The Fifth Avenue Mile: Its Simpson and Willis, by Elliott Denman

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Jenny Simpson flies, photo by PhotoRun.net

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Nick Willis kicks to victory, photo by PhotoRun.net

The Fifth Avenue Mile, as presented by Nissan, was held on the first day of Fall. It is also, the unofficial ending of the global track season. Many of the top middle milers in the world were at the meet, and there were two fantastic races! 

Here is Elliot Denman's eye witness view of the Fifth Avenue Mile! 


Fifth Avenue Mile
 
by ELLIOTT DENMAN
 
Much of flooded-out Boulder, Colorado is a disaster area.

Homes, properties, a way of life have been washed away.

It's taken a while to get the runaway waters under control; it's going to take a lot longer to rebuild Boulderites' lives.

And that's why Jenny Simpson had a lot more on her mind than just running from
Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art to Grand Army Plaza on Fifth Avenue
Sunday afternoon.

Jenny - the former Ms. Barringer - has one of the most distinguished dossiers in USA women's track history and added to it Sunday, "on the Avenue, Fifth Avenue," as the classic lyrics go.

Consider all this:  the 27-year-old Coloradan set  the still-standing American record for the 3000-meter  steeplechase (9:12.50) in 2009; she won the gold medal in the 1500 at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu (running 4:04.50 to outduel Hannah England of Great Britain), and won the silver medal in the 1500 at last month's World Championships in Moscow.

A 4:19.3 win in the New York Road Runners' Fifth Avenue Mile, presented by Nissan, added icing to her cake on Sunday.

It wasn't close.  Simpson simply ran away and hid from such notables USA's Morgan Uceny (4:23.4), the Netherlands' Susan Kuijken (4:24.2), Kenya's Violah Lagat (4:25.1), Italy's Magherita Magnani (4:26.5), GB's Hannah England (4:26.8) and a glittering global cast of others.  Twelve of the 15 starters broke 4:30.

Tricky wind conditions played a major role in the proceedings.

It was New Zealand's (and Michigan's) Nick Willis winning the men's mile in 3:52.1 over USA's Bernard Lagat (3:52.9) and Garrett Heath (3:53.0) and, all told, 16 under four minutes.  But Willis wasn't even close to the venerable Fifth Avenue record of 3:47.52 set by Villanovan Sydney Maree back in 1981, when this event first got to the starting line. It takes a 3:50.48 to break into the event's all-time top 10 list.

But, relatively speaking, Simpson was a lot more challenging.

That 4:19.3 ranks as the fourth fastest in Fifth Avenue Mile women's history, topped only by Patti Sue Plumer's 4:16.68 in 1990, Lisa Dobriskey's 4:18.60 and Shannon Rowbury's 4:19.20 in 2008.

Yet, the winds bothered the gentlemen as well as the ladies.
 
"The wind came in gusts so you never knew whether it was going to be a tail wind or head wind as it bounced off the buildings," said Willis.

Simpson simply kept a stiff upper lip and paid those same winds no heed.

She ran comfortably from the outset, near 80th Street.

By the quarter-mile post, the slightly downhill stretch to 75th Street, she had a clear lead.

With some large throngs cheering her on, she poured on the pace.

By 70th Street, the midway point, she was rolling right on - and over a mild uphill.

The third quarter-mile, to 65th Street, is gently downhill.

With the finish line now in clear sight, she ran into her first real difficulty.

That only problem she encountered on the course came some 15 meters from the end, near 60th Street.

She "kind of wobbled" over the line after taking a misstep over a minor dip in the road surface.

"I was so focused on the finish line I wasn't really looking at the road anymore," she said.

"I wasn't nervous about falling. But more than anything it kind of jarred me. "

Back in Boulder, Coach Mark Wetmore had dispatched his pre-race no-frills strategic plan to his star pupil.

"Just ran as hard as you can," Wetmore instructed.

"So that's just what I did," said Simpson.

After that American record in the steeplechase back in 2009, she has virtually abandoned the race over the barriers and seven water jumps to stick to racing on the flat.

Will she ever go back to the steeplechase?

"Oh man, that's a good question," she said.

"As of right now, you know, I have some really great teammates in the steeplechase (Emma Coburn and Shalaya Kipp) so I'm having a lot of fun not competing against them.

"So for the time being, I'm not going to be doing any steeplechasing.

"But we'll see. I know it's something I can always go back to.

"For the next few years, anyway, I guess the answer is no.

"But as I said, we'll always see it as a possibility."

It's the going back to Boulder that's sure to be more stressful.

Ironically, for the American steeplechase record-holder, the problem involves the conquest of water barriers.

Planned for Simpson are two full weeks of no training - and lots of hard work helping others rip up ruined carpeting and other home chores. trying to restore normalcy.

"My home is near a lot of the flooding, but our house hasn't sustained damage, praise God," she said.

"But I'll be helping a lot of friends, a lot of teammates, clean up their own homes.

"And the trail system in Boulder (where so many runners train) is going to need a lot of help, a lot of work, too. "

She's cleaned up on the global track circuit. She cleaned up on Fifth Avenue (Simpson and Willis collected $5000 checks from the NYRR.)  Now it's time to do some real clean-up work, the hard physical abor that will put her renowned stamina to a wholly different kind of challenge.

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