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!

An Experiment in Strength Training …

This morning I ran the 2013 5th Avenue Mile along Central Park in Manhattan. I ran it in 5:49 (AG 66.18% – not bad!). While far from a PR (which was 5:19 in 2009), this race determined a lot of good things for me as I consider running it again next year.

First of all, I haven’t really been running. The interest in running the race this year came when I was actually shooting a commercial for a large NYC race that I’m not supposed to name. For the commercial, I would jog by the frame of the shot with a bunch of other actors. I noticed that several of the actors would then start sprinting. I got “sprinting envy” and asked if I could join them. Soon enough I was sprinting along with them and keeping up with them! This surprised me because I hadn’t run in about a month and a half — but I had been working with a personal trainer at my gym, building muscle. So, I was encouraged to see if these short bursts of maybe 200 meters coupled with strength training might equate to just as fast of a 5th Ave. Mile as in the past, or — gosh! — maybe even a PR?! I wanted to see.

Today I started out at about 185 lbs. This is heavy for me, about 8 lbs. heavier than I race at my heaviest! Rather than fat, though, presumably some of the weight is muscle and my physique seems to tell that tale. I was feeling good at the start of the race. It was a gorgeous day — sunny, about 62 degrees with an imperceptible 90% humidity, and there was a crosswind along the streets that cut across 5th Ave. that may even have been a headwind. All in all, it felt cool out. I was excited, felt good, and not very anxious, and I had a general strategy to go out hard, have fun, and push myself, while, again, having fun. I knew to be anywhere near PRing I had to hit the 1/2-mile marker around 2:40. And I figured out before my race that it takes about 15-20 seconds from passing the last street to make it to the finish line (even though it looks to be “right there” from 61st Street). This was good to know in calculating my finish time as I approached — and to know just how much I’d have to give in case I really needed to give.

Before my 9:55am heat, I lightly jogged up from 60th Street the mile to the starting line. For one or two blocks I did a test by sprinting a little bit, and things seemed fine in the legs. I had, though, run the 2013 NYC Pizza Run the day before, and maybe my legs were a wee bit tired from that 2-mile race — certainly going to bed last night they were surprisingly a little sore. This morning I  had three eggs and a Pro-Scuplt beverage with 200 mg of caffeine in it plus l-arginine, whose effects I weren’t sure of in racing. I had that around 7:30am. At 9:40am, just before entering the corral, I had a 2x caffeine Tangerine PowerGel, which I understand equates to 50mg of caffeine plus sugar.

When I got into the corral, I was maybe four guys deep in the center of the road. When the gun went off, I crossed the start line maybe one second later. I decided to push myself on the downhill this year, which was counterindicated by most people who advise this race — but not counterindicated by last year’s self-prescription, which said basically “have fun.” Immediately as I began this race, I realized I wasn’t sure what the best breathing strategy was. I quickly decided to go at it with pretty reserved breathing, doing about three strides then one exhale. This seemed more controlled, to guard against getting all crazy in the breathing and just melting down.

The strategy didn’t help much. I noticed before 74th Street (where the hill begins) I was getting passed by a nice number of gents. This proved to be much of the race for me, though I was giving it my best and keeping pressure on myself. At the 1/2-mile mark I logged about a 2:46 I think, which meant that I probably would not be able to PR this year. It also meant that in my current shape, it was going to be tough! I felt slow (or maybe just looked slow with so many guys passing me) but kept at it, reminding myself through the strain to “have fun.” It helped my psyche. Around this time my friend Sharon Eckstrom, who was watching from about this mark, saw me and snapped a few photos. She said my face looked pained, but she said that others did, too, so I didn’t feel so bad about that!

When I zeroed in on the finish, I tried to sprint after passing 61st Street. It didn’t feel like the fastest sprint in the world for me, though I’m pretty sure I passed a number of guys in doing so.

Am I happy with finishing with this time? Largely yes, and a little bit no. Fortunately the “no” isn’t a very big deal. The “no” comes from wanting to PR, and also from wanting to be a lot closer to my past finish times rather than be my slowest 5th Ave. Mile to date. But the “yes” comes from a number of considerations. I’m happy to learn that strength training without running training is not going to be my ticket to faster times. That is, strength training needs to have running in the mix to mean something. Furthermore, cardiovascular training for more extended periods of time — probably while running — may make the biggest difference. I felt labored in my breathing this year, so more cardiovascular shape may have led to a better time. (My cardio now comes from swimming and biking, which probably isn’t that big of a deal. The only running I’ve been doing is warm-up runs on a treadmill, and, while fast, are only for 4-6 minutes.)

Also, happiness comes from actually pulling off this sub-6:00 time without really any running training for the event! Usually I’m in the midst of marathon training when I’m running this race, so I’m benefitted by that training. This time, not one bit.

Afterwards I watched some of the heats with Sharon. Sharon was then going to do some running in Central Park, and I asked if I could join her. We ended up doing about 6 miles together, and I finished having run 7.15 miles. This, after having run a mile up to the start line and a mile sprint back to the finish line! So, for not really having run, it was surprising to comfortably log 9.15 miles today, and 11+ miles in two days considering yesterday’s race.

Here’s what my Garmin charted when Sharon and I ran together. She and I split off very near the conclusion of mile 6.

Cheers for now!

Pretty Much on Target

This morning I ran the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile along, you guessed it, 5th Avenue in Manhattan. I ran the 1-mile race in 5:29. That was just about what I expected at the starting line today (“5:30”), which makes me pretty happy.

The weather wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t that bad, either. It was cloudy and about 66 degrees at the start with 78% humidity. You could feel the humidity a slight bit but the effects of it would be to-be-determined. (The effects seemed minimal.) I didn’t wear my Garmin for stats, especially since I think my net time says it all. I had a 0x-caffeine PowerGel around 8:15am, then a 2x-caffeine PowerGel 20 minutes before my race with some water. I was in a good mood for this race. I just wanted to have fun, and I decided that my strategy would be different from prior years. My recommendation to myself in prior years would be to hold off a bit on the pace on the first 1/4, then for the second 1/4 when it’s uphill gun it. This year, I decided I’d just run as fast I can could (yet still a little conservatively since I couldn’t do 100% sprinting for that distance!).

I crossed the 1/2-mile mark just about 2:40, which set me up for a 5:20 finish. I still had gas in the tank though I could tell I was slowing a little, so I just pushed myself, saving some for the very end. A guy in a green shirt who started with me and who was running for a 5:30 after running a 5:45 last year was about 50 feet ahead of me for the second half of the race, which surprised me a bit but I couldn’t catch him. (He beat his expectations; I basically met mine.) As I approached the finish line, there’s surprisingly a nice amount of distance between seeing the time on the clock and actually finishing. I saw 5:07 and thought I might end up with a 5:20, but there’s a good 10 seconds to go after that! Strange. Fortunately this year no one got in my way as I powered to the finish.

5:30’s not that fast, but it’s respectable, especially because, yet again, I didn’t train specifically for this race and I continue to say I want to. It’s really hard to balance marathon training along with it, along with a grueling, unpredictable work schedule that has me up at extraordinarily early hours. I was dreaming that maybe next year, instead of really doing marathon training, I’ll focus on doing well in the shorter races. And maybe THAT will be my marathon training. Hey, it’s an idea. Might make the races even more exciting for me, and make me a bit more proud of my results. I think I still have a body that can turn out PRs. And I want the pride of doing that! We shall see!