7-Minute Surprise: 2021 5th Avenue Mile Race Recap

Sorry for the spoiler in the title, but yes, I ran a 7-minute mile at the 2021 New Balance 5th Avenue Mile. Feel free to stop reading now if you want!

If you’re still here, some history: I ran the 5th Avenue Mile in 2018 and 2019, finishing in 6:47 and 6:39, respectively. Other than a 6:35 at the 2019 Northport Mile (which I consider an unofficial time given the lack of an electronic start line), I have never run any mile faster than 7:00. Not even in training. Since I’m always training for marathons and never the mile, this would make sense.

I was on the fence about doing the 2021 mile to begin with, given my recent lack of speedwork and the fact that, two days prior, my upper right shin was sore (a new one for me!). However, it’s a NYRR team points race, and since I’m on a team, I wanted the points. So I figured I’d wake up on Sunday morning and see how I felt.

In addition to the single mile, I also wanted to get in another 13 or so that day. So I had to consider that.

Fortunately, my shin felt better as I walked my dog in the pre-dawn morning. I decided to go for it. I ate some sweet potato chunks, had a Nuun water, did my warm-ups (including some incredible glute activation exercises given to me by the wonderful Jessica of #RunPainFree, Inc., someone I will write more about soon!), and set out at 7 am for a 2-mile run to the start line, awkwardly carrying my plastic bag of long run gear: water bottles, sunglasses, and a Gu.

Within a few seconds of running, I knew I’d be okay. Such a relief when that happens.

Two things I learned upon my arrival at the start: this would be a much smaller field compared to years past, and the bag check was not at the start – it was at the finish. Oops. I guess I’m supposed to actually read the emails from NYRR?

The field was separated into age groups, a different field starting every 15 minutes. I was in A, starting at 7:45. In past years, the age groups were separated by gender; this year, by pace. (My guess is now that NYRR includes non-binary runners as a category, they don’t want to split runners by gender anymore. Also, as fun as it was having all the boys watch, it does make more logical sense to group runners according to how fast they are.)

The 2019 5th Avenue Mile had 9277 finishers. This year: 3919 finishers. I definitely noticed my corral being much less congested than in the past, and was relieved to see this.

I met up with fellow Harriers Mirjam and Briana, also in my corral, and we agreed to hang back, as none of us were going to be running all that fast today. Of course, “all that fast” is relative, as they both finished in the 6:20-6:30 range, which would be quite fast for me.

Here we are in a photo taken after the race: Mirjam, Amrita, and Briana to my right! I love these ladies!

Amrita is the sole 20-something pictured, aka the daughter I never had

I didn’t think there would be time to run down to the finish to check my bag, so I just stashed my water bottles in a bush outside a fancy apartment building, where they would rest undisturbed for the next 45 minutes. I held my headphones and sunglasses in my hand as I didn’t want to wear either for such a short race.

In an ideal recap, I would break down this race by quarter mile, detailing my strategy for each section, factoring in the slight hills (yes, the second quarter mile is an uphill) and whatever else I “planned.” However, I did not really plan anything.

I started out at a pace that was faster than my recent 4-mile races, and faster than I’d run a 5K, but not as fast as I’d run a 400 meter lap, and certainly not a sprint. It was just… fast.

I kept glancing at my watch, mostly out of curiosity. What a range of paces I saw: everything from 6:50 to 8:30. I can’t imagine I actually went 8:30 at any point – I think the GPS was iffy. I assumed that I was mostly hovering in the low 7s.

Mirjam and Briana left me in their dust (and rightly so), but I managed to pass quite a few runners. I think it was around the top of the second quarter hill that I heard Amrita yell my name. I was so happy to see her that I made this face, which I think was supposed to be a smile:

Thankfully, the road flattens out at the halfway point and from there, I just picked up speed as best as I could. Admittedly, I did not race full out as if my life depended on it. No, this wasn’t a “die if I must” kind of race. I ran fast, and I did try, but I knew I had more miles to run later. So while it was a solid effort, this race wasn’t going to kill me.

I was grateful to see the “last 200 meters” sign up ahead, and before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line, exactly 7 minutes after I crossed the start.

While I knew I could probably run this in the 7s, hoping for about a 7:30, I was genuinely surprised and pleased to see how close I came to getting a 6.

I passed up the apples, pretzels, and the long line to get your photo taken in front of your time on a large screen and jogged back up to retrieve my water bottles, still safely nestled in the fancy building bush. As I made my way back down to where the Harriers were cheering on 70th, Mirjam snapped this photo.

I spent the next hour cheering, clapping, and taking photos of the other groups running. One of the fun things about this race is that you get to cheer on other members of your team while you relax.

A little after 9 am, a group of us set out for some easy miles in the park. Mirjam was a great photographer that day, running up ahead to capture this one.

More photos of the day will be on our blog once that race recap is finished! (I’m also writing it, but decided to make my own a priority, shh don’t tell.)

I wound up getting 10 additional miles in that day, all comfortable. I was really happy about that.

My next post will be all about week 9, which was the week leading up to this race, so more about Sunday’s long run in that post.

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