Fifth Avenue Mile

5thavemile001In the two years or so I’ve been running, I’ve always looked at myself as more of a stamina runner. Most of my races have been slow and steady, churning out the miles at an even pace somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00. I don’t really have a great burst of speed in me – being six foot tall and two hundred pounds will have that kind of effect on a person. But this year, as I look to complete my qualifying events for next years marathon, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the Fifth Ave Mile. Sure, part of the attraction was because I need the race credit but I was also attracted to the race because it was something new. It’s the only race of it’s kind on the NYRR calendar – a straight sprint down Central Park East, 5280 feet from 80th St to 60th St.

I had done some good times for Yasso 800’s and a couple of spins around the Red Hook track, but never ran an official mile race. Despite that, I didn’t do any specific training for this event, other than a few speed sessions on the treadmill at my local gym.

The morning of the race I got off the subway at 63rd and Lex and walked the course from the finish all the way back to the start. Knowing the course, where the inclines and declines were would help me pace myself during the crucial first half. After studying the course, I dropped of my gear bag and warmed up with a solid 3M around the Central Park. I made my way back to the start area and watched the beginning of the previous heat. The start was a bit crowded and there definitely looked to be a lot of jockeying for position over the first couple of hundred yards. As the announcers called us forward to take our places in the starting corral, I hung towards the back. I figured it best to let the pack go and leave a bit of daylight between myself and the pack, so I didn’t have to deal with the typical crowd issues.

A few minutes later the horn sounded and we were off. The first quarter mile was slightly downhill, but with the second quarter promising a slight incline, I paced myself to a solid 1:50 start. Around this time I also started to pass some of the slower members of the bunch which provided some additional motivation. The second quarter was not as bad as expected, perhaps because I had controlled my opening 400m. I crested the hill at the half way point in a time of 3:35. At this point I was looking good for close to 7 minutes, which I have to admit, I would have been delighted with.

The second half of the race consisted of a downhill quarter and a relatively flat final quarter. From somewhere deep inside, I found an extra kick on the downhill stretch and passed a bunch of runners who were motoring along at a decent clip. Over the third quarter I gain time and going into the last 400m the clock read 5:05. It was at this point that I started to feel the strain, but the pull of the finish line and the noise from the crowd pushed me along even as my legs and lungs started to fade. I crossed the finish line in a time of 6:47 – well below my original target of seven minutes.

The whole thing was over so fast, but I walked away from the run extremely happy. I felt I had given a good account of myself and could be proud of my first official mile personal record.


Learning to Run Faster

treadmill002Depending on who you talk to, the consensus in relation to treadmill running is that it’s not quite the same as running outdoors. To a certain extent, I’ll buy that position. On a nice day, I prefer to put my sneakers on and go for a run on one of the routes I’ve mapped out around my neighborhood. That said, the treadmill has quite a few benefits that are too often overlooked by those that turn their nose up at a good treadmill session. They’re safe, especially in high-traffic urban areas; they act as a perfect pacer for high-intensity interval training; and they fill in more than adequately when the weather just won’t cooperate.

I have used the treadmill for all of these reasons. But I also use them for a couple of other reasons. Namely, to work on my speed and my form.

A couple of caveats – I don’t use the treadmill for long runs and I usually vary the speed even for short efforts.

Again, I’ve read differing opinions on the value of treadmills from a form management perspective. I suspect that in the majority of cases, any change in form is down to pure luck rather than an specific intent. For me though, it’s a conscious effort. The gym I visit has the treadmills located on the second floor, in front of a row of windows overlooking the street below. While this provides the obvious distraction while churning endlessly, I have taken to studying my form through the reflection in the window. I regularly observe arm position and movement, kick height, foot rotation, strike position, and a few other general factors during speed intervals and recovery stints. During every run my body is sending messages, telling me how it’s doing and providing early warning signs for problems. I find it very useful to have a visual companion to these messages, another frame of reference to help isolate and change potential problem areas early.

The other case for using a treadmill has become far more relevant over the last year or so. I’ve read a lot about muscle memory across a number of contexts, and really wondered how this phenomenon could be applied to running. I had reached a performance plateau where I wasn’t getting any benefit from outdoor runs in terms of an increase in average speed. Each run would be the same as the last, with only slight variations in the average and total time for the route. I thought about muscle memory and decided to spend a couple of weeks running on the treadmill at a pace 15-20 seconds per mile faster than my current average pace. Following the half dozen or so sessions, I ran the outdoor route again. And this time there was a noticeable difference in average pace and total time. I’ve run the same route a couple of times since then and have managed to maintain my new average pace. I realize this is not exactly a scientific experiment, but it certainly opened my eyes to another use for treadmills.

Over the next couple of weeks I plan to alternate indoor treadmill sessions with my outdoor route to see if the advances I have made hold. In a month or so, if everything is still good, I will try to up my pace again and see how it goes.