“Don’t Try to Sprint All the Way” and Other Tips to Run Your Best Race at the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile

The starting line full of runners sprinting at the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile

This weekend, thousands of runners will step to the start line of the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile. For many runners, it will be their first time racing the mile.

Want to avoid that panicked “How the heck do I do this??” feeling as you line up in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Read on for tips from NYRR staffers Gordon Bakoulis, who won the 2017 New Balance 5th Avenue Mile age 55-59 division, and Katie Manzi, a former Division 1 collegiate sprinter who specialized in long sprints.

Runners in the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile running past the camera

1. Expect the unexpected. The mile is classified as a “middle-distance” event. Specialists at the distance have to train as both sprinters and distance runners. If you’re used to racing 10Ks and half and full marathons, you may think you can just sprint the mile all-out. Unless you’re a currently trained middle-distance runner, do not try this!

2. Say no to peer pressure. Plan the pace you want to run and stick with it, no matter how much you might want to keep up with people around you. For this race, corrals are based on age group, which leads to people of varying paces being grouped together. If others go out super-fast that means either they’re in better shape than you are and you won’t beat them anyway, or they’re pacing themselves disastrously and you’ll see them again before Grand Army Plaza.

3. Pace yourself. This is simple enough to do, thanks to clocks located at each quarter mile. Your first quarter should feel like a jog, and even your second should have you breathing comfortably enough that you could have a short conversation if you had to. Ratchet up the intensity in the third quarter, but not until the three-quarter mark should you turn on the after-burners. That finish line looks like it is close, but it can be deceiving. When you see the 1500m sign, it’s eyeballs out—run as hard as you can the remaining 100+ meters to the finish.

4. Prepare for the uphill second quarter. Surprise—the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile course is not flat! You’re not imagining that hill from about 75th Street to 70th Street, no matter how many times you may have walked or ridden up it in a taxi without even noticing. Just maintain your effort and direct your energy forward.

5. Because lactic acid. Lactic acid is a substance that builds up in your muscles when you push them too fast for a prolonged period of time, such as in long sprinting events like the 400m the 800m. Running a mile, you’ll feel it in your legs and probably your arms, too. The feeling of lactic acid accumulation starts with a burn that envelops your entire legs, followed by a drained feeling like all the energy is being sapped from your muscles, and finally a numbness that makes you feel like you have lost all control of your limbs. If you experience this early in the race, ease up. If you have less than 200 meters to go, push through—you aren’t going to hurt yourself by doing so.

Runners in the sun in the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile

On the day, the most important thing is to have fun. We promise you despite the dire warnings, running the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile is just about the most fun you’ll ever have wearing running shoes. It’s only a mile, but you’ll cross the finish line gasping, sucking air—but you’ll feel exhilarated and you’ll want to do it again. And you can—we’ll see you in 2020!

Checking a bag? Bag check will be in two locations: at the start on the west side of 5th Avenue between 81st Street and 82nd Street, and at the finish at Grand Army Plaza; both locations will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Please note: Checked bags will NOT be transported from the start line to the finish line this year. If you wish to check a bag, please allow additional time for bag check, security, and getting to the start.

Authors: Gordon Bakoulis and Katie Manzi

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