Fast — But Fast Enough?

Today I ran the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile in 5:51 — and what a race it was!

While today’s race was my slowest Fifth Avenue Mile to date, I actually trained for it, beat my goal of a sub-6:00, and felt a little disappointed that I didn’t race harder because I had a long-lasting sprinting finish!

Here are my unofficial results per my Garmin:

I jogged from my home area to get to the starting line at E. 80th St.  That was a 1.43-mile run that I lazily did at an 8:15 pace — not too fast, and not super slow. We had a surprise break in the temperature — it was about 56 degrees with a dewpoint around 51, which meant the 80% humidity didn’t do much harm. It felt like perfect race weather!

I ran on the bridal path while it rained a little and the ground was wet. I noticed after landing at the start that this meant I got a few specks of dirt in my shoes and in my socks, so I made sure to clean them out before the race began. Imagine if during the race I had to deal with a painful rock in my shoe or sock!

My training has been mostly focused on this race for about a month. I had been running mostly single loops around Central Park before I entered, and after I entered, I decided to start putting sprints into my schedule. I used the 102nd Street Transverse as my nearby location to do those sprints. My first couple times were doing .12-mile sprints (roughly 200 meters), and eventually I did .25-mile sprints (roughly 400 meters). The latter distance was basically the entire distance of the transverse. The 200s I’d do were largely flat, but the 400s had hill that affected my times going back and forth.

Closer to the race, I finally decided to bring in the hill work using what I call “Great Hill” — from the south, running up it, then going back down it. These turned out to be short but really decent workouts, especially in the persistent heat and humidity that stalked most of my training during this period. I regularly dealt with temperatures in the upper 70s but with high humidity and high dewpoints, making for not-so-enjoyable but that-much-more-effective workouts. I would run up Great Hill from the overpass, finishing at the pedestrian landing near the stoplight at the top. All in all, the distance was about .25 miles, so it was considerable.

Outside of running sprints, I did my loops of the park, and I started to notice that my speed had been improving even despite the humidity. I was getting some paces down to around 7:40s over 6 miles, even when it was gross out. This was also probably because I incorporated weight training into my training as well — namely, doing squats with heavy weights — at my prime, up to about 160 lbs. of weight plus the heavy bar, in reps of 10. Only weeks ago was I complaining that my legs were lacking the shape I remember they used to have, and now they are starting to look to my eye much better and much stronger. Performancewise, they started to deliver.

This training was good, but the main thing it lacked as a true understanding of what kind of mile I was capable of! I was essentially going into this race not really clear what I was capable of in terms of running a mile. Because of that, and because of my experiences running this race, I decided to keep it conservative. I decided I’d lay off the speed in the beginning 1/4 mile, which is tempting because it is downhill. I wanted to spare myself from melting down when hitting the hill at E. 74th St. Well, because of my training, I got up that hill ending at E. 70th St. without much issue! So next year, if I’ve done my hill training, I should keep in mind that I can probably pick up the pace in the beginning because the hill starting at 74th Street won’t be so bad!

My quick math was that I want to cross the 1/2-mile marker by 3:00, because that would mean I’d be primed to finish (if my splits were consistent) at 6:00. I started about 6 seconds after the gun, and crossing the 1/2-mile marker right around 3:06 meant two things: a) I’m on pace for finishing in 6 minutes, and b) if I am able to pick up the pace in this second half, I am a candidate for finishing in less than 6 minutes. With the slight downhill that was the second half of the race, I wanted to see if I could manage a sub-6:00 finish

After mounting the hill at the half-mile mark, I pushed myself to go fast, but not so fast that I wiped out. I recalled from prior experience that when I finally see the finish line, it still takes maybe 20 seconds to cross it. The advice to myself was to lay back when I saw the finish line — but I was feeling so good at this point, I decided to go into what I call a “super sprint”: pumping my arms and extending my legs, running full speed like a machine. Bearing to the west side of 5th Avenue, I had a clear route to the finish. And when I got to the finish, I had to cross the finish line while slowing a bit because it narrowed and there was a man finishing right beside me, blocking my path over the finish line. What I did manage with my long ending sprint was to blow a lot of the men in this heat (40-49) away by a second or few.

But immediately after finishing, having had all that gas in the tank, I started to regret not having pushed myself harder. It seems my training was good enough to allow me to run faster than the 5:51 that I pulled off. I’m not sure how much faster I could have done, but I would have guessed that maybe I could have pulled off maybe 10 seconds faster? Who knows. I will only have to try again in the future, hopefully training even better for this race. It only took about a month of more concentrated training to get here. Just remember to do some time tests, Ben!

Some last stats: My weight was around 178 lbs. for this race, and I was carrying more muscle than maybe I usually do. I could have been leaner but I am happy with my physique. I felt strong and it was great to see my legs really work for me.

After my race, I met my wife who had my bag because I had to walk to work and wear a suit at Last Week Tonight for a relatively early 10am calltime. My overall feelings were positive about this race. Given that this was my slowest race, that made me cringe a bit, but that I was so well trained for it, some 5 years after having raced it before, I felt happy. Plus, I beat my goal!

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