Friday, January 08, 2010

My First Indoor Mile - 5:09 At The Armory (NYC)

Last Thursday, I had the great pleasure of joining 150 track athletes for the NYRR Thursday Night at the Races at The Armory Indoor Track in New York City. This casual competition brings track runners from all over the northeast to compete in the 800 meters, mile, and 2-mile on a recently renovated indoor track considered to be one of the fastest in the world. It was my first attempt at the mile, my first experience on an indoor track, and the first time I had even been above 89th street in Manhattan (embarrassing, I know). In short, it was AWESOME.

(Crushing the indoor rubber)

Entering The Armory

I might as well have had “n00b” (that’s text for newbie) written on my forehead when I showed up in my suit and tie, straight from a business meeting, and walked into the Armory with my jaw agape. New Balance and NYRR have built nothing short of a shrine with the renovation, and compared to the sub-zero temperature outside, it was paradise.

(The entrance, photo courtesy of LotusPhotographers)

(Always 70 degrees and perfect!)

The n00b-factor increased when I changed into my road shoes and Inov-8 shirt, a striking clash with the sprinters warming up in track spikes and lycra singlets. I felt like a California cougar walking in on a pack of New York cheetahs about to have a showdown.

“Yo, Clark! You here for the old man mile?” asked one 25-year-old black athlete with a giant M on his track suit, covering thighs that either of which would dwarf my torso. It took me a second to realize he was talking to me, and when I looked his way, his entourage chuckled in unison, in on the joke.

“Clark?” I nervously replied, ”I’m not sure if I get it.”

I’m emitting n00b3 at this point.

“Clark Kent!” he said, getting a rise of snickers from his mates, “ We saw you do the quick change in your coat. That was faster than Superman.”

He was right – since there wasn’t a change room, I had wrapped my overcoat around me and changed underneath it (the male equivalent of the Flashdance bra change) just yards from where they were warming up. I laughed out loud once I got the joke. A bit too loud, actually, eliciting yet another round of laughs from the crew.

(In case you need a reminder of that Flashdance scene;
the guy version isn't nearly this sexy, although about that steamy)

I moved to introduce myself, but since he was warming up it was a bit awkard. He sized me up head to toe, then toe to head, pensively stroking his chin.

“So let’s see…boys, I think 45, 50 tops,” he declared. I assumed he meant my age, but then thought better than to assume given that my age was largely the reason I was a step behind in this conversation already. He threw me a bone, “What you say, Clark? Can you bust a 4:45 mile?”

Ah, he was talking about my PR for the mile. I had a nametag that said “miler” right on it. Duh.

n00b4, here we come.

“This is my first time at an indoor track, so I have no idea,” I replied, continuing my warm up routine. I stared over at the track, watching it gleam with new rubber and paint under brand new lights, its high-banked corners suggesting superhuman speeds that required centrifugal force to be contained. For someone who runs mountains, this was as foreign a concept as running on the moon. And about that exciting!

“It’s easy, man,” he said with a welcome voice, “just run fast and stay in the game. If you’ve got a move to make, you gotta be in the game to make it.” The crew all nodded, and continued with their strides and stretching. With that, my coaching session ended, and he took off with his team. I never got his name, but couldn’t thank him enough for the advice.

The Race

So what should my target time be for the mile? I have never tried it, and there were a lot of new variables.. I remembered the blogger challenge between Craig Thornley and Andy Jones-Wilkins to run a sub-5 minute mile last year, and figured that was a sensible crazy-ass stretch goal for a 40-year-old. If anything it would be educational to run with a bunch of people who already could do sub-5 and determine if it was even attainable.

There were 50 runners registered for the mile, and the heats of 12 were selected based on your target time. The process of selecting the heats defined the term “stepping up” – they start rattling off times in descending order like 4:10, 4:15, 4:20, and runners step up when they think they can do that time. By 4:20, we had our first heat. By the time the third heat was selected when I stepped up, the first heat was DONE RACING. Cheetahs, indeed.

(4:40, step up!)
As I waited for the call for “5:00”, I met some of my fellow milers. It was a really cool group of folks, mostly from local boroughs and nearby states, ranging in age from 19 to 70. Track clubs members old and new shared a passion, and were happy to brandish their team colors together. The organizers and volunteers were pleased to put on an event and certainly knew what they were doing. Anyone out here instantly had the respect of everyone out here, because we shared a common passion, and we weren’t afraid to put it on the line on any given Thursday.

I met some of the guys in my heat, and was pleased to see I wasn’t the only one sans-spikes. The speedsters definitely had the gear, but many were just coming to run on this great track and get out of the cold. I struck up a conversation with Giancarlo, a local road and track runner, and he was thrilled to hear that I did a 100-miler a few months ago. We laughed, knowing the equivalent here would be 800 laps! He was aglow from his recent marathon experience, and we commented how big of a “downshift” we were both taking to run the mile. I was certainly in good company.

(Take your marks!)

The start came, and I drew slot #9 just on the outside.

“To your marks!”, the started yelled. Just eight laps, I thought. My heart shot to 160 bps. And THEN the gun erupted.

The pace was fast to get position in the first corner, and my surge got me on the back of the pack on the inside lane. By the next corner, the pack was efficiently two runners wide and I swung to the outside. The G’s felt great, but clearly was tough on the hamstrings, similar to banking switchbacks on a downhill trail. Lap 1 - 36 seconds, lap 2 - 39 seconds. That was a 1:15 quarter mile, right on track for a 5-minute pace. It felt wicked fast to me, but I was having so much fun on the banked corners that there was no way I was slowing down.

(Haulin' ASS!)

On the next four laps, I began to understand the running term “boxed in”. The pack was tight, and I had nowhere to go running on the inside lane now that I was mid-pack. I just tried to hold pace since that was the only option, and the splits came in evenly at 38 seconds per lap. On the back of lap six, the pack split into two, with those “in the game” in the front pack and the rest of us slackers too stuck to chase. Oops. I was not listening to my helpful coach.

Some runners saw the pack splitting and swung wide to catch up, which in turn gave everyone some room to move. I had the space and started to pick up speed, but just as I shifted into high gear, my legs recognized lap #7 and began to burn from lactic acid build up. I picked a line on the inside and pushed as hard as I could without spontaneously exploding.

The bell rang on the last lap, and it was a two man race out front on a 4:50 pace. Meanwhile, the lactic acid fried my legs like drumsticks on the grill, and started creeping up into my stomach and chest. By lap 8, the pain seeped up past my neck and was pulling my facial muscles into contorted grins. I wondered if I would go full Zombie before I crossed the finish line.

The last straightaway came, and I leaned forward and had gravity pull me in. I finished in 5:09, and staggered off the track gasping like I had held my breath the whole time. I congratulated the majority of the group who finished in front of me as we all warmed down. All I could think was “wow”, and “Craig Thornley was right…sub-five minutes is waaay hard”.

(The 800-meter Women were too fast for my camera)

I drank water like I had been walking the desert, cooling down and watching the Women run a killer 2:20’ish heat for the 800 meters. I was astonished at the speed required to run that fast, and entranced by the sheer beauty of so many natural athletes in motion. No matter what age, size, race, or (track club) color, the efforts and talents of the people here are inspiring. We trail runners have plenty in common with our track brethren.

I obnoxiously said thank you to random people, and invited as many as I could out West to run some trails. My legs were shaking from the race, but I couldn’t tell if it was from being tired or wanting another go at that track. Such a thrill! I would highly recommend it, although I would suggest changing BEFORE you get there.

My thanks to those I met, the NYRR (I'm a member, baby!), The Armory, and the wonderful race organizers for putting on a great event. The adrenaline rush was exactly the break from routine I needed to see 2010 with fresh eyes (and fresh legs!). I will see you again soon.

- SD

(Lke my shower afterwards...although again, not nearly as sexy)


  1. Scott, that was a legitimately exciting post. Had me on the edge of my seat. Good for you for throwing down and hanging with the fast crowd. Keep it up!

  2. Nice how you managed to post some near-porn on your site. But Flashdance? Really??? You are an old, old man. JK!


  3. Terrific story! Thanks for sharing.

  4. That's a great post! Old man mile lol. It takes a brave man to go from trails to a track. Good Job keep up the good work!

  5. AWESOME post! i really enjoyed reading it! What an awesome experience for you, and a step away from your comfort zone. Kuddos to you for trying something new and exciting!!

    can't wait to read about your trail and ultra running adventures in 2010!!


  6. That reminded me of a time when I actually liked running track, back in high school. When it was fun, and I didn't care about my time or anything really.

    College ruined track for me. I'll stick with my cross country meets and running in the streets. :)

  7. Victor Ballesteros1/09/2010 03:11:00 PM

    Hey Scott,
    That really is a great place to run. I went to an all comers meet there about three years ago. I think it was the 2 mile I ran. I remember watching a couple of guys from Kenya tearing it up. Really cool.
    You know- I'm pretty sure I can run a five minute "old man mile". Should we have our own NorCal showdown?
    See you on the trails (or the track) : )

  8. Awesome job! I think you need to toe the line at a 100 meter next!

  9. Last I checked 5:09 was faster than 5:14. Sweet. Oh, and Victor, you should join me and JizzleWizzle at the Placer HS track on Monday June 28 at noon for the Braggin Cup Mile. Did he really hold you off on the track last WS or did he smack you with his wildly swinging arms?

  10. Oh, man the old man mile is SO much fun. Whenever you want, Victor, I'm there. It will take someone like you or Craig to pull me to sub-5!

    I'm picking up spikes too. The sound of hearing all the spiked runners pulling away was pretty damn cool.

    Not sure if there's an indoor track around NoCal? I'm sure an outdoor track would suffice...

    Craig, the Braggin' Mile just one day after States?!? Do you set up the stretchers first? ;-)


  11. Hopefully the Braggin' Cup mile will be TWO days after States, but it will be fun to see if we can break 8 minutes :-)

  12. This was really one of your finer posts. I enjoy a lot of them, but as was previously stated, this one had me o. The edge of my seat. I felt like I was literally there with you. Your writing is coming along nicely!

  13. David Valenzuela1/10/2010 05:44:00 AM

    just stumbled across your blog...really nice read and pics too! I actually recognize one of the people on your list, William Emerson. We met on the CDT in '99.

    Thanks for the motivating story...see you "out there".

  14. What a way to insert hot chicks, must have learned the trick from Donald from Running and Rambling:) I remember those Armory Track races, did a series in 2004. It was scary to step on it first time - and every time after that, lining up along the real speedy serious track runners! Did my 6:20 there...surprised my frineds as I am a posture ultra-shuffle gal:) You brought back the memories, thanks. And good on 5:09!

  15. Awesome post, Scott! Nice job on the 5:08. Not bad for an ultrarunner! :) And can women join in the NorCal Old Man Mile? Sounds like fun!

  16. Scott. A really fine piece. I love the awkwardness you capture in the Clark Kent scene. And a darn fine 5:09 as well. Cheers.

  17. Victor Ballesteros1/10/2010 10:57:00 PM

    Wow... the Braggin Cup Mile. What a brilliant idea. I was awake all night staring at the ceiling "running" such an awesome event through my mind. Unfortunately, it can only be run by those who are entered, show up and finish States. That's a bit exclusive, but hey whatever. I'm game! Scott- let's do our mile in August or September. That should give me enough time to recover from the BCM.

  18. Scott + Victor + others- Tamalpa Runners has some great track meets in the summer at the high school in San Rafael. I went last year- lots of (whew) fast milers!!! Cotnact Frank Ruona for the Tamalpa news that will have it-

  19. Great write up and congrats on trying something new.

    Out of curiosity, I calculated your 5:09 out to be a marathon pace of around 2:13 (still 10 minutes off WR pace). Boggles the mind how someone can run sub 5's for 1 mile, let alone 26.

    Something to shoot for I guess!


  20. I don't know if it's because of running this mile, but I just ran the best 8x800 meter (@2:40) workout of my life today. Bring on the speed!


  21. Awesome post and great mile, no matter what anyone else says!

  22. Hey Scott. I am a new Injinji sponsored athlete and wanted to talk to you. My email is . Drop me a line when you can. You and I are doing the BR100 this year. I have also been a part of the Tussey race. Hope to hear from you. Ray

  23. Todd Oesterman1/17/2010 09:27:00 AM

    Scott, I've been lurking around your blog for a little more than a year and I just want to say thanks. Thanks for the entertaining stories, the informative interviews . . . your blog pulled me into trail running last year with PCTR and it my most enjoyable year of running ever. I'm following your 2010 mantra of trying different things as well. I hope we'll meet out on the trails one day. --Todd

  24. Thank you, Todd! I'm glad to hear last year was such a blast for you. You can't go wrong with a schedule full of PCTR.

    Looking forward to meeting you!


  25. refreshing, entertaining...and intimidating. you are way too fast for me. how far down do those heats go?

  26. Dr. T - You could definitely do the mile! The last heat was "6:30 or slower". I know you can do 6:30, since I've seen you crank that out at the end of a 50k!


  27. This is an incredible post, Scott! I loved reading it - very entertaining and suspenseful. That's one heckuva place to run your first mile race. And 5:09 is a damn fine time, too!

  28. Scott, great race report! I do the Tamalpa track meets, and they're a total blast. Casual, but definitely some good competition.


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