Let’s Go Crazy: 5th Avenue Mile Race Recap

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.

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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.

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The older age groups were all waiting their turns, standing under trees, trying to stay dry while they stretched and warmed up.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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.

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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!

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I stood with them for a little while, cheering on the 50-somethings.

Harriers 5th Ave Mile 1

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Mirjam took a pic where I thought we were all doing “awkward poses.”

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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.

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OFFICIAL RESULTS:

– Time: 6:47 (PR)
– Pace: 6:47/m
– Age Group: 49/376
– Gender: 767/3600
– Overall: 3373/7708

10 thoughts on “Let’s Go Crazy: 5th Avenue Mile Race Recap

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