Saturday, August 25th marked my first 5K since moving back to NYC: the Percy Sutton Harlem 5K Run, only a stone’s throw from my new apartment! This would be my first 5K since the Marci Mazzola 5K on Long Island back in April, where I ran a personal best of 24:14. Would I be able to beat that today? Let’s find out!
First: who is Percy Sutton? Good question. According to NYRR’s site:
The race is named for the former Manhattan borough president who advocated for moving the New York City Marathon out of Central Park and into a five-borough-spanning race through city streets.
So that’s who Percy Sutton was. The race has existed since 2009.
Given the distance between my home and the start line, signing up for this race was a no-brainer. Getting to the Queens 10K and the Brooklyn Half from the upper west side were ordeals. The Percy Sutton 5K was like 3 local subway stops away – probably about a 5-minute trip. But I decided to jog there as my warm up, and even then it was only a 15-minute trip.
I was excited about this race for a few reasons, one of which is that it would be my first race as a member of the New York Harriers. I met up with Aaron, the Harriers’ “shirt guy” (my term for him, although I am sure he does much more) earlier in the week to pick up my new racing tank and sports bra (with optional cups), both in a size medium for those who care to know. It was great to run as an official NY running club member and to not have to think about what to wear on race day for once.
I also wore my new pair of Nike Elevate running shorts, which I absolutely love (I got a pair in black and a pair in blue). After seeing a few recent pics of myself, I realized that the running shorts I’d been wearing were a bit too big for me. I’ve always bought medium-sized shorts, thinking that’s just what I should wear (and for a while maybe I was supposed to), but I think smalls fit me better. Go figure that with wider hips and a smaller chest, I’m a small in shorts and a medium in shirts. Nothing makes sense.
The start was at 8:30am so I think I woke up at 5am that morning, had my standard pre-run oat bran with chia seeds, rolled oats, peanut butter, maple syrup, and almond milk. I walked MacGregor for about 40 minutes as I do every morning. A little before 8am, I set out on foot. I walked for about 10 minutes before settling into an easy jog up the west side of Morningside Park.
After 13 blocks, the park ended and I had to run through a few intersections before coming up on the park adjacent to the start, St. Nicholas Park. There were some steep hills in this area which was actually good because I knew the race course had a few.
I wound up on the west side of the park and the start was on the east, but it was a quick path to the other side. At this point I had seen a bunch of other runners and could hear people making announcements, so I knew I was close.
It was refreshing to run a race in Manhattan that wasn’t in Central Park. I lived in Harlem years ago, at 125th Street and St. Nicholas. This was about 10 blocks north of that, and some of the buildings in the area were strikingly pretty.
I found my usual corral – good old D – and got into place. I like to keep moving so I did some light knee lifts, arm swings, what have you. I try to stop fidgeting during the singing of the national anthem but it’s not always easy.
The official race shirts can be seen on some of the guys below (it says HARLEM). It’s a really nice, lightweight shirt.
I hadn’t run this race before, but I knew the course. The night before, I’d spent some time on Google Maps’ street view, making my way, block by block, through the route. I knew the first mile would be a long, slight incline. There was a turnaround point, and then we’d come down the same way we went up. At some point in the second mile, we’d make a sharp right turn onto 141st Street, which was two steep blocks uphill. Then we’d make a left and follow the path outside St. Nicholas Park, which went uphill a bit before flattening out and heading downhill. Finally, a left turn at the bottom to make our way on flat road to the finish.
My goal for this race was like any other: to beat my last time. That’s it. I have no delusions of placing in the top 3 for age group as I’ve done for smaller races on Long Island. There were about 5,000 people running this. No need to make room on my medal holder. I just wanted a PR.
I ran my last 5K at a 7:48 pace. That one, in Huntington, Long Island, had a similar course: most of the first mile uphill, then some downs and flats, and a short, steep uphill towards the end. I knew if I could beat that pace on this course, it would be a good indicator of improvement.
I wanted to try to stay at a 7:45 pace for at least the first mile, but the incline made it a challenge. Also, I hate to say this, but there were some people starting in the front corrals that maybe shouldn’t have been there. I had to weave my way around a bunch of people in that first half mile or so. I’m not saying I was the fastest person up there, but it was a weirdly high amount of weaving that took place. Something seemed off.
I think training in both Northport and Central Park has gotten me much stronger on inclines, so although I wouldn’t say it was “easy,” the first mile wasn’t as bad for me as it would have been a few years ago. And I knew where the turnaround was, so while I wasn’t exactly at a full sprint, I didn’t hold back much either. The end of mile 1 came just before we reached the top of the incline. And I did not make my goal pace.
MILE 1: 7:55 pace
I knew that in order to beat my PR of 7:48 pace, I needed to get cracking. Luckily, most of mile 2 was coming back down the incline we had just run up. This was a great stretch to run down and felt so good after that first mile. This section was my fastest of the race. A couple quick glances at my watch showed I was hovering around a 6:55-7:05 pace here.
Unfortunately, my pace dropped dramatically to around 9:00 once we turned up 141st. These were two very steep blocks. I noticed that many people I had passed going down were now passing me. I still clearly need more hill work (I’ve done some since!) and that was more than apparent to me here. I was humbled. Even at the top of the hill when it flattened a bit, it still took me a minute to catch my breath.
Still, I managed to come in under goal pace for mile 2.
MILE 2: 7:40 pace
At this point, I did some quick math: 7:55 is 7 seconds away from 7:48, which is 8 seconds away from 7:40, so I knew I was JUST under a 7:48 pace. If I could run faster than 7:48 in this last mile, I’d have a new PR.
The great thing about mile 3 is that it was mostly downhill or flat.
I was running harder at this point, which is usually what happens the last mile in my races. I’m proud to be a negative splitter. The last two 10Ks I did, and I think also that 4-miler I did this summer, I ran a 7:30 pace in the final mile. I’ve never managed to run a whole mile faster than that, so I had a good feeling that I was going to be clocking a 7:30 for mile 3. And guess what?
MILE 3: 7:30
For the last tenth of a mile, I gave it all I had and ran a 7:04 pace.
These paces are courtesy of my Garmin, which indicated that I had run 3.13 miles – just a hair longer than the official 3.1-mile course. So the official results would be slightly off.
One thing I love about the NYRR is they always hand out great apples and delicious bagels (plain and cinnamon raisin) after every race. I happily helped myself to one of each. They also had bags of mini pretzels, but I didn’t feel like I needed them. I mean, honestly, I probably didn’t even need the bagel. But when have I ever passed up a bagel?
I looked around for other Harriers. I was feeling confident enough to walk up to some and introduce myself. But I didn’t see any, so I took some dumb selfies and watched some of the walkers complete their course (the Percy Sutton 1.5 Mile Walk took place simultaneously).
It’s nice that race volunteers and even some of the crowds wait around for everyone to finish and offer encouragement and support to all runners and walkers, no matter how fast they are.
I soon learned that the official race results said that I had finished in exactly 24:00. A 7:44 pace. I PR’d. I did it!
I also found some Harriers! I introduced myself and we all chatted about the race and about how crazy it is to PR as we get older and they were very nice and I’m glad I met them.
I did something I don’t normally do after a race, which is jog. My training plan suggested I run an easy mile post-race, so I did it because I like following rules. Turns out it was nice! I wasn’t all that tired or sore, and it was a great way to cool down. I was home in about 15 minutes.
Later that day, my sister and her family came to visit and after some fun in Riverside Park, we went out for a very indulgent meal that I totally deserved because I ran a race and PR’d and it was a weekend and also I wanted it. I had a bacon cheeseburger and might have had more than a few of those nachos.
It was a great day filled with a PR race, beautiful weather, good food, and nice company. What more could I ask for? Ice cream? Oh, I had that too.
– Time: 24:00 (PR)
– Pace: 7:44/m
– Age Group: 25/297
– Gender: 260/2585
– Overall: 1222/2585