Fifth Avenue Mile: The Media Experience

Not only did I have an exceptionally good race experience at the Fifth Avenue Mile this year, but I also had a great experience as a media person.

Interviewing the runners

Once again I’m reminded that, while the lack of interest in professional track and field in this country can be dismaying at times, the flip side of that dispassion is that the stars of the sport are very accessible. In my case, I can walk off the street and find them in a room, ready to answer questions. Bonus: coffee and free danishes.

Like last year,  managed to carve out a few hours to research and then speak to a few of the elites in this year’s race. After a few experiences with the NYRR press events I’ve honed my approach. First, I have to wait to see who will be made available. Usually that’s anounced about two days before the press event. Then I have to select from that list to research. I can’t interview 10 people in a couple of hours; it’s better to pick three or four and focus on them with just a handful of questions to start with. As the interview progresses, you modify questions — or just go with the conversation’s new turns. But what sometimes happens is your planned interview doesn’t turn up, but you’ll get other people you didn’t expect. That’s when my set of generic, “ask anyone” questions come in handy.

So, with my method down pat, I made a beeline for three of the runners in whom I was most interested: Shannon Rowbury, Sally Kipyego and Jenny Simpson. I will be transcribing and editing those interviews and posting them soon — probably about a week from now. They were all great interviews, as expected.

Riding on the media truck

Last year, after volunteering for this event at the start line, I hobbled down to the finish and watched the rest of the races from there, including the elite races. I couldn’t help but look with envy upon the people who got to watch those races from the best seat in the house: the back of the media truck. I vowed to be on that truck when I came back this year. It took quite a lot of persistence, but I secured a seat about 15 minutes before the women’s elite race.

The truck has two rows of seats, plus room on the tailgate if you’re brave. That’s where Mary Wittenberg and a few other NYRR staff sat last year, as they did this year. The rest of us piled up higher. You’re strapped in with a rope and off you go. I was in the top row, viewing the races with a vista that included the back of Larry Rawson’s and Jim Gerweck’s heads. I’ve included video, which is interesting to listen to because you can hear the chitchat among the reporters, which is very much focused on the quarter mile splits.

You’ll also see that the vantage point changes from “runners at 12 o’clock” to “runners at “10 o’clock” as the truck whips off to the side to allow room for the pace car and runners. After the women’s race it whirls around and whips back up Fifth Avenue for the men’s elite race.

I think my favorite part of this experience was the first trip up Fifth, when I could see my friends along the course, as well as a few women I’d raced with who were surprised to see me later on, tearing past them on that truck. One of my friends, Amy Cooper, snapped this photo. I’m in the pink. This is probably one of the happiest photos ever taken of me. Saturday was a dream day in terms of racing, friendship and the thrill of riding in that ridiculous truck.

Race Report: Fifth Avenue Mile

I waited three years for this race.

The last good race I had, meaning I made real progress in, was the Steamtown Marathon in October of 2008. That wasn’t even a particularly good race experience. But it was a huge leap forward in performance. From there I struggled to improve and in the process got overtrained, injured and extremely discouraged.

Had I looked into a crystal ball back then and seen the failure, pain and frustration that was waiting for me, I don’t know that I would have bothered to keep trying. But ignorance has its virtues sometimes. As does stubbornness.

I trained for this distance, and this particular race, for three months. This was coming off of four months of injury from a sacral stress fracture last August, followed by three months of just trying to run normally again, then a winter and spring that were filled with personal crises, more injury and not much running. More sub-par races. More questioning. Then a decision in May to shelve the marathon indefinitely and do something wild and crazy: focus on the Fifth Avenue Mile.

My goal was to break six minutes.

This goal wasn’t just ambitious from a pure clock time standpoint. It also represented a leap in relative racing quality. Since I started running seriously four years ago I’ve hovered in the low 70%s age graded. My best performance was a touch over 75%. A few weeks ago at Sunset & Suds I ran around 73%. Today I nearly touched 80% age graded. That had been my goal for sometime mid-2012.

But I’m there already. What’s this mean? It means I’m good at shorter distances. I’m better at running a mile after three months of specific training than I was ever running marathons with three years of specific training. I never thought I had raw speed. But I do. Now I just need to work on raw speed endurance and I can see about 3Ks and 5Ks, perhaps some track 800s. But I’m not done with the mile yet.

I trained using a plan out of Daniels’ Running Formula. I modified it and cut out one of his three workouts a week — because I’m old, and I break down if I do three hard workouts a week — and cut down the volume of his track workouts. That worked: I got faster and I didn’t get injured. I will keep doing that.

I also visualized the living daylights out of this race beforehand. I lay down quietly and envisioned everything: the warmup, standing at the start, the gun, and each quarter, then the finish. I imagined reading a clock at the halfway point that read 2:XX and a finish clock that read 5:XX. I visualized racing in high heat and humidity. I visualized racing in pouring rain. I even visualized falling down and getting back up.

Races never play out the way you imagine them, but this was pretty close. Here’s what happened:

I got to check-in early, well over an hour ahead of my 10:45 start. Checked my bag and did, as usual, a terrible warmup. I was hot, my legs felt heavy, I had a side stitch. Absolute shit. But that was okay, because that’s how I’d visualized it. It would be fine once I was racing.

It was very humid, with dewpoints in the upper 60s and a temperature in the low 70s. I told myself over and over and over again that not only had I been training in weather worse than this all summer, but some of my best workouts had been in these conditions. “Ignore the weather. Weather like this can destroy a marathon. In a mile it’s meaningless.”

Got to the start and we had to wait and wait and wait at a penultimate start line before lining up at the real start line. It was a mad dash from the first to the second and I didn’t want to get caught a few rows back. I was in the second row and ended up nicely asking the woman in front of me if I could move up beside her. She looked a little annoyed, pissed even. But I couldn’t afford to lose a second in a slow start or getting around someone, so I was pushy.

So I’m in front. I’m in the center, so I’m not running along cambered road. Then I heard three women behind me talking about their race last year: “Oh, we went out too fast. We ran like a 1:17 first quarter.” I turned around and asked, “What are you planning on running the first quarter in?” They replied, “Oh, around 90.” Good, because I’m going out at 86 or so, so I wouldn’t have to worry about being in their way.

Two of my Harrier teammates are also in front, but they’re leaving me alone. I probably look grim and stern. I’m repeating things to myself, nearly berating myself, “You came here to race this. Don’t look at your watch. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t give up. You have to apply yourself the whole way and push.”

I’d lain on the couch before we left listening to the song I played while doing speedwork. I’ll admit it. It’s guilty pleasure. The song was Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away.” I ran 100m in 17 to that song. It makes me run fast. So that was my brainwashing soundtrack, my cue for going postal. That and being hopped up on 150mg of caffeine.

I’m wearing my plain Jane Timex. While I’d love to have Garmina’s quarter (or even 200m) splits, the temptation to look at them will be too great. I need to just race and never look at my watch. The upshot is that I don’t know how fast I was running at any given point on the course.

FInally, we’re given our 30 second warning, then 10 seconds and “blam!” — off we go. I know I have to run harder than I did in Tuckahoe, and it will feel a lot harder because of the humidity. The first quarter is downhill and I fly. I’m running slightly too fast, but I’m banking time for the uphill second quarter. I’m in, like, fourth position (!), for that first quarter. Then fifth when we hit the little hill.

Sometime in the first quarter my left ear becomes completely blocked, like it’s full of water. I can’t hear anything except my own breathing, amplified to fill the entire left side of my head. It’s so fucking annoying, but I can’t do anything about it. It will stay blocked until about 10 minutes after the race. The second quarter is slower, I can just tell. But not that much slower. We crest the hill and I can hear my friend Amy Cooper screaming her lungs out at me. I’m touched but I know that if I do anything to acknowledge her it could steal from my time. I can’t afford it! I keep running.

Shortly beyond, I see a blur of bodies in black and I know they are Harriers. They are also screaming at me. I continue with my robotic running. I can be friendly later!

As is the case with track miles/1500s, the third lap was the hardest. That’s where I could feel a growing ache in my legs and the seeds of doubt really beginning to take root. I can see the pace car up ahead, and it says 3-something, but I’m fifty feet behind it and I don’t know where we are. I’m too much in tunnelvision to be able to look for the clocks along the course. Plus, I don’t really want to see them for the same reasons I don’t want to see what’s on my watch. It’s too much of a mindfuck risk.

I start to loose hope during that third quarter and I’m thinking all kinds of negative stuff: “I went out way too fast. People are passing me. I’m going to run something like a 6:10 today. This weather has wrecked my chances. I can’t run this hard alone.”

I can see the finish line. But it’s tiny. So far away in the distance. I was warned about this phenomenon. The moving mirage, like one of Zeno’s paradoxes, that tempts you with a big sign that says, “Finish!” — yet you can never seem to get to it.

I’ve one quarter to go. I have to push, just as I’m most tempted to give up. I can’t read what the finish clock says, so I’m just going with faith that I’ve raced hard enough. This is the hardest I’ve raced in recent memory. I see the 200m sign and then am able to make out the clock. It still says 5-something. But 5-what?!

As I’m about 50m out I can see it’s in the 5:40s. Okay, this is doable. I keep going. I cross. I hit STOP. It says 5:57.5. I can’t breathe. People come up and talk to me and I can’t speak. I’m drooling. This isn’t pretty.

Okay, I’m fine in half a minute. I chat with a few people, real friends and formerly those who I knew only in the virtual realm. I look around and realized that this was a competitive race. This is confirmed when I look at results — the 45-49 women were far harder to beat than were the 40-44 in terms of field depth. Where’d all these fast pre-menopausal women come from all of a sudden?

Six of them came in ahead of me. Another four in the 40-44 crowd beat me too. I was 11th masters.

I’m happy with this race, but I’m happier with what this race means: I have raw speed that I can develop; I have clues about how to train safely and effectively; but mostly, I feel as if I’ve discovered some kind of dust- and rust-covered treasure, lying in the corner, perhaps buried under all the piles of marathons. The Mile. The mile and its cousins.

Today’s race event featured two acts, actually. My race was Act 1. I’ll cover what happened in Act 2, the professionals’ races, in a post tomorrow.

Ready, steady, go!

I’m behind on training updates because I’m behind on everything these days.

But who cares about training. My fall goal race is nigh.

This morning I went to the track and did a couple of tests at perceived mile race pace: 1×800 (2:56), 1×400 (1:24), 1×400 (1:26). I had a bad night’s sleep and had a 10mph headwind for half of each lap. It was humid too. Still, I was just 1 second off my goal pace for the 800 but right on target for the 400s.

I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to run fast down Fifth Avenue in a few days.

Race Report: Sunset & Suds 5K

Racing a 5K while trying to peak for a road mile probably wasn’t the wisest move. Conventional training wisdom would probably dictate shorter, faster work in the weeks leading up to the Fifth Avenue Mile (which is next Saturday). But following conventional training wisdom has often been a crapshoot for me, so I figured I’d race it and get some fitness on the endurance end of the spectrum.

The heat in New York has finally broken (I hope) for the summer and we were given cool, overcast conditions on Thursday evening. Unfortunately, there was a hellacious NW to SE headwind (although it shifted around at times). I stupidly failed to heed it in the first half mile of the race and paid for that stubbornness later on.

Long story short, I finished in 21:46, which is 24 33 seconds off my PR at the 5K distance. I have a feeling that I might have been able to get closer to, or perhaps even best, that time had it not been so windy, but I’ll never know. The wind affected us for about half the race, which is run along a north-south path that runs along the Hudson in Riverside Park. I had a feeling that I was running slightly too fast in the beginning, but since this wasn’t a goal race I figured I could afford to experiment. I came through the first mile in 6:49. Yes, with that headwind, that was probably about 10 seconds too fast.

In the second mile we headed south, then turned around. But by this time the sun was down and we were running in the dark. Since was afraid of twisting an ankle on uneven pavement, I was somewhat cautious going under an overpass. Yeah, lost tons of time there. Sure. No, I was just tired during that mile. That one clocked in at 7:11.

Heading back north into the third mile I was feeling low energy. This was a good thing to experience because it convinced me that I need to lay off the calorie restriction in the days before the Fifth Avenue race. I was also incredibly thirsty and grabbed a bottle of water off the table, took a few sips and then — feeling awkward — dropped it off to the side. No one else was taking water and I hate throwing bottles on the ground. It seems so rude.

As we headed up toward the little loop that marks the northern end of the course I got some energy back, but, boy, was I sick of that full on headwind coming from the north by then. I will say that we had a lovely sunset over New Jersey (that’s the “sunset” part), although it’s hard to appreciate a sunset when you feel as if you’re about to puke up your spleen. We turned to head south and that was a relief, but I was feeling done. When the woman calling the splits at mile 3 said, “21:10,” I knew I’d blown a chance at a PR. And yet, in front of me was a woman with whom I’d been playing “Pass me! Now I’ll pass you!” throughout the entire race. I decided to try passing her, which I did, and found some speed for the last .1, which I ran at 6:22 pace.

The woman who won the race in just under 19 minutes is 39. So it’s a little hard to be proud of a “first master” status. I’ll take it, though. I was 7th female overall. The race field was probably under 100 total. I love small races. The post-race beer (that’s the “suds” part) and chitchat with teammates and others was a bonus.

What I learned, besides the fact that I need to eat more before racing, is that if you train for a mile it’s hard to pull off even a decent 5K. My endurance over anything longer than about 3K is not there anymore. That’s so odd to me. I’m so used to being able to sustain an effort over long (sometimes very long) distances. I wouldn’t dare enter even a 10K now.

Even though the mile race is next weekend, I’m already looking ahead. In some ways I feel that the Fifth Avenue race will take care of itself. There’s no workout I can do at this late stage that will get me any readier for it, and in fact doing too much will only detract. I have a little session planned for Tuesday, just 1-2 800s and a couple of 400s. But I may even skip that if I’m feeling at all tired or if anything anywhere hurts.

I’ll take a little down time in the week after that race and just run easy. Then I go straight into 5K training with one tempo run and one speed session every week, plus one longer recovery pace run. I think those will top out at 10 miles. Upper mileage limit will be around 55 or so.

My next planned race is a 5 miler in late October, the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff (a raincheck for the cancelled Percy Sutton race). The last time I ran that race I suffered a violent hamstring pull. Good times. I did find another road mile in mid-October, the Harry Chapin Run Against Hunger. That’s billed as a “fun run.” But I am incapable of doing fun runs. I will be out for blood as usual.

Race Report: Tuckahoe Mile

Well, I won. I wish I could say this was a hard race to win, but it wasn’t. In some ways, winning was a drawback. Read on.

My winning time was not great, but it wasn’t terrible either. It’s about where I expected to be: 6:09.

I was incredibly nervous before this race for some reason. My heart was pounding right before the horn sounded. I’m not sure why. I suppose one possible reason is that it’s been so long since I raced a mile that I wasn’t sure what the right effort would be, so I was afraid of blowing it by running either way too fast or way too slow. But I think most of my nervousness had to do with the fact that this was my one chance to evaluate how I would do in a road mile prior to the Fifth Avenue Mile. What I was most worried about happening was that I would race my hardest and steadiest, yet bomb and run something like a 6:30. What would I do with that? Give up? I wasn’t sure.

Fortunately, not only did I not bomb, but I could have raced harder. This was a good realization to have today, two weeks before the day on which I need to race race. I am confident that I can run a bit harder than I did today. If conditions are right, that could get me below 6:00.

With my handy Garmin set to record 200m splits, here’s how I made out (splits are rounded up or down from the hundredths):

200: 43
400: 45
600: 48
800: 48
– 3:04 at the halfway, hairpin U-turn –
1000: 48
1200: 46
1400: 45
1600: 46

I started in the second row, since I did not want to battle the likes of Joe Garland (Warren Street) and Kevin Shelton-Smith (Van Cortlandt Track Club) from the gun. The first 200 was a little “fast”* because I was somewhat crazed with trying to not get trapped by slower runners. For the first 400 I was feeling a sharp pain in whatever the smaller quad is in the front of my left thigh. That was worrisome and partially responsible for my lowering the effort a little. But that pain ebbed in short order.

For most of the race there was just one woman ahead of me (and I’m pretty sure I was well inside the top 10 overall). She was running a steady pace so I thought I’d have trouble catching her. But I passed her at about the 1300 mark, and as that happened I kind of settled mentally and didn’t kill myself in the last few hundred meters.

I had hoped to run even 45s and then pick it up for the last 400m. But I got freaked out by a headwind for the first half that, while not strong, was still noticeable. In my last few track workouts I’ve seen how quickly — instantly! — I can go from redlining to running out of air and/or muscle strength. I did not want that to happen in the first half mile. So I held back a little more than I needed to. That U-turn stole some time too, something that will not be an issue in two weeks.

I didn’t go into this race with a goal to win, but when I realized I was going to win my competitive instincts took a quick nosedive. I should have run harder those last few hundred meters, but I’m not going to beat myself up over that too much. This was a time trial and opportunity to make some experiential observations. The race was a success in those regards.

With the information gathered, I’ll have a few more specific training goals over the next few weeks. My pace sagged in the middle, which I suspect is a confidence issue and not a physical one. I need to focus on keeping up a constant effort without being afraid of a blowup in the second half. I have two more speed sessions. In those I’ll focus on running 800s in around 2:55 and doing some 400s in the 84-86 range.

There were some familiar faces in Tuckahoe today. As previously mentioned, Joe was there to run both the mile and 5 mile races, but suffered a pull early on in the mile race. I am hoping that it’s a big nothing like some other recent twinges he’s had. Joe has some video of today’s 5 miler up, including some of me, sitting (not running, thank goodness) and receiving Fifth Avenue Mile strategy tips from VCTC’s Ken Rolston.

Taconic’s Frank Colella and Emmy Stocker also turned up, and Emmy won the 5 Miler, despite protestations that she was tired. She’s not fooling me with this sandbagging act anymore, though!

Other random details: I was the only New York Harrier there, not surprisingly. But VCTC had a sizeable contingent — around six runners. Also, I wore my New Balance Minimus 10 Road racers. They were good to race in. I will probably try them for the 5K on Thursday. I discovered that one of the race’s sponsors is Hector’s Auto Repair, the scene of many repairs to our aging Toyota. Hector is a good mechanic — and by that I mean honest, accommodating and reasonably priced. The fact that he sponsored this race did not surprise me.

And, finally, here’s an idea for you race directors out there: pin one tee shirt of each size to the wall next to the registration table. That way, runners can evaluate way ahead of time what size shirt they will want. It’s so simple and obvious, yet I’ve never seen this done anywhere else.

Afterwards I decided to take advantage of Bicycle Sunday — the closure of a 7 mile stretch of the Bronx River Parkway on Sundays in September and October, along which bicyclists, rollerbladers (remember them?) and “joggers” are free to traverse between the hours of 10am and 2pm. I had a lot of life left in my legs because after a first mile at 9:20 I was cruising along in the low 8:00s, finishing up with a final mile at 7:44, for 6 miles at average 8:28 pace.

Good. Now I can eat.

*I use quotations around “fast” because ~44 is what I need to run my splits in for Fifth Avenue if I want to break 6:00. But let’s not think about that just yet.

Why I love social media

Over the course of the day yesterday, from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep, I was connected with others, if not directly through a social medium then indirectly through other activities (writing down ideas to share, emailing a query) that ultimately came about because of a connection I’d made through social media.

I’ve been using message boards since the launch of AOL, circa 1990. I started this blog in 2006. I’ve been on Facebook for around a year and a half. I’m a relative newbie to Twitter, but now use it extensively. At this point, the impulse to connect and share is so frequent, ingrained and automatic that I don’t even think about it anymore.

It’s incredibly easy to dismiss blogging, Twitter, Facebook, online message boards and other components of social media as time wasters. The implication is that we don’t benefit from being in this realm so much as we fritter away our lives. The relationships formed in these media are often similarly rendered illegitimate because they are “virtual” and, as such, assumed to be of lower value by virtue of some assumed ephemerality.

I would like to counter that point of view in this post, by describing the ways in which social media has enriched my life.

It’s helped me find my voice. I’ve always gravitated toward writing and knew that I was good at it. I began making a living at it around 10 years ago, and I enjoy a lot of the writing I do for money. As a profession, writing and editing copy is both fun and challenging. But over the past few years my biggest source of satisfaction has been the personal writing I’ve done for this blog. Now I’m branching out and seeing if I can write for other media and forms of delivery (stay tuned). Finding my voice online has helped me to find it offline as well, which is uber valuable for an introvert who often has trouble dealing with people in general.

It’s made me a better writer. From a practical standpoint, writing for social media has helped me to hone my writing chops, beyond the improvement that comes simply from writing something every day. Web readers demand brevity: short paragraphs; simple sentences in the active voice; tight composition and structure. The extreme, of course, is Twitter. With just 140 characters at my disposal, I’ve learned a lot about editing and rewriting.

It’s helped me to help others. I’m reading a book right now, one that violates the brevity rule (at least in terms of its title). It’s called The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. Aside from resembling my daily to do list, this is a book about how our brains work, specifically why certain behaviors trigger the brain’s reward mechanisms. If you read the title carefully you’ll see that “generosity” is among those addictive behaviors. I like helping people by sharing  my skills and knowledge and lately I’ve used social media to identify opportunities to lend a hand in ways that go beyond the obvious.

It’s helped me establish new relationships. I have quite a few actual, in the flesh friends whom I would not have met ever were it not for social media. As a side point, I’ll also note that whereas I used to view purely virtual relationships as somehow lacking, I now think they have their place and can be valuable in their own right. If you want an old school example, consider the lowly “pen pal” relationship. I’ll bet lots of pen pals never met each other, but that doesn’t lessen the value of the connection that can be forged through a virtual exchange of thoughts and feelings. Sometimes a friend can be someone you never meet. But I’ll grant you that IRL friends are the bomb by comparison.

It’s deepened relationships I already have. I have a few friends who I knew long before the advent of social media, but for various reasons we drifted apart, only to eventually rediscover each other through social media. In other cases, I knew someone through a non-friendship venue (such as a work project) and discovered a lot of common ground through social media, which helped to advance the relationship from the friendly acquaintance or “work friend” to “friend friend” stage. This is great.

It’s given me the opportunity to try new things. Social media is directly responsible for my running journalism career (such as it is), my having joined a running team, my becoming a host of various podcasts, my decision to travel to certain places, and my exploration of new forms of creative outlet or consumption, just to name a few. Social media gets me out of the house and around people pretty regularly.

It’s provided me with a free publishing platform. For a quiet person, it seems that I have a lot to say. Social media lets me say those things. Whether it’s writing haiku (well, three years ago), or satirizing the kind of taglines I get paid to produce on a regular basis, or presenting an interview project, or just telling some stupid jokes, all I have to do is start an account and I have my own megaphone, instantly. I even have a secret blog that no one knows about.

It’s helped me find support and solutions. Like you, I have problems. Lots of them. Through social media (message boards especially) I’ve found members of my various tribes who are chock full of information, ideas, resources and empathy.

It’s kept my serotonin levels steady. See “problems” above. I don’t know whether I did too much acid in the third grade or something, but my mood will easily plummet without constant vigilance. I’d say about half of the people I follow on Twitter are either professional comedians, comedy writers or regular Janes and Joes who happen to be hilarious. I also write lots of funny stuff (or at least I think it’s funny) throughout the day. Reading and producing this stuff on Twitter elevates my mood. It’s that simple.

It’s shown me that activism is still alive and well. Lastly, there’s other peoples’ use of social media for the greater good. You’ve got things like the It Gets Better Project, which strives to keep gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered youth from killing themselves. Or the Enough Project, which seeks to dismantle warlordism in Sudan and the Congo. Then you’ve got activism that demonstrates social media’s unintended consequences, like Nancy Upton’s hijacking of an ill-conceived American Apparel contest for use as her own personal platform for scathing social commentary. Fucking brilliant. Try doing that with television.

What has social media done for me lately? A lot. What’s it done for you?

The marathon vs. the mile: pre-race musings

I have my first mile race in well over a year (and my second mile race ever) on Sunday, a run down one of the main streets in Tuckahoe, which is less than half a mile from my house. It’s a tuneup for the goal race in a few weeks, a mile race down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. By the time that rolls around on September 24th I will have been training for it for nearly 3 months.

Three months of training to run for (I hope) fewer than 6 minutes? That seems a little crazy. But is it? For a few years I trained for 6+ months to run a marathon and usually had very little to show for all that time, effort and commitment. Of the 6 marathons I ran I can only say that I felt totally prepared and confident before one of them, the More 2008 race. Not coincidentally, that was my biggest jump in improvement, although not my PR. But it was the last marathon I was prepared to race properly.

I don’t know how I’ll feel in a few weeks when I line up on Fifth Avenue, but that’s okay because the stakes aren’t nearly as high. Sure, if I have a bad race I’ll be unhappy about it. Three months of training is still significant. But I’m finding the anticipation of the mile vs. the marathon to be a completely different experience. A poor outcome will, I suspect, also be a whole different ball of wax.

One reason for this is, obviously, the distance and recovery time. For a mile, I’d need a minimum of 6 weeks buildup and a week to recover. Triple or quadruple that for the marathon. But beyond the obvious, there are a few other major differences I can think of:

Performance Feedback: When you race a marathon it may take you a third or more of the race to realize that you’re having a bad day. That’s a terrible feeling. Then you have to decide to drop out, or struggle through to the finish. In a mile, by halfway through the race you’ll have a good sense of how the race is going to go. By then, you’re practically there anyway.

Trial Runs: For the mile, you can race a time trial before your goal race. Part of me thinks it’s a bad idea to race Tuckahoe; if the race goes badly it could screw with my confidence. On the other hand, I’ll have two weeks to work on any weaknesses I see. So I’ll use the opportunity. You can’t race a marathon to prepare for a goal marathon. It’s just too far. So marathon morning holds the worst kind of mystery. I don’t miss that aspect at all.

Training Foundation: My next goal after the Fifth Avenue Mile is a 5K in January. I’ll have around 15 weeks to train for that distance. That’s plenty of time even starting from just basic aerobic fitness. But I have to believe that coming from peak mile training is going to do wonders for my 5K time.

As for strategy, I had one when I raced the mile and the 1500 last year. In the case of the mile, awful weather put the kibosh on running a good race. In the case of the 1500, I ran the first lap a little fast and probably paid for it later; but overall it was a successful race. Probably one of my most successful races, now that I think about it. Perhaps that’s what makes the distance so attractive — I have this crazy suspicion that I could be quite good at it (relatively speaking, since I’m old for a sophomore miler) if I applied myself in the form of specific training.

I should have good data gathered from Tuckahoe and a 5K race a few days after that. Then I’ll do some 800s on the track in the week prior to Fifth Avenue. That should tell me what to target for the quarter mile splits. I do know that the pain in the 1500/mile was something I have trouble describing, but no trouble remembering. And it was sharply distributed between the mental and physical realms. The worst part mentally was the third lap (800-1200m). The worst part physically was the last 300-400m. I never thought racing could actually make my entire body — including the sides of my head — scream in pain, but the mile will do that.

I will reacquaint myself with that pain on Sunday. Strangely, I’m looking forward to it.

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