Posts Tagged ‘continental airlines fifth avenue mile’

It was overcast when I awoke, so it was only fitting I channeled Eeyore. Leave it to a runner to feel disappointment over poor results in a race she hadn’t yet run. Because of recent outings in the half-marathon and 10k that had been educational but nowhere near PRs, I was expecting the same kind of experience in the Continental Fifth Avenue Mile today: no PR, and more proof that my fitness wasn’t where I’d hoped it would be.

The Fifth Avenue Mile is one of a kind here in the city. It’s one of the few NYRR races I adore. Really, it’s the best of both worlds: a novelty course that I can’t run on any other day of the year, plus the chance to watch the elites tear up the exact same course behind me (usually, us serfs are racing well behind the lords and never get to see a thing). Also, I get to cheer for my friends and hang out with them between heats.

The pain of the mile cannot be overstated, especially if you are an endurance runner who is used to racing with ease or bearable discomfort until the final quarter or so, when yo begin to push it and are ready for the pain. No, for me, the mile hurts from the first quarter mile. It hurts so bad that I nearly immediately start to question why in fact I wanted to race the mile, and wishing I was anywhere else except on that particular stretch of Fifth Avenue, running as hard as I could as my lungs burned and legs rebelled against my slave-driver will.

Since I was not expecting to perform well in this race, I did not prepare beyond dressing appropriately, setting the splits on Little G to quarter-miles, and making an effort to keep myself hydrated. After the fact, I realized that was a mistake because if I’d taken two minutes to stop and read my report from last year, it probably would have helped me race a finer event. Even though I’m used to coming up with racing strategies for races thirteen times as long as yesterday’s, I could have come up with one for the mile, too.

I saw some friends before, during and after the races — MP, AC, MJ, LL, JG and JT and her man. The community of runners that has grown around me is truly a blessing, it’s been a positive constant in my life through the fast few years.

So, my race. Not much to say except that I somehow managed to PR by 5 seconds (huh? what?) yet I didn’t reach my goal which was to break 6:30. I ran 6:31 like this:

  • I spent the first several seconds of the first quarter darting around big-bottomed women and forgetting I was running downhill. Before Little G chimed the first-quarter mile, I was already starting to feel the pain. Split: 1:26.
  • The second quarter? All I remember is Owe owe Ugh ugh Why is this hill so fucking looooong? Split: 1:43
  • I tried to pick it up for the third quarter. I told my legs to move faster. I told my shoulders and arms to stop clenching. I told my mind to shut the fuck up that there was no way I was going to stop running hard. Split: 1:39.
  • Finally the finish line was in sight, but it was teeny weeny, like a finish line for mice. Never before had I heard my breath so ragged and desperate. My only thought was, This really sucks. Despite my muscles wanting to seize, I tried to put on a finishing kick. I felt like I was working harder, but yet I slowed down. Split: 1:43.

My finishing time of 6:31 was a 5-second improvement over my PR which I set in 2008, in the middle of training for the New York City Marathon. Over the past few months, my coach tried to give me speedwork to bridge the needs of both the half-marathon and the mile, but I definitely learned that strategy just isn’t possible. One day I might decide to focus on the mile race and tailor my training for that. But in the meantime, I’m happy to have a new PR, and am ready to turn my focus to the Houston Half-Marathon, and the intermediary goal of the LIRRC’s Turkey Trot 8k.

Here are some photos I took of the elite race, from where I was standing with my friends on the west side of Fifth Avenue at 71st Street.

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As I sulked my way to the subway, I thought, this feels eerily familiar. Then an uptick: that means it will end well.

With no speed training and nary a week over 20 miles this month, I decided I’d be happy to end up a few seconds south of seven minutes in today’s Fifth Avenue Mile. I was okay with that, because I’d also get to see friends today, run 6 with ET, gawk at the elites, and be outside on a gorgeous day.

My race is nothing to brag about. I ran the first quarter mile stupid fast, in 1:25 (or 5:50 pace). Then I hit the hill, and had my slowest split at 1:45. I barely managed to pick it up for the last two quarters. My legs and even my arms were heavy and burning, I could not believe how quickly my body rebelled. 1:42 and 1:41, yes, that seems about right. Once again I was struck with how the shortest distance on paper feels like the longest to my mind. My watch and the mats clocked me at 6:37, just one second slower than my PR of two years ago. Crappity crap–what if I had actually trained? (Thanks to all my Twitter buddies who quickly looked up my PR on my blog for me, since my publishing person’s brain finds numbers too slippery to hold onto.)

Afterwards though I could not stop coughing from the effort. There was a clutch of us sitting at the base of the golden statue, there, at the southeast corner of Central Park, all coughing as if we were some sort of avant-garde musical quartet. One of us quipped, “This must be the smoker’s lounge.”

Once I’d caught my breath, ET and I slowly trotted off to do a loop of the park. It was a seriously perfect day for running, and I was grateful for her company. ET is a Galloway runner, so in a decadent twist of my normal workout, we walked up Cat Hill, Harlem Hill, and that really annoying little hill on the west side.* All in all it took us over an hour to run 6.24 miles, but who’s counting. We were just icing the cake, we’d done the work earlier when we deliberately forced all our bodily functions to go into the red zone for six to nine minutes.

Then we got a quick snack, and watched the elite races with a few other friends. Wow, Erin Donohue really worked hard for that third place finish. She is audacious. And the men’s race, I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be Lagat’s day but I do admire his cheer on the podium. Were Manzano, Webb and Willis even in the field, because I didn’t notice if they zoomed by or not from my vantage point on the sidelines. It’s interesting listening to the little speeches the top athletes give, because they are all so gracious. Truly, runners have to be among the most articulate, friendly and humble athletes out there. But, we couldn’t help but joke about what they would really say if they could be babies about it…

Shannon Rowbury
What she said: The competition in this field makes her a better athlete.
What she wanted to say: Look at my abs! I have fabulous abs!

Sarah Hall
What she said: it was inspiring to run by members of the Steps Foundation and hear them cheer us on at 400 meters.
What she wanted to say: Don’t you people know who my husband is?!

Erin Donohue
What she said: There is no shame in placing behind Rowbury & Hall.
What she wanted to say: Next time I’m using elbows, and grabbing pony tails. This race is mine, bitches!

Amine Laalou
What he said: This city is so beautiful, and I’d love to come back and race here again.
What he wanted to say: I won! I won! I beat you all!

Bernard Lagat
What he said: I’m going to keep competing in the Fifth Avenue Mile until I win.
What he wanted to say: Maybe I came in second place, but the fans love me the best.

Andy Baddeley
What he said: I definitely wanted to come back and defend my title this year.
What he wanted to say: I know you all forgot who I was but see? I’m back on the podium.

*You know the one, when you’re running south down the west side, you think the worst is over after Harlem HIll but then there’s that little guy. Does that hill have a name? If not, let’s just call it Ralh Hill, as in “Really Annoying Little Hill” Hill.

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This year has been the year I learned how to withdraw. My nature is: when I want something, I hammer away until I get it. But this year, for reasons of health, happiness and situation, I have had to step away from projects, from people, and from races. (Put the hammer down, TK. Now step away from the hammer. Perhaps it’s best if you even avert your eyes from the hammer. Here, have some red wine.) Saturday’s Fifth Avenue Mile is the fifth race this year I’ve signed up for and then had to scratch from my calendar due to my not-quite-right body. Not-Quite-Right; or maybe, Just-Wrong-Enough. In any event, my right hamstring was so tight and achy after Thursday’s strength exercises at PT that I didn’t dare run the Fifth Avenue Mile. All that race asks of us is to run as fast as our heart, lungs and legs will allow; I knew I would be asking for [hamstring] trouble merely by toeing the line, since I’d never be able to resist running at max effort. 

I went anyway, though, to cheer a few friends and then gape at the elites. EN ran a PR, blazingly breaking 6 minutes (5:44–see what track workouts can do for you?), and MDC (my relay teammate) streaked towards the finish, also under 6 minutes (5:37). MDC, more than anyone else I know, runs with visible joy. I recognized the glint in his eye, and was glad for him (though also suddenly impatient for the moment I could ecstatically dash towards a finish line—any finish line– myself). 

I now had a two hour wait for the first elite race, so I stowed my bag and headed out for my long run–10.5 miles through Central Park.  The morning was crisp and cool, the sky an improbable blue. Everyone was out; I was grateful to slip anonymously among them. With my iPod dialed to the M’s, I headed off. I ran one upper loop and one lower loop; tacking on the spit tail that leads to the fountain at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. All told, I ran 10.69 miles. At a certain point the overture from “The Marriage of Figaro” hit my ears, and I was immediately elated. There’s something about this song that makes me feel strong, graceful, and fast. I picked up speed, yet I breathed easier. I had the chills, I felt like running in es-curves, to glide and swoop. I was overcome with an urge to shut my eyes, to block out every perception apart from the music and the pulse of my body; I turned up the volume instead, now completely shot through with Mozart’s piece. All too soon the instrumental was over, and it was as if I’d been shook awake from a glorious dream. 

Immediately following “The Marriage of Figaro” was “Mastermind” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. A different kind of tune to be sure, but the uptempo kept me running hard and fast for another 3 minutes or so, as did the next song, “Maybe It’s Just Me.” (I love Butch’s first two lines of lyrics, “Maybe it’s just me/But you seem finally happy.”) Ah, there is always such brilliant serendipity in the alphabetization of the My Top Rated playlist. 

The last couple of miles hurt a bit, my right leg’s muscles were tight all the way from my hamstring up to my lower back. But, it wasn’t an injury sort of pain, it was just a tight, sore ache that I knew would be relieved with stretching and a good rubdown at PT on Monday. I was happy with being able to run the distance without backing down. My slowest mile was the first, in 9:20, and my fastest was the seventh, in 8:47. I ran the entire distance in 1:36:33, for an average pace of 9:02’s. I swear I wasn’t trying—I would have been happy with 9:30’s! 

Afterwards, I stretched to little effect; my right leg still felt like poured concrete. Then it was time for nine (combined) minutes of glory—the women’s and men’s professional races. I stood at the finish line this year, so I didn’t get any of the cool pre-race photos of the elites warming up like I did last year. I was so excited as the announcer introduced the women. Shannon, Lisa, Sara H, Erin, Christen! Ooh, it was a grudgefest between Rowbury and Dobriskey; was Shannon going to vanquish Lisa this year? And oh yes, yes she would—with 0.6 seconds to spare. Times overall were much faster last year (because it was an Olympic year?), although I am happy to see third-place finisher Sara Hall improved her time (4:23.9 against 4:32.6). 

The men’s race had me jazzed with its stacked field. I was rooting for Lagat of course, but you know I am a big fan of Nate Brannen, and think Tegenkamp, Manzano and Solinsky always keep things interesting. I really believed Lagat could win it, now that he had the experience road running, and knew the course. But no, he finished fourth, with a Brit taking first place (compensating for Dobriskey’s loss?), a Kenyan in second, and Leo Manzano taking third. I was psyched for Leo. Nate, who was third last year, came in 14th (still breaking 4 minutes, but just barely). 

Run Blog Run covers the professional race, and Cowboy Hazel reports from the pack (funny I didn’t see him in the park).

Songs I ran to: “Made Me Hard” by The Whitlams, “The Maestro” by The Beastie Boys, “Magic Carpet Ride” by Bedlam, “Magic Number” by De La Soul, “Make Believe” by Matthew Sweet, “Make Me Smile” by Chicago, “Make Out Alright” by Divinyls, “Make the World Safe” by The Whitlams, “Making Out” by No Doubt, “Mama’s Got a Girlfriend Now (live)” by Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, “Mama’s Got a Girlfriend Now” by Ben Harper, “Mama’s Trippin'” by Ben Harper, “Mama Help Me” by Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians, “Man” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Man’s Final Frontier” by Arrested Development, “Maneater” by Hall & Oates, “Manic Monday” by The Bangles, “Mannequin Shop” by Paul Westerberg, “The Marriage of Figaro Overture” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Mastermind” by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, “Maybe It’s Just Me” by Butch Walker, “Me Myself and I” by De La Soul, “The Me that Was Your Son” by Poi Dog Pondering, “Me Van a Matar” by Julieta Venegas, “The Meaning of Soul” by Oasis, “Medley” by Gipsy Kings, “Merry Go Round” by The Replacements, “Message in a Bottle” by The Police, “Michael” by Franz Ferdinand, “Mighty Mighty” by Charlie Hunter, “Minneapolis” by that dog, “Miss Thang” by Monica and “Misty Mountain Top” by Led Zeppelin

Shannon Rowbury winning the 2009 Fifth Avenue Mile

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I started writing this post in September 2008 and never returned to it. Meeting Bernard Lagat, and then watching him win the Wanamaker Mile last month reminded me I had this half-composed in my drafts. I am posting it now, five months later, because I think the photos are cool. If you’d like some context, first read about my Fifth Avenue Mile, then about the professional Women’s Fifth Avenue Mile.


Soon after the women, the professional men stepped up to run in what would be the most exciting race of the day. The New York Road Runners gathered an amazing group of competitors for this event, truly outdoing themselves. Olympian Bernard Lagat finally accepting Mary’s invitation (after ten years of her asking!) to run his first-ever race off the track. Olympian Nick Symmonds, New Zealand Olympian (bronze medalist in the 1500 meters) and U of Michigan alumn Nick Willis, Canadian Olympian Nate Brannen, and track star Chris Solinsky were also all in the mix.

I felt a little bit like a lurking papparazzi before their heat, as I hung around behind the start line to watch them warm up and stretch out.  I took a few quick snapshots, but then went back to the fences to grab my spot to watch the start.  I got a picture of Symmonds stretching, Lagat striding regally through the staging area with Nate Brannen behind him, and (awkwardly and inadvertently) Solinsky doing a farmer’s blow (trust me, I was not trying for that photo).

(This part of the post is being written now, in February 2009.) Most spectators understandably want to be at the finish line, to see who wins. I get it; I always regert not seeing the final push towards glory. But, when you watch from the starting line, you get to spend more time observing the elites, noticing their quirks, how they stay relaxed and focused. I like that part of the race, when it’s just maximum potential and a giant question mark. Because we all know, that even though the gun hasn’t yet fired, the line up and the wait for “Go” is very much part of the race. The press corps swirls around for a little bit (even Flotrack gets access), but then it’s just the racers, left to toe the line across Fifth Avenue, between the runner’s paradise of Central Park and the classic mansions of the Upper East Side.

And then there they are, at the “Set,” crouched, poised, ready to burst out with arms swinging and chests up. How quickly they disappeared down the avenue!  All of us on the sidelines whipped our heads around, hoping to see who had the lead at the outset. But really, who could tell, and what would it matter in a little less than four minutes? It all could change within inches of the tape.

If ever there was a race when I should have opted to wait at the finish line, this was it. By now it’s been well documented, and you all know the outcome (Willis beat Lagat by one-tenth of a second, in what was Lagat’s first-ever road race), including the Epilogue, where Lagat beats Willis at the Milrose Games. Mary Wittenberg said it was the best Men’s Fifth Avenue Mile the New York Road Runners have ever hosted. I was there, but I wasn’t an eyewitness.

I walked down to the finish line, where I stuck around for the awards ceremony. That’s when I learned for the first time what a happy and humble guy Bernard Lagat is, and when the cute Nate Brannen, third-place finisher, hit my radar. Finally, I tore myself away–I remember what a warm and sunny day it was, and how healing it felt for me to be soaking it up–and headed home on the N train from the southeast corner of Central Park.

(Nate Brannen is the last guy on the right. He trains with Nick Willis, but runs for Canada. His website is cool (especially when you consider that most pro runners don’t even have one), and he blogs every now and then. Check out his post on the Fifth Avenue Mile and his most recent update, in which he discusses how he trains during recovery from plantar fasciitis, including a tempo run on the Alter G treadmill.)

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Some of my girlfriends (and some of my guy friends, too) are as psyched as I am by the phrase “Fifth Avenue Mile,” but with one key difference: they’re thinking shopping, and I’m thinking elite runners. Some people get a lot of mileage dropping names of famous celebrities they’ve seen in restaurants, on airplanes, or in Bergdorff’s. I get a lot of mileage remembering (for my own inspiration) stunning performances by the elite runners I’ve seen in races.

First thrill of the day: spotting Ryan Hall casually leaning against a bus stop post on Fifth Avenue, watching his wife Sara Hall warm up before her race. I wanted to go shake his hand so badly but he really looked like he was just trying to chill out and let his wife be the star. I couldn’t resist though grabbing him with my digital camera, that’s him yawning in the gray shirt all the way on the left side of this photo. Sorry, it’s the only one I could get before he disappeared!

Also of note in this picture, the woman in brown taking off her shirt is the third-place finisher who ran out in front for much of the race, Rose Kosgei from Kenya (she normally runs longer-distance races). I’d also like to point out Amy Mortimer (black tank top), as she was the only female runner sporting pigtails. Ultimately she came in 7th (out of 11 runners), but she wins first place for style.

The women in this race were social and chatty pre-race, but their easy way with each other was dropped (as expected) once they toed the line. Below, Olympian Shannon Rowbury, Kosgei and Hall all look very focused. Hall has won this race in the past.

Next are the women all lined up at the start; UK Olympian Lisa Dobrisky is all the way to the left. Also of note in the line up is Olympian Erin Donohue (who I watched compete in the Women’s Invitational 8K this winter); after the race, I saw her hanging out with her mom (she’s from South Jersey), introduced myself and got a photo with Erin. Cool. (No, you can’t see it.)

This is the one photo I was able to snap before the competitors were passed, their ponytails waving at us all as they tore towards the finish line. Cool, right? Am glad I got a closer shot of Dobrisky.  I was able to get right up against the barrier fences, truly no one had stuck around to watch the race at the start; there was a crowd at the finish but I wanted to get candids of the elites and there isn’t as much of a chance once they’re done running.

The final results are pretty amazing, with the top finishers getting close to course records and really racing shoulder-to-shoulder through the final meters. 1-2-3 went to Dobrisky, Rowbury and Kosgei, with Erin finishing fourth and Sara eighth.  Media coverage up at this point includes the Associated Press on USAToday.com, NYRR.org including photos, and FloTrak.org. FloTrak video includes interviews with Dobrisky (this was her first time in New York) and with Rowbury (who shows off her plexiglass plaque), as well as a full tape of the race, with commentary.

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