Sunday, September 12, 2021

Race Report: Fifth Avenue Mile, September 12, 2021

I ran the Fifth Avenue Mile today, finishing in a time of 6:00 flat.  Not sure where that placed in my age group (other than that it wasn't top 3).

Fifth Avenue Mile and Cherry Blossom are two of my favorite races, and they both ended up on the same day.  Which of course begs the question - why the heck would I go to the time and effort to travel up to New York City when I could have slept in my own bed and run Cherry Blossom.

The answer is that Fifth Avenue Mile was more appealing and a better fit for where I am right now.  Basically I'm still rebuilding from iron deficiency and all that other fun ulcerative colitis stuff.  And I'm doing that while training for Indy Monumental Marathon.  And due to the way things have played out this year, I haven't had a chance to focus on or race any shorter stuff this year.  I also haven't raced since Grandma's Marathon in mid-June.

I needed a rust-buster - ideally at a distance that would not require too much taper or recovery, and also would let me do a little work on top-end speed.  Racing a mile fit really well into that plan; racing a 10 miler did not. 


So I hopped on a train up to New York on Saturday - my first trip to NYC since Covid.  Nothing is ever easy in the time of Covid.  My plan for Saturday was first to pick up my bib at the Cherry Blossom Expo (I was entered in Cherry Blossom, and the expo was on the way to Union Station, so why not grab it.  That way, if for some reason I couldn't get to New York, I still had Cherry Blossom as an option).  Then I'd get lunch at Union Station before taking the train up to New York.  

I left my house fairly early just in case the Cherry Blossom expo was crowded, but it wasn't.  However, I then discovered that nearly everything was closed at Union Station (Covid), so I ended up doing a lot more walking than I had planned, trying to find somewhere to get food.  Not ideal, but at least I was only racing a mile.

The train ride was uneventful, but when I got to my hotel in New York, I hit another snag.  Apparently the hotel was completely booked, and many of the guests from the night before had decided to stay past check out time.  Add to that a shortage in hotel staff to turn over the rooms that were available (Covid), and the result was a lobby full of really pissed off people who had reservations but could not check in, and would not be able to get a room for a few hours.

I looked around, but didn't see any other hotels with open rooms available for less than $1K a night, so I just parked myself in the hotel lobby and played on the internet - fortunately, a room came available about 40 minutes later, so that ended up not being so bad.

(side note: if you are nice to the hotel staff, and acknowledge that they are having a bad day for something that is not their fault, it is amazing what they will do to help you in return.   OTOH, losing your temper generally doesn't help you at all.)


My heat of the mile started at 7:45 am, but I had to grab my bib that morning, so I left my hotel around 6:20.  I was about a mile and a half from the race start - that would work nicely as my initial warm-up jog, and then I could grab my bib and check my t-shirt at the start and finish my warm-up with some faster running.

I grabbed my bib and t-shirt at the start, only to learn that bag check was at the finish (y'know, a mile away).   So that was an extra bit of running I'd have to do.  Either that or toss the shirt, but I wanted the shirt.   So back to the finish line I went.

There was an unexpected positive to this though - at bag check I saw my friend Michelle - we had met at the last 5th Avenue Mile where we had battled back and forth.  It was good to see her again and to catch up.

After checking my shirt and chatting, I did my standard warm-up (3:00 at marathon-to-half marathon pace, 4x30 seconds at 5K pace, and 4x10 seconds at mile pace).  And then I joined the masses waiting to enter our corral.

In years past, this race has split men 40-49 and women 40-49 into two separate heats, but this year, for whatever reason, they combined them. They still had two heats, but instead of women 40-49 and men 40-49, they had all 40-49 (faster than 8 minutes) and then all 40-49 slower than 8 minutes.

In smaller races, I think that way of splitting makes a lot of sense, and is better - it lets people of similar pace run together.  But....Fifth Avenue Mile is a very big, competitive race - combining it this way meant that you just had too many people trying to run at their top speed on a stretch of road that wasn't quite wide enough.

The problem was compounded by the fact that they had no guidance in the corral on paces.  They really should put up signs for "4:30 pace, 4:45 pace, 5:00 pace" etc.  Not that people always (or often) follow this guidance.  But it does help some.

But it was what it was, so we lined up.  If it was a women's only race, I would have lined up in the first or second line.  But given the mix, I knew I needed to be a bit further back, so I ducked back to around the 5th or 6th line.


The gun went off, and it was chaotic, as expected.  Right after the start I was shoved, which caused me to lose my balance (it's getting better but still a work in progress).  I windmilled my arms (I don't think I took anyone out, thankfully) and regained my balance before continuing on.

The rest of the race was a blur, I guess as miles always are.   I honestly didn't notice the inclines/declines of the course because I was too focused on navigating around others.  The whole thing had a very "first mile of marathon" feel in terms of closeness of runners and weaving.   Except that we were racing a mile, and I couldn't just stay patient and wait for traffic to clear.  To be fair, perhaps this race has always been like this for people of different paces, and I'm just experiencing it now since I'm not in great shape.

Crossed the finish line, and then clicked stop.  Since I stopped my watch after the finish I had to look up my official time later.  6 minutes exactly - bummer.

But honestly, even though the time was a bit slower than I was expecting (I thought 5:45 was reasonable on this course), I'm overall still happy with the experience.  I got my rust buster out of the way and got the speed workout that I was looking for.  As a late 40s runner who focuses on the marathon, racing miles is just plain good for me, and I clearly haven't been doing it enough.

I noted that my legs got lactic pretty early on, and had no pop.   In retrospect, not surprising at all.  It's been a long time since I've raced a mile, and my experience has always been that the first mile after time away from the distance is a shock to the system, and just plain sucks.  I've read where serious milers and 800m runners discuss the need to build up lactic tolerance, and that may have been what I experienced here.  

Splits were (Garmin Autolap):

first quarter - 92 (downhill plus lost balance)

second quarter - 90 (uphill)

third quarter - 89 (downhill)

fourth quarter - 89 (flat)

Other notes:

  • The weather ended up great temperature-wise for a mile - in the upper 60s.  Unfortunately there was also a 10 mph headwind from the southwest for my heat. I guess the good news about being so far back was that I don't think the headwind affected my race at all.  I was well-protected.
  • I wore the Puma Deviate Nitro Elite for this race.  I'm kinda neutral on it at this distance - I'm not sure it's the greatest shoe for a mile.  OTOH, I don't think it hurt me at all here.  I plan on testing it with some marathon pace running to see how I like it for that. (It certainly worked for Molly Seidel).
  • Afterwards, I ran back to my hotel, changed shoes, and then did a loop in Central Park.  I think I'd go crazy from repetition if I had to run in Central Park all the time, but it really is a joy to run in there every once in a while.
  • After my Central Park run, I showered at my hotel, only to discover that my shower had only luke-warm water.  I did tell the poor clerk last night that I would happily take any room she could offer me, so I guess that was part of the deal.
  • Taking the train to and from New York also meant that I got to experience the brand new Moynihan Train Hall.  Now, you can board Amtrak from either Penn Station (the old way) or across the street at Moynihan Train Hall.  Thus achieving Amtrak's apparent goal of confusing passengers in new and innovative ways, since they still haven't figured out a way to give you more than 2 minutes warning of which track your train will be on when you board.  



  1. Question...where did you get the Pumas? I am highly interested, but can't find anyone selling the brand besides on their own website.

    1. On their website. I lucked out.

      I will note that I am usually a 7.5 womens but gambled on a size 7 and it fit perfectly.