Fifth Avenue Mile

Fast forward five short weeks since the Pentathlon.  Nobody missed anything.  I took a week off because everyone says you should do that every now and then, I felt worse after the break than I did beforehand.  Then took it easy for a week, just got bored. Hit the track for a workout, felt like I had never made left hand turns before.  Ugh….

Slowly but surely re-learned how to generate a little turnover, but its safe to say my five-week plan to get ready for the Fifth Ave Mile was flushed down the crapper early on.  I did the best I could, even with a late head/chest cold.  I had a couple decent workouts, got some good quality efforts in the pool, and just kept telling myself “how much could you possibly lose in a month?”.  I hoped I wasn’t peeing down my own leg and telling myself it was raining….

We left yesterday afternoon and holed up in Summit NJ, a town I have stayed in several times on FedEx layovers.  The hotel is nice and is an easy walk to the small town.  Lots of little shops, a movie theater, and a bunch of great mom-and-pop restaurants.  We went for Italian and were not disappointed.  Left a little early this morning since I hadn’t picked up my race number yet, got parked and set up with plenty of time to spare.  A big storm had rolled through the night before, leaving clear skies and perfect temps for the race – couldn’t have ordered a better day….

365 days ago after a stinging loss late in the race to John Henwood I told myself that if there was one race I wanted to win one more time it was this one.  As this summer started to gather momentum I figured it to be a sure thing that I would be able to compete for the win in New York.  Now, going in, I was doubting myself more than I had in a long time.  I had been running these things for a long time now though, so when the fast-shoes got laced up it turned out to be business as usual.  I knew that this year’s field would have its usual handful of contenders, many of whom were new, talented, younger guys.  If it were going to happen I knew it wasn’t going to be easy….

Got to the line 15+ minutes early and stood nuts to butts with about 30 other guys in order to get on the starting line.  For how cool this race is, this “tradition” is ridiculous – it’s a complete self-seeding free-for-all.  I had one foot on the line but was getting stonewalled by an Italian runner (who, to his credit, did run 4:46).  Peter Brady (much more on him later), new M40 runner from Central Park Track Club hooked me up by “suggesting” that he let me get on the line because I would be out fast, said Italian guy thankfully abdicated his position.  Peter was on my left, John Henwood was on my right, “Last Minute” Mark Williams squeezed his way in behind me.  The gang was all here…

Wind didn’t seem like it was going to be much of a factor – I thought it would be a tailwind but as we got out with the gun it turned out to be more of a left to right crosswind.  Since you run south down Fifth Avenue, the tall buildings are on your left and the park on your right – every time we came to a cross street the wind would come pouring out between the buildings and blast you, only to then suddenly die as you regained the cover of the structures.  The start was clean, but almost immediately you could tell the pace was slow.  Peter Brady “got stuck” with the lead along with Gerald O’Hara, I sat on Peter’s right shoulder.  John was right beside me.  Through the quarter mile in 68 or so, very slow.  Up the slope to the half wasn’t much different.  Got the sense that Peter was wondering “what’s going on?” as he kept glancing over to see if I was still there.  I felt bad (I’m human), but was content to see how this was going to play out, especially considering the condition I was in.  I think the half was almost 2:20, which is borderline ridiculous.  At that point it was just a matter of time before someone “broke” and decided to go for it – in this case it was O’Hara.  The pace began to pick up as we started down the hill, then with about 600 or so to go Gerald took off like he was shot out of a cannon.  The rest of us loosely followed, I was thinking that if this guy can hold that the whole way in God bless him, he deserves to win.  Like the Tour de France, the guy who leaves the peloton almost never makes it alone – as we got inside 400 to go he ended up coming back to us and Peter Brady surged into the lead.  John Henwood passed me as well at this point, but I kept telling myself to wait until the very end – every time you watch the 1500m in the Olympics or World Championships its the guy in 7th place who goes 5-wide in the final 100m who ends up winning.  I hoped that if I made one big move at the end and held it through the line I could catch whoever was in front of me.

Of course I just couldn’t wait until 100m to go – I don’t know why I even come up with these plans.  As soon as Henwood passed me I decided that the time was now.  With about 200 to go I held on to both of those guys and then pulled past them.  With about 50 to go I could feel that I was a little clear of the pack, but with about 30 meters to go (if I had only waited until 100!!!) the shoes started getting very, very heavy.  It became “Throwback” Sunday at that point – finishing a race with cement legs, just like the old days, just waiting for the dreaded late pass.  Only this is 2013, where it seems like somebody is watching out for me – nobody comes up on me and I have just enough gas in the tank to make it about 1 step past the finish line.  What do you know – mission accomplished…

Sealing the deal

Sealing the deal

Sort of.  To make a long story short, I swung (swinged? went.) by the awards tent after sending a couple of texts and taking a couple of pics.  The results said I had the same time as Peter Brady, but he was listed as first and I was listed as second.  I went over to the timing truck to see if I missed something, they pulled up the finish line photo and it had me about a stride ahead of Peter (no surprise, since I was there to see it, even if my eyes were half-rolled back in my head).  We went and talked to the timer, he brought up the times and explains that Peter’s chip time was .65 seconds faster than mine.  He went on to say that usually in races the first across the line is the winner, but he has entered the places based on the Fifth Ave Mile being one big race, essentially making each “race” actually a “heat”.  I didn’t know how the chip times could possibly be what he said since we started next to each other and finished almost next to each other, but I didn’t feel like arguing.  I felt good about the race no matter what the guy wearing the pocket protector buried in the bowels of a truck had to say.  My kid saw me break the tape and thought I won, so I was happy.  I left it at that, cooled down in the park with my daughter, then went on to enjoy a couple of hours in the city before heading home.

On the way home I got an email from Peter essentially asking if I had seen the results.  He described them as “obviously/sadly incorrect” and offered to call and get them fixed.  Don’t know if this will happen or not, but either way his “reach out” was very considerate and a very classy move.  Do I think I won?  Yes, but if the race organizers implement their rules and decide that he did then that is their prerogative.  As my dad always used to tell me – “life is a journey, not a destination”.  I went up to NYC to run, and to see if I could compete with a strong masters field in probably the most prestigious mile race on the planet.  I ran, and in a crazy race managed to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge my way to the finish line to break the tape (which, by the way, never gets old, and which, by the way, they never even held up!!).  I left completely satisfied with my effort and the results, whatever they may end up being.  I just have to wonder though – what is this world coming to when there is fine print in road racing?!?

By the way, turns out my dad was just stealing an old Emerson line all these years – is nothing in this world what it really seems to be?!?

With Peter Brady at finish line - never been so happy to get done...

With Peter Brady at finish line – never been so happy to get done…

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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7 Responses to Fifth Avenue Mile

  1. Kyle Mecklenborg says:

    Who was the timer, Joel Dubow? 0.65s is a lot of distance at your pace for someone you started next to and finished in front of.

    • Nick Berra says:

      The finishing time was suspect as well. You’d think by paying $45 to run 4.5 minutes ($10/minute is A-Rod kind of money) you wouldn’t have these sort of issues, but although a it is a little perplexing life goes on. Will contact NYRR (and maybe check their timing committee roster) and see what they say, but not going “scorched earth” to get it fixed. The guys involved are all great dudes as well great runners, and have acknowledged the mixup. If this is my biggest problem all week I’ll consider myself lucky….

  2. Bruce R says:

    I really enjoyed your blog on the race, you have an engaging writing style.
    But I do like the subject so maybe that helps too.

    I Esp liked how you circled back to a prior point at the end … Clever your Dad and Race timing – very nice.

    “By the way, turns out my dad was just stealing an old Emerson line all these years – is nothing in this world what it really seems to be?!? ”

    Sounds like the Academy didn’t just prepare you for flight it also added a little literary flare !

    — Nice Job !
    — Keep Training
    — Bruce

    • Nick Berra says:

      Thanks. The inside joke is my dad hasn’t read a book not titled “Sports Illustrated” in probably 40 years, and wouldn’t know Ralph Waldo Emerson from ‘Where’s Waldo’. I thought working in a Patches O’Houlihan “Dodgeball” quote was much more of a literary challenge. Thanks for reading and running!

  3. Now that’s what I’m talking about. What? I mean a really hot race. “What a race,” as I sometimes say right after the finish. I hope we can get Peter Brady to run Hartshorne and then Boston. As for you, Nick, I am counting on you to compete in both meets. (I don’t think I have ever announced Peter Brady … let me go to Google.) Yikes, Peter won that sensational 800 at Olathe, the race in which Lance Elliott was out of the money but still ran 2:00.85.

    Mark Williams was third in that race (2:00.53), and I believe Mark will be in Boston. Looks like we have a good start on a competitive nationals. As for me, after not even announcing Olathe I am starting to get an itch to announce again. Some will be disappointed, but others will be glad to see me if I make it to Boston.

    • Nick Berra says:

      I will have left that crew in the rear view mirror by the time Boston rolls around – M45 for me. Those guys, along with Scott Weeks and the rest of the gang will have to duke it out without me. Maybe Hartshorne and other straight “masters” races…
      I look forward to seeing you there, sure there will be a new bunch of competitive guys in my new age group. It’ll be nice to be the “young” guy again though….

    • Kyle Mecklenborg says:

      Peter, everyone will be glad to see you at Boston!!

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