I almost didn’t sign up for this race. I just didn’t think I was all that fast and maybe didn’t see the point in running a race that was essentially a sprint.
Several weeks later, when I was looking for more races to add to my calendar, I saw it on the NYRR schedule again and thought, wait, why NOT run this? Who cares how fast I am? WHO CARES ABOUT ANYTHING AT ALL? So I signed up. Heck, I’d get a shirt or a hat, too. What’s to lose?
I’ve been training for the marathon, so most of my runs have been longer distances. I’ve done 5Ks and 10Ks in the 7:45-7:55 pace range. The interval workouts I’ve done have gone down to paces in the low 7:00s a few times, but only for a quarter mile to five-eights of a mile at a time. I’ve hit the 6:00s, but not for long. I had absolutely no idea how fast I could run a mile.
The day before the race had been my epic 13.3-mile run to Coney Island. That night, I was a little tired. I wouldn’t say I was hurting, just a touch weary. I took a hot bath and massaged my calves more than I normally do, hoping for the best the next morning.
I treated race morning like any other: oat bran at 5:30, dog walk at 5:45, shower, some simple warm ups. I donned my Harriers shirt as I plan to do for most NYC races, and my brand new Saucony Kinvara 9s, which I love.
One minor complication: the day of the race, I was scheduled to run 6 miles. I spent the week wondering when on Sunday to do these 6 miles. I wasn’t even planning to “count” this race as my mileage or mention it in my training log. I was going to hide it from the coaches. I’d recently heard one of them advise against racing the 5th Avenue Mile if you did a long run the day before. He said you could still run it for fun, just not RACE it.
But when have I ever run a race and not RACED? Where’s the fun in that? Am I a stubborn idiot? Yes, yes I am.
So my initial plan was to run 6 miles in Central Park from 7:30 to 8:30am and then run the race at 9:10. Then I thought, no, I’ll be too tired to do well. Maybe I should run the race on fresh legs and do my 6 miles later in the day. But I hate running later in the day. Finally, it dawned on me: run 2 miles to the start and 4 miles right after. Voila. And I wouldn’t mention the race in my training log at all. It would be my little secret… in front of thousands of spectators.
As luck would have it, the start was exactly 2 miles from my apartment. I ran this super easy. Toward the end I did some “bounding strides” which I think is the correct term for it. Just picture me leaping over big puddles a few steps at a time. Whatever that’s called – I did that.
The runners were to race with their age groups – the only race I can think of that does this. It makes sense, as I can’t imagine over 7000 runners all gathering on 5th Avenue to run from 80th to 60th and not having massive congestion throughout. Plus, it would make the race feel more competitive: when I look at my race results, I don’t compare myself to the 20-24 year-old men (unless I want to feel bad about myself). I see where I placed against all the other women who grew up in the 80s. I was excited.
When I arrived, the 35-39 women were about to start their race, so I got a glimpse of what I was to experience 20 minutes later.
The older age groups were all waiting their turns, standing under trees, trying to stay dry while they stretched and warmed up.
It was time for the 40-49 women to get into formation. (The 30-somethings were so numerous, they were divided into 30-34 and 35-39. There were fewer 40-somethings so we were grouped 40-49, but still divided by gender. The 50-somethings were even less numerous, so both men and women 50-59 were grouped together.)
Unfortunately, my plan to stand toward the front of the pack was thwarted – I got into the group late and could only get maybe a third of the way back without pushing my way up, which I didn’t want to do. I knew my time wouldn’t start until I crossed the starting mat. I had no idea how fast I was going to go anyway.
I kept telling myself, Don’t go crazy, don’t go crazy, don’t go crazy. I had to keep reminding myself what a mile was. This isn’t a quarter mile. It is four of them. It’s weird – I can race 5Ks and 10Ks easily now. But one mile? I had to really think about what that meant.
I always run faster at the ends of my races than the starts, and in my last few races, my last mile has been around 7:30. So I knew I was capable of a 7:30. But given just one mile to race? I could beat that. Maybe a 7:20 or 7:15. I had little thought of running faster than 7:00. That seemed impossible. I tried not putting pressure on myself and knew I’d be satisfied with whatever I could do.
Although I’d never run this exact route, I knew the course: first quarter downhill, second quarter uphill, third quarter downhill, fourth quarter flat. These “hills” were very slight, but not insignificant when you’re going fast. It wasn’t a long distance, but I wanted to properly pace myself.
After I crossed the start, I spent a few seconds trying to maneuver my way around runners in front. I’d say it was about 10-15 seconds of chaos before we all started to settle into our grooves. I held back on the pace. This was not a sprint. It was about my 5K pace. I quickly glanced at my watch: 7:45. I knew I could go faster, but I had to wait.
Some runners passed me. This was okay. The second quarter hill was upon us. I’ve been doing a lot of Central Park runs lately, and I’ve been trying this new thing where, even on my easy runs, I try to get up the hill a little faster than normal. Essentially I try to maintain my pace on the uphills – if I’ve been going a 9:30 pace, I try to maintain 9:30 up the hill. This sounds easy. It is not always easy. But I’ve been doing it. So while this “hill” was definitely there, it wasn’t horrible. And it was over before I knew it.
I looked at the street signs: we were about the cross 70th. The halfway point. Time to crank it up. Many of the Harriers were stationed on the east side at 70th Street, and as I ran past I could hear their screams intensify. Then it hit me: I think they’re screaming… for me? I was wearing a Harriers shirt. I saw one other woman in my group wearing one, but she might have been behind me, I’m not sure. Either way, I just assumed they were screaming for me, and I sped up.
I was feeling strong. I started passing people who had passed me earlier – one of my favorite hobbies. At one point, someone from Gameface Media got a pic of me. They let you download them for free, which is very nice.
My cadence was increasing the further into the race I got – I can see from my Garmin that it kept going up throughout the race. I love statistics!
I can’t remember when we crossed 65th, which would mark the start of the fourth quarter. All I remember is another group of Harriers on my right, and hearing one of them call my name and then “GO GO GO!” and so I went went went. I also remember seeing the finish up ahead, and thinking about how one of the NYRR coaches warned that although you’ll see the finish, it’s not as close as you think. I still had a few more blocks, so I didn’t full out sprint just yet.
I glanced at my watch and I think I saw the blur of a 6. Holy crap.
When it looked like there were just 200 meters left, I gave it all I had. I stopped my watch right as I crossed the finish, and while my face looked like this:
My watch said “6:53” but it also said that I ran .99 miles. It was off. But I was pretty sure I had come in under 7:00. I couldn’t freaking believe it. I took a selfie while I couldn’t freaking believe it.
Then I did something I never do at races: I passed up the free bagels. I know. It’s insane. I felt like a crazy person turning down a bagel. But I still had 4 more miles to run.
But before I did that, I walked back up to 70th and met up with the group of Harriers who’d screamed for me. One of them, Mirjam – the nicest woman who made me feel so welcome on my very first day – looked up my results and showed me her phone: my pace was 6:47.
My mouth dropped open. I was truly speechless.
While I don’t have the exact quarter mile breakdowns for the race (it didn’t occur to me to set my watch to record them), here’s how my pace went from start to finish. I think those drastic dips and spikes are weird GPS glitches. It felt smoother than that. But clearly I sped up as the race progressed. Negative splits once again!
I stood with them for a little while, cheering on the 50-somethings.
Mirjam took a pic where I thought we were all doing “awkward poses.”
I really wanted to stick around for the 60 and 70 (and up!) somethings, and then of course the pros who were to run a couple hours later. But it was drizzling and I had a dog who might need to pee soon and also I still had four miles to run.
I ran home along the Central Park loop, realizing on the run that I really only needed to run three miles. That race was a mile. I should count it towards my daily mileage. Why not? So my 6 miles are broken up all crazy. Who cares? I didn’t think anyone really would. And, to my knowledge, nobody has. So I ran three miles and called it a day.
And now I know: I can run a 6:47 mile.
But the best part of the race is definitely my dog in the hat.
– Time: 6:47 (PR)
– Pace: 6:47/m
– Age Group: 49/376
– Gender: 767/3600
– Overall: 3373/7708