Somebody Lose A Primate?

Well, I’m back from the weekend in New York City.  The weather was beautiful, the kids seemed to have had a good time, and had one guy not been one second faster than me on my little jaunt down 5th Avenue I would have had a perfect little mini-vacation.  While I have come to try to accept the old adage “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”, it’s hard to stop and smell the roses along the way when there are 601 guys breathing down your neck.  Oh, but for the 602nd entrant….

Friday night trip up to the city was without issue, the Saturday morning 10:25am start time made for a perfect wakeup time and trot to the avenue.  Warmed up in the park, hamstring felt fine.  Got to the line 15 minutes early due to the starting line ‘free-for-all’ that exists at 5th Ave (no seeding, no priority, no “here, please get in front of me since I acknowledge that you are going to run 2 minutes faster than I am” attitude – it’s every New Yorker for themselves).  Certainly less than ideal, but as with most things racing, it’s the same for everyone…

My rough plan was to follow the leaders closely, hopefully around 2:12-2:14 at the half mile mark, which is basically the top of the uphill portion of the race.  That would set me up to come down the hill hopefully faster than I went up, and if all went well I’d have some gas left at the end to compete for the win.  My plan sounded great, the only thing I didn’t consider was that the rest of the field apparently wasn’t onboard with how I wanted the race to be conducted.  Bummer….

At the gun I got out with the leaders, and found myself side by side with Matt Chaston, 2009 winner and 4-time top-3 finisher.  I didn’t plan on being in the lead, but the pace felt comfortable so I decided to see how it was going to play out.  Through the quarter in 67, pretty slow.  No panic, started up the incline still co-leading a pack of what seemed like about 6-8 guys.  Got to the top of the slope and past the half-mile sign, clock-truck said 2:17.  That explained the “comfortable” pace – it was very, very slow.  So much for logging a fast time, now I just had to figure out how to get my butt across the line before anyone else…

Fifth Ave start – every man for themselves…

After cresting the hill I must have had a thought cross my mind that it had been a while since I ran a race like the “good old days” – from the front, all chips in the center of the table, break the tape or die tryin’.  I guess I could have kept “hanging out” with the pack and turn the race into a mad-dash finish, but “going for it” seemed like the right thing to do.  I upped the pace by a gear or two as we started down the hill, and soon found myself alone in the lead.  A unique feature of 5th Avenue is that once you start down the hill, you can see the finish line from over 600m out.  Verrrry dangerous to someone who has just decided to go for it.  Through the 1200m mark in 3:21, a 64 second third quarter.  I was still alone in the lead, and before long I was passing the 200m to-go mark.  I took a quick peak over my shoulder and saw “John”, who was obviously the person everyone was cheering for.   I couldn’t tell if there were others, but I had a feeling it was going to be me and him all the way to the line…

King Kong, looking for a lift….

The Central Park Zoo occupies the corner of the park that abuts 5th Avenue between 65th and 63rd Streets – roughly the last quarter-mile of our race.  The zoo is described as “5.5 acres of zoo with natural habitats, polar bears, penguins, monkeys, and sea lions.”  Nowhere in their roll call do they describe owning any gorillas – probably because the only one they had must have escaped Saturday morning and somehow ended up jumping on my back right around the 1500m marker.  He was a big one – definitely a large male silverback.  Things went from “I think I’m gonna make it” to “oh no, here we go again” in about 2 seconds.  My shadow pal pulled alongside with about 80 meters to go, passed with about 50m left.  To say that I had no answer was an understatement, did the cement leg shuffle the last 25m just hoping I wouldn’t lose total control of my lower extremities.  Deja vu all over again – Hartshorne Mile, World 800m, Drake Relays – some people never learn….

Close, but no cigar…

Clock said 4:26 as I passed under it – that was disappointing, but not as much as the official results, which said 4:28.  Turns out the guy who won (John Henwood) had a big birthday just three weeks ago – the big 4-0.  He was an Olympian for New Zealand in the ’04 Athens games, and now coaches runners as a personal trainer in the city.  He ran a smart race, and had the strength to finish the race when I didn’t.  I’m guessing that with NYC being his backyard he’ll be around for years to come, should make the field that much stronger in the future…

Fifth Avenue Mile Masters Top Ten

With the pace being all over the place it was a tough race to Monday morning quarterback.  I could see the finish line from so far away that it was like the mythical Sirens luring sailors onto the rocky shores – I never would have started my final push from that far out but I could see it!  I could taste it!  Sucker…..

The good news was the hamstring was never a factor.  While I am a little sore today, I think I can carefully move forward with the rest of my road racing fall schedule, starting with the Syracuse Festival of Races 5k this Sunday.  As for this one, it’s in the books and at least I can say I don’t have the bad taste of regret in my mouth like I did last year.  As an old Navy man (John Paul Jones) once said “He who does not risk cannot win” – thanks John Paul – that crawl home was for you!

About Nick Berra

I am a 45 year old masters runner from Central Pennsylvania. I have been participating primarily in track events since turning 40 in 2009. This season has produced marks that I have not run in several years, I believe primarily due to starting a strength and flexibility program here at Elite Athletic Performance - I've felt stronger and faster than I have in a long time. That, coupled with lots of underwater running, has kept me healthy and fit - at this age those are things I no longer take for granted... I run USATF events with a team out of Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club. They are a great group who have played a big part in making the sport enjoyable for me again. I also run local races for HydroWorx Track Club, supported by HydroWorx here in Harrisburg PA. Their underwater treadmills and training center has proved to be a crucial part of my training, rehabilitation, and recovery programs. I set personal records in the 800m (1:56.06) in 2010 and in the 1500m (4:02:63) and mile (4:23.48) in 2011. Despite the fact that I am not getting any younger, I nearly PR'ed recently and set the M45 indoor world record in the 800 meters at the New Balance Armory in New York City. I ran 1:56.10, besting the 9 year old record by less than a second. I feel like there are still more big things to come... I am married and have two daughters. I am an assistant XC coach at my alma mater, Cumberland Valley High School here in Mechanicsburg PA. I am also a 1991 graduate of the US Naval Academy, currently working as a pilot for FedEx after serving 10 years on active duty flying in the Navy. Beat Army! Beat Army!
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3 Responses to Somebody Lose A Primate?

  1. Well…. you ran your race and left nothing on the course, so I wouldn’t be too down about it. Far better than holding back, finishing in the same second spot while still having something left in the tank! Best news of all may be the hamstring not nagging, TBH.

  2. Nick Berra says:

    I do have that going for me, which is nice. I’m hoping with a little bit of land ‘fine-tuning’ this week the 5k will go well. I know I won’t be leading that one….
    obtw – got iPhone problem fixed in NYC – add one more thing to the “good” column!

  3. Excellent running, Nick. My only concern looking forward (2013 et seq.) is that 8 of the 10 top runners in your age group were from New York City (I assume that New York means “New York City,” and, of course, the Bronx and Brooklyn are part of the city. One was from Fort Lee, which is across the river, and then there is Enola [N. Berra].) Seems to me that “back in the day” there would be runners from all over. Or am I wrong? Maybe I am thinking of the prize-winning elites.

    Also, the 10th runner ran only 4:53. Has the nature of the race changed?

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