By Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)
While I like to think I’m better than a ‘one trick pony‘, today I was rudely reminded that it’s a case of ‘horses for courses‘ and the mile is not my course. I simply got soundly beaten, by several lengths, by a mile specialist. In fact by the time we reached two furlongs to go, the final quarter, it was all over bar the heavy breathing. Right less of the horse racing analogy, more of my day out at the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile races.
Going into this one the writing was on the wall. It’s just that I failed to read it. Since March I’ve been having various issues with my right leg. In 2017 it seems I’ve had just about everything – ITB, then hamstring / glute and most recently shin splints – and yet for the big occasions I’ve been injury free, though sometimes underprepared. Recently my problems have ebbed away but my race sharpness has been eroded through lack of high intensity training and long runs. And so it all came to roost today.
When I first ‘settled’ in New York and ran for Warren Street I used to avoid the 5th Avenue Mile. The distance did not appeal and I was not training for it, preferring instead to focus on preparing and racing 10Ks and half marathons. Then it became a club points race and ever since I’ve tried to compete whenever I can. But I’ve not adjusted my training. I last ran it in 2015. I clocked 4:45. I was hopeful of something similar.
After warming up with team mate Ramin Tabib I lined up with fellow male and female runners 50-59. There was some 500 of us. There was great camaraderie. Many if not most of us were sharing injury stories. It comes with the age. And trepidation about running our slowest ever mile. After all we ain’t getting any younger. And I got acquainted with some new competitors, not least Gerald O’hara who was edged into 2nd in 2016. Gerry had a 4:41 indoor time to his name earlier in ’16. He was the man to beat.
My goal was 4:50 but, more importantly, to compete. Being on the front row I got a clean start. 5th Avenue is a fast road mile – dead straight, wide roadway, good road surface and gently undulating with a slight descent in the first quarter, slight incline in the second, and again slight descent for the second half. I ran alongside Gerry through halfway passing the first quarter mark in around 1:10 and the second in around 2:25.
I felt pretty good at this point. But then Gerry found an extra gear and went away. And kept pulling away. And all I could do was spectate. His lead had extended to some 30 metres by the three quarter mark which I reached in around 3:40. I was now hanging on for second but the shouts for “Brad” were getting closer and louder. And so it was no surprise he tore past with a furlong to go. I sensed others were chasing me down but fortunately the finish line came soon enough.
I breasted the line in 3rd place in 4:53 (AG of 87.59%, the lowest of 2017), 9 seconds shy of Gerry and 3 behind Brad. Gerry was an emphatic winner. One year I have to train specifically for this and see what I can do. The time was good enough to top the UK M50 rankings but is way off what the top Americans are running. In addition to Gerry, Todd Straka, USATF 2017 M50 mile champion who’d made the trip from Boulder, ran 4:29 in the open race.
I reflected that while running a half marathon I’m in some sort of zone, a comfort zone of sorts, for much of the race. Only in the closing miles do I start to grind. But in the mile I spend none of the time in that zone. I’m grafting from the gun.
The team excelled. Urban Athletics won the M40+ (Javier Rodriguez (3rd M40 in 4:29), Matt Chaston (2nd M45 in 4:33) and Stefano Piana-Agostinetti (4th M45 in 4:40)) W40+ (Fiona Bayly (1st W50 in 5:17), Jennifer Harvey (1st W45 in 5:22) and Cathrine Wolden (2nd W45 in 5:23) and W50+ (with two newly minted W50s Fiona and Dominique Saint-Louis (3rd W50 in 5:25) joining Ivy Bell (2nd W60 in 6:39)). In both open races UA finished 6th. In the overall, year to date club standings, UA lie first in M40+ and W40+ and equal first with CPTC for M50+ while in 4th and 5th respectively for open men and women.
Our M50 team (Jonathan Schindel (5th in 4:55), Paul Wong (14th in 5:09) and I) came second to a CPTC team led home by Gerry and Brad. UA’s W40+ were the standouts, winning comfortably. Again. And the W50+ most improved. Some UA runners logged impressive PRs including Ramin Tabib, Bob Smullen, Ivy Bell, Dominique Saint-Louis and Elizabeth Dellamora.
The many races making up the 2017 New Balance 5th Avenue Mile featured more than 7,500 runners, the largest field in the event’s 37-year history. The race’s professional athletes provided historic performances to match, with Jenny Simpson making it her sixth win and Nick Willis his fourth.
Now the mile is not my cup of tea. But the 5th Avenue Mile is. The venue is breathtaking: when else can you run 20 blocks down the middle of 5th Avenue ending at The Plaza? The occasion is spectacular: elite runners from around the world, the television cameras, runners of all ages. But most importantly the New York City running community is in the limelight. And today some, like Mark Williams and Reno Stirrat, went from being virtual friends on Facebook to the real thing! So much better.