him to carry me  through the first quarter mile.   This was a gradual downhill from the start so the pace was a little quick right off the bat.  I could hear teammates and friends yelling my name from both sides of the course but I was in no position to acknowledge or even see who they were.  I remained focused on the task at hand as I climbed the little hill in the second quarter of this race.   I was running fast, much too fast to even acknowledge what Garmin was showing me.  Luckily, there were clocks  on the sidelines every quarter mile  which told me exactly where I needed to be.   At the halfway point, my pacer was running too fast and I let him go.  He had done his job and I was ready to run my own race.  I steal a glance at the sideline clock and see that I was at 2:28 for the half.  I was pleasantly surprised that I was on 5:00 pace but was worried because my legs were starting to slow.  I cruised the downhill 3rd quarter hoping to hold on to the pace I had established earlier.

Third Quarter

I was passing some who had gone out much faster than me so I thought I was doing well. Unfortunately, I had eased too much and found myself losing seconds as I crossed the ¾ mile sign at 3:45.   I am afraid and I have weird premonitions that I can’t hang on and would crumble and fall.  I see the finish line from five blocks away and I fight against my body to accelerate.  As I did, I can hear myself dry-heaving with every breath as my body struggles for air that it cannot take.  I count down the blocks to the finish in an effort to distract myself from the searing pain.  Five…four… my form is starting to deteriorate.  Three…two…I am running on fumes, begging every fiber in my being to just hold on.  One and I’m almost dead.  I give one final push and come in at exactly 5:00 on the Garmin.   I fall off to the side and need at least a half minute to feel human again.   Did I do it?  Would my perfect 5 stand?  (It wasn’t until much later when the times were officially posted that I found out I lost a second somewhere on Fifth Avenue and came in at an uneven 5:01).

After the race, I find my brother who had himself PR’d with a 5:29 in his second running of this race.  I also run into dozens of friends and teammates old and new meandering through the crowds.  I parked myself on the side of a bannister near the finish and watched the rest of the heats from the sidelines.  Almost to a man/woman, everyone had great races today with many PRs to celebrate!  After a short reprieve from the festivities to grab some lunch, I was back to watch the local professionals and elites do their thing.

Lagat and Simpson after 5th Avenue Mile (from all-athletes.com)

All of the races on the men’s and women’s sides were so very exciting with several lead changes over the last 400m of the race.  In the elite women’s race, Jenny Simpson (the new 1500m world champion) stole the show with a surge in the last 200m to overtake the competition and capture the win while in the elite men’s field, Bernard Lagat (who is by the way the same age as me!) finally won his first Fifth Avenue Mile when he took over the lead with his trademark finishing kick in the last 100m.  The look of sheer will and determination as he kicked and left the rest of the field behind was unreal and inspiring!  It was an exciting show for those who stuck around to spectate and cheer.  (Check out the NYRR Video for highlights!)  My only thought as I watched Lagat and Simpon take their victory laps up and down 60th and 5th, was how I hadn’t yet finished in my race when they were finishing up their victory lap!  All in all, it was a tremendous day for running and racing in the heart of NYC!

As for my own performance, I have a lot of mixed emotions  in my post-game analysis of this race.  For one thing, I wasn’t expecting anything under a 5:10 so to have come in the time I did was very gratifying (especially for having never done the distance before and having received no prior training or instruction!).  However, I’m still bummed by the fact that I came in ONE SECOND over what I would have considered THE PERFECT MILE.  ONE SECOND!   If I had only known…

I know, I know.  I tell others not to engage in that whatif game so I won’t play it here.  Suffice it to say that I can count about 10 places in this race where I could have regained my lost second….Still, I feel extremely fortunate and satisfied that I ran well with no injuries, came in first place for the Flyer men  and scored my highest age-graded percentage ever in any race of any kind!  Yes, I should be happy with this performance especially given the fact that so many of my running friends are injured or recovering slowly from injuries right now.  I also should keep in mind this is NOT a goal race for me.  The bigger battles will come when I travel to Staten Island in 2 weeks to tackle my nemesis (the half marathon) and in 5 weeks to run the NYC marathon.  This is (hopefully) just an appetizer for better things to come.

My one second notwithstanding, yesterday was a truly fun and positive initiation to the spectacle that is the Fifth Avenue Mile!  I never imagined myself saying this beforehand but you can bet your pants I will be back next year to reclaim my one second and run my PERFECT MILE down Fifth Avenue!

Statistics
Weather – Temp 72F, Humidity 92%, Cloudy, Wind NE 5.2MPH
Official Time – 5:01; Quarter Mile Splits – 1:10, 1:18, 1:17, 1:16
Overall Place – 168/4709; Age Group Place – 23/407
NY Flyers – 1st Male
Age Graded Percentage – 76.0%

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