Malcolm Gladwell and The Cinquino Scale

If you follow my work, you may remember that in four months last summer, I went on to lose 12 pounds, cut 1:21 from my mile time and [spoiler alert] run a 5:34 in the 2012 Fifth Avenue Mile, a time that surprised me most of all as I tell in my story, The Mulligan Mile.

Goliath and David
Which of these authors is David and which is Goliath? Malcolm Gladwell ran a blistering 5:03 in the 2013 Fifth Avenue Mile. Read on to see what I ran.

I knew this year’s result would be slower due to a litany of excuses I had registered in advance with my readers when I signed up for the 2013 race.  I mean, I could have just blamed Obama, since the car crash I got into on election night 2012 was clearly his fault.  But that was the easy way out. You deserve a better explanation than such an obvious scapegoat.

Yet perhaps I didn’t need to create such a long list of reasons. It all may boil down to one variable that, for me, encapsulated all the other, related excuses in one neat number, 10. As in ten pounds heavier this year than I was last year.  Of course a big reason for that is that I didn’t train as much or as hard as last year.  But with that in mind, my weight may have been the best measurement of just how much training I had done this year and my prospects for success.

I did my best to try and find a reliable source to tell me definitively the relationship between weight and speed.  I know that every pound lost is speed gained, but how much?    I found this article in Runners World that plausibly suggested that losing 10 pounds would net you 20 seconds per mile, within some undefined reasonable range.

So that would mean this year’s time, with everything else being equal, would come in at around 5:54, reflecting the additional burden I had to carry for those 20 hallowed blocks along Central Park East.

I’d be thrilled to take that, given that I still hadn’t broken 7 minutes in the little training that I had done this year.

Notice the mulligan man’s feet are not touching the ground.

The race this year started out similar to last year’s in that I scorched the first quarter mile and was only a couple seconds behind last year’s pace at the first split.  After that, I completely lost track of the clock until I looked up in the final 40 yards before the finish line.  Last year, I checked my half-mile split (what i reported as 2:59, but afterward I realized that my real, chip time, was probably 6 seconds faster than that due to the time it took me to get to the start line).

But I didn’t need a clock to tell me this year was different.  I tried the same racing technique– zero in on the back of someone ahead of me and try to pass him.  Last year, it worked, I was passing people left, right and center.  This year, not so much.  Turns out that setting the intention of passing someone isn’t the same as actually passing him.

You still need the legs– and the lungs.  I had neither in the same capacity any longer and the backs of the guys in front of me just kept going and in fact, were joined by more and more backs of guys passing me in the final 600 yards. No one seemed to pass me last year.  But this year, I was passed over more times than celery sticks on a buffet table.  I kept pushing as best I could, but at one point I caught myself thinking about the finish, just wishing it were upon me. And it wasn’t.

My lungs were clenched, my legs kinked. I was moving backward. But somehow when I looked up at the clock at finish line, there was still a 5 in the first position. As I drew near it and with that auspicious number drawing me in, I staggered home just before it turned over to 6.

Which of these authors is David and which is Goliath? Malcolm Gladwell ran a blistering 5:03 in this year’s Fifth Avenue MIle.

My lungs immediately seized up and I could barely talk above my cough for the next 30 minutes, even when I stopped to chat with fellow writer and age 50 – 59 competitor Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and the new David and Goliath.  Gladwell kicked my mulligan ass with an incredible 5:03 befitting the former Canadian champion runner interviewed in the same September 2013 Issue that my story ran.

So I ended up officially with a 5:56, plus 22 seconds from last year– almost to the second what was predicted by my 10-pound weight gain. (Since he ran about a minute faster than me, does that mean Gladwell must weigh about 150 lbs?)  Now I have to eat my pretzels.


You can keep your Yasso 800s to predict your marathon times.  I’ll just use the Cinquino Scale to let you know what I plan on running in my next competitive mile.

Congratulations to three fellow running friends from the Lehigh Valley on their fine races that day, too.  Megan Hetzel (@megrunnergirl) who won the women’s media race.   Pictured below are Jamie Gottschall, who ran strong coming off a series of troublesome injuries,  and my running coach Budd Coates, who placed second in the men’s media race with a time that would have won our age heat if he had chosen to compete against Malcolm and I.  Maybe next year, coach.

Jamie Gottschall and Budd Coates. Lehigh Valley Proud.

The Crush of Celebrity

At this year’s Fifth Avenue Mile, held in NYC on September 22, I didn’t really feel the same intense pressure of last year’s race, since I had so much at stake on that day.  This year it just was about trying to live up to the hype that the article created: Mulligan Mile

So I braced myself to take in the accolades and attention that come with a major feature in the world’s leading running magazine. I didn’t want to live off my press clippings, but I was glad it seemed to be getting so much attention and great reviews from people who have read it. And now I was headed to NYC to the very scene of the epic race.  Goosebumps.

So I could feel the power of celebrity from the minute I approached the NYRR offices to pick up my number on Saturday.  I was out for a run without my phone and had forgotten the exact street number of the comely brownstone.  So once I got into the 80s I just randomly asked a guy walking down the street ( ok, he had on a Brooklyn Half-Marathon shirt) and he gave me the location. I am quite sure that’s how Brad Pitt finds things when he’s without his phone, too.   Although the phone that Brad Pitt forgets is the new IPhone 5S, which I watched people line up for all weekend at 59th St. Apple Store, just a short Jenny Simpson breakaway distance from the finish line of The Fifth Avenue Mile.

Fly, Jenny, Fly

And I was right. I had been in the NYRR offices no more than 80 seconds (my 1Q split time in Sunday’s race—see how I slipped that in there?) and it happened.  “I know you!,” gushed the cheerful gray-haired lady at the registration table.

OK. Well here it comes.  I’m a modest man, but yes I asked for it. When you bare your soul and inspire runners with an article like The Mulligan Mile, you just have to expect to get some attention. Enjoy it, I told myself.

I’d probably have to hear her divorce story, or how she struggles with weight or turning 50.  You know, the kind of heart-warming and touching emails I’ve been getting from total strangers over the past few weeks that the article came out.  It might be awkward to hear this kind of intimate sharing in person, but it’s incredibly moving for me and I cherish knowing I had some small part in getting people to see their lives in a fresh and positive way.

Me: “Oh?” I sheepishly smiled in response.

Her: “I see you running in the park all the time.”

Me: Humble smile of recognition changes to forced grin of embarrassment.

“Oh, yes. Right.”

I hadn’t run in Central Park in the 364 days since last year’s race and had never seen this good lady before in my life.

Her: “Well, it’s good to see you.  Good luck with the race.”

Me: Grin still set in stone. “Yes. Yes. Thank you.”

Her: “See you in the park!”

 Me: Still waiting for my face to return to normal.  “Yes. Yes. The park.”

Do you know me?

That conversation succinctly summarizes the entirety of my celebrity status at this year’s race.   Luckily I didn’t write the piece because I wanted that, I wrote it because I had to, in order to really process and understand all that’s happened in my journey over the past couple years.

So beyond that success, it’s not a matter of what the article’s done for me, it’s about what it’s done for you, whoever and wherever you are.

Look for me in the park.

Next post, I’ll give more details on the race itself.

News and Views From 2013 Fifth Avenue Mile

Women’s winner Jenny Simpson had gossamer wings to match her buff legs.

Later in the week, I’ll get you some more details on yesterday’s race. But until then, my agent has told me in no uncertain terms I need to be working on my book proposal.  So enjoy these photos and stay tuned.

My great friend and yogi Elvin joined me for the race and helped me get ready to run.
From the dark shadows of Central Park, a flying mulligan emerges.
At around the half-mile mark, I felt pretty good. That would soon change.
Oui, that’s me after the race.
Yay me! New York Cheer was rockin’ all day.
After Jenny Simpson ran by with 100m to go, my camera tried to capture how big her lead was– and this is all that was there. Air.
Nick Willis was sick. Just after I clicked this pic, he started raising his arms laughing to the crowd to boost their cheers. I was too stunned to do anything but gawk.

Count-Down and Warm-Up

In the moments leading up to the starting gun, what should you do?  It’s the most nerve-wracking minutes of a runner’s life.  To make matters worse, I’m already thinking about those moments now, even though the Fifth Avenue Mile race is still 2 days away.

In fact, the only way I can get through the week leading up to a big race is when I know exactly what I’m supposed to do each and every day and in the pre-race warm-ups.

Without a specific plan to hold my attention and assuage my anxiety, my mind is left to wander off the farm into the woods, where the hungry foxes of fear and doubt devour my energy with needless worry and their mysterious call.

So this is what I’ve been doing this week, in anticipation of the 5th Avenue Mile on Sunday.

Last Sunday, in a gorgeous early evening in Brooklyn’s McCarron Park, I ran 8 200’s, as a mariachi band played to a picnic and bingo party on turn 3 of the track.

Monday, I ran for about 50 minutes, with some walking and water stops in between. This took place on the very, very scenic Lehigh University campus in Bethlehem, PA.  Lots of beautiful sights there.

Tuesday was a guilt-free 20-minute dash in Historic Bethlehem.  In my book, if it’s 20 minutes, it counts.

Wednesday was intervals at the track with my coach, Budd Coates.  He put me through 6 x 100m strides, 2 x 200m at fast but not all-out, 1 x 400 all-out (which for me was only 87 seconds, so don’t get your hopes up for me besting my time from last year) and then 3 x 100 strides to wrap up the day, capped off with about a half-mile jog with the editor who helped bring out the best parts of my Runners World story, Tish Hamilton.  (Who, btw, is a great Twitter follow @RWtish).

Thursday – Went to see Sklar Brothers at Helium in Philly. (Who, btw, are my absolute favorite, #1 Twitter follow, @Sklarbrothers)

Download Sklarboro Country podcast now. I owe these guys my sanity.

Friday,  3 miles and 6 x 100 m strides back in Brooklyn.

Saturday will be an easy 2 miles in Central Park.

On Sunday, here’s what Budd advises for warm up for a mile race:

Get up for an early (6-8am) very easy 15 minutes run.  This will get me up and out of bed and will keep me from tossing and turning thinking about my nerves.

At Race time:

10 minutes easy run

4 strides at pretty good but not all out pace

RYBO- Run Your Butt Off!

He who runs first, laughs laat.

See you there. I’ll be the guy in the Mulligan shirt, looking for a mulligan on his mulligan and hopefully, having a good laugh.

What the NYRR Doesn’t Know– and Does

The NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile is this weekend and by coincidence, I was cleaning up my office this morning and came across last year’s bib.  Now I don’t have as many of these hanging around as my friend Bart Yasso.  So this one stood out.

When I took a closer look I found two incredible little details that thrilled my inner archaelogist.  Can you spot what I mean?

How did they know?

The obvious thing that popped was my projected time, which I presume was based on my age, 7:55.  So yeah, I did a little better than that.

But how can you make this up?  Since I wasn’t running with any affiliation, my team was listed as “Unattached,” an ironic team name for a guy on the brink of a  marriage break-up. So yeah, they got that one right.

But much has changed since last year and we will find out just how much on Sunday at around 10:35 am.  See you there.

Numb and Number

Why do you think that Friday the 13th is bad luck, but there’s nothing particularly dangerous about Thursday the 12th?  One second you are fine, then the clock strikes midnite and you have to watch out for black cats and sneezing your head off.

Numbers also bestow mythical titles upon people like Home Run King Hank Aaron or Ironman Cal Ripken.

What numbers do you use to measure yourself?
What meaning do you give them?

It’s even worse with us runners.  A 3:59.59 marathon may seem worthy, a 4:00.01 marathon is shit.  A 4:59:anything mile is a dream come true, a 5:01 is years of frustration and angst.  It’s stupid. And yet, there it is.

The clock doesn’t give mulligans.  But we can take one whenever we want because no matter what the clock or calendar says, what it means is within our minds.  What 5:04 (my fastest high school mile) meant to me was that I left something on the table that I think I should have had.  And that could have been the end of it.

But sometime last spring, I decided it meant something else: a call to arms to take back my body and draw a line in the cinders.  And whether I got there or not, I couldn’t worry about that.  What mattered is that I was trying. And when I did that, without fear of failing, the meaning of that number changed.

And so too, the meaning of Thursday, September 12 is up to me to decide. Bad luck? Good luck?

What are trying to do?
Are you really committed?

I’ve come to understand bad and good are not particularly meaningful words.  What’s good for the mouse is bad for the cat. What’s good for the tree may look bad to the falling leaf.

Instead of good or bad, I’m going with useful.

And whether it’s a time that motivates you to do better, or a PR that builds up your self-respect, or age or anniversary or salary or blood pressure reading or other objective measure that’s assigned a number, be mindful of what meaning and use you choose for that number.

Then make it useful to shake off the numbness, wake up and live.

A Runner By Any Other Name Still Has Stinky Shoes

What actually qualifies a person to call themselves a runner? Truth is,  sometimes I even hesitate to call myself one.

But do not call me a jogger. Runners are not to be confused with joggers.  A runner would slap your face if you asked him if he was going out for a jog.  In fact, now that I think about it, are there any joggers left? Should that label be considered a latin term now? Anyone who would call themselves that and still be able to look in themselves in the mirror would no doubt see cotton gym shorts, chafed thighs and a pit-stained PROPERTY OF t-shirt.

I did meet a woman who runs competitive miles in track meets and insists on being called a sprinter. I myself cannot sprint a mile. Simple rule: if you don’t begin the race in starting blocks, it is not a sprint.

For the record, this guy, Matt Centrowitz, the winner of the 2012 Fifth Avenue Mile, did not come out of blocks.  He is a runner.  So is Sydney Maree, the winner of the first Fifth Avenue Mile and still the course record holder, who I understand turned 57 earlier this week.

Only a runner would make this challenge:
“Centro, spot me 5 blocks in a match race?”

So who’s a runner? Do you have to have run in a race? Is there a two-run minimum?

I think it may be more a matter of the expectations you have when you do go out.   In other words, If you think you may be a jogger, you are.

So we have at least three categories now– jogger, runner,  sprinter.  Then there’s Clydesdales and Penguins, both of which I could technically be, but, which seem to unnecessarily tarnish the reputations of two proud species as well as make it sound like someone should be cleaning up after me with a broom.  Rarely is it a good thing to be named for an animal.  Personally, I think this what eventually did in Tiger.

I’m leaving out tough mudders and spartans because they are obviously unstable and tri-athletes because I have generally found them to be insufferable. Well perhaps except this one, who I think is kind of cute.

Only a runner would taunt this beautiful child like this:
“Swimming and biking are for kids.”

I’m not saying you have to run as your only exercise, but three in one day seems excessive.  Like piling too much on your plate at the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.  Really? Must you place your Speedo so close to your Camelback?  It’s just not good hygiene.  The number 3 can also signal bad luck, like lighting three cigarettes on one match was bad luck in the World War I bunkers.  Then again if you are smoking cigarettes on the Western Front in a foxhole and being bombed by Germans, you are already in some serious bad luck.

I’ll stick with one sport at a time for now.  So I guess that makes me a runner.

What makes you a runner?

Going Fast Can Be Slow

Last year’s Fifth Avenue Mile race went so well, my story became The Mulligan Mile, a major feature  in the September issue of Runner’s World.  Now, after a few setbacks and a major slowdown, I’ve been trying to ramp up my training so I can save a little bit of face in this year’s running on Sept. 22 in New York.   But going fast is just not something you can rush.

Even though I’m now doing many of the same methods I used last year in training, I just don’t have the same foundation of strength and stamina that came through 4 solid months of training and cross-training.  And while i still have memories of going fast, my body seems to have forgotten what that’s like.   Much of the speed I gained last year (I cut 1:18 seconds off my mile time) came toward the end of my training. Yet, that rapid gain was a bit of an illusion, since it was the result of a lot of little things that I had done religiously during the previous weeks and months that was behind the “sudden” surge in my times.   Strength training, full court basketball games, close attention to diet, runner’s yoga, spin classes, even the meticulous journal keeping that I did last year in hot pursuit of my goal– all of it played a role in my success and just hasn’t come together in the same way this year.

What I’ve been feeling like lately.

Yet this runner, like so many others I know, won’t let the lack of a PR stand in the way of a good run.  Unlike pro athletes who are urged to retire before they start to be less of the player they were at their prime (think of the aging Willie Mays playing for the Mets or today, the suddenly human Mariano Rivera blowing saves for the Yankees and coughing up another pennant to the Red Sox) the runner doesn’t have to retire to preserve his legacy.  The runner just runs, nods at the clock and keeps going.  We don’t ask millions of dollars of our employers or expect stadiums full of fans to pay their way to see us compete.  We just ask for a level shoulder of the road, a few feets width of path on the community trail and the occasional temporary road closure for a race.

Lately I’ve felt terrible as I was running– and incredibly good that I have run.  Even when it’s slow and kind of sucks to give in to the fatigue, it still makes every day better.

Sunday, I’ll be running the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon as part of a relay team. I’ll be on the second leg, which connects Allentown and Bethlehem.  Maybe I’ll see you out there. I’ll be the guy laughing all day– other than perhaps some of the much too long time that I’ll spend pushing myself along the canal tow-path.

You know they put that trail in there for jackasses, right?

The Write Way to Take a Mulligan

Do you have something important in your life that you can’t find the time or energy to do?  For me, one of those somethings was writing.  You see, even though I’ve been a professional writer for years (I’m an advertising copywriter by day and aspiring author by night), I had never really been one to keep a regular journal until recently.

But when, over the past few years, my life got more and more complicated, writing was there for me, like an old friend and confidant.  I found that sitting down and just writing whatever was on my mind to be an incredible outlet for my emotions and all the things I couldn’t find a way to say in person to anyone who would listen.   As I wrote it down, it helped clear my mind.

I also started writing about my running in a way I hadn’t since high school– when I meticulously detailed every single race I’d run for all four years of varsity track.  It’s not just that looking back on that log today brings back some glorious past of mine.  It’s that I now realize how important it was to me then to write it down. Writing made it real.

Even if the perceptions I had then were flawed and imperfect, writing gave me a chance to share what was going through my teenage mind and give light to things that were important to me.   I had always thought a journal was about keeping memories– but I realize now it’s about letting them go so they don’t eat you up inside.

Writing makes it real.

But from those high school days until I started training for The Mulligan Mile last year, I never had any reason to write about my running. It was just something I did, not something that really mattered in my life.

Yet with a pursuit like a big race and with a changing life taking place in front of me, I was learning so much about myself so quickly that my head was spinning constantly.  I needed to write to sort out the trinkets from the treasure.  In trying to cut seconds off my fastest mile time, with a specific plan, a specific goal, a specific race date and after I had told so many people what I was attempting to do, I was not about to leave anything to chance.

But where would I find the time to do all that writing as I was taking more and more time from my busy life to train?

What i found was counter-intuitive to me.  The more I wrote, the more I ran.  The writing didn’t take away the time from running– it freed up the mental energy that I needed to keep going when the training got more difficult.  Writing illuminated the darkness.

What’s in your darkness, waiting to be illuminated?


By writing stuff down, I could let go of the thoughts and doubts and pain and stop carrying it around with me on my runs.  Plus my writing gave me a magnifying glass to look at the little details of my life and a telescope to see the big picture— to gradually become aware of what was really going on inside me, as I recorded my thoughts when I got back from runs.   I even sometimes used a dictation app to capture the thoughts as I was standing, dripping sweat on my patio– too much like a sprinkler to walk into my apartment and spray saltwater all over my computer.

Is there anything in your life that is a great challenge or opportunity for you?  Anything that keeps you up at night?  Write it out and let it go.  Then take your mulligan and keep going.

All Signed Up

The scale refuses to cooperate.  The track training has been too little, too late.  The road miles have been inadequate.  The toe surgery scar is still prominent.  The physical therapy on the neck continues. But let’s face the truth about moving past 40, 50 and beyond: it’s hard to expect everything to fall into place perfectly for very long.

Take, for example, the relay team I’m running with in Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon next weekend.  Our “super masters” team of old farts (I’m actually on the younger side of the group) won a third place trophy a couple years ago for our efforts.  High fives and back slaps all the way around.  Since then, in the span of two years, two of the guys have had cancer operations, one suffered a debilitating achilles injury, one is having so many issues with meds that he’s stopped running altogether.  And me,  possibly in the best condition of the group, coming off bone spur surgery and a car crash since my last race.

After an election night car crash in November. And I’m the healthy one.

At this point, we don’t need a training schedule, we just need to know when the orderlies are going to empty our bedpans.  Now I know why hospitals sponsor so many races.      But winning is not the point.  Showing up is. So we are fighting on, laughing all the way.  We added some younger, fresh blood to keep us going and will just take a mulligan on all that adversity.  Full speed ahead.

That realization, that whatever health and good fortune we have can be a fleeting gift, makes me understand even more why my performance in last year’s Fifth Avenue race remains so special to me– it was one of those rare perfect storms of training, motivation and peaking at just the right time.

But I’m too old to make a perfect storm the enemy of a good run.  So I have chronicled and documented all my excuses and gone ahead and done it.  This morning, I signed up for this year’s running of the great race.  If you’d like to join me on September 22 in Manhattan, click here to sign up for New York Road Runners’  Fifth Avenue Mile presented by Nissan.

I hope my mulligan singlet still fits.

There’s still time to sign up for this year’s Fifth Avenue Mile.

The worst part (so far) of my fallback into blortness is showing up for interval training runs and having someone congratulate me on the Runners World article and my performance in last year’s race.  I smile and humbly accept the attention, then watch them blow by in the sprints and imagine what they must be thinking.  “THAT dude ran a 5:34?,” I can hear them sneer in my head.

Maybe in the same way that last year’s performance inspired a few folks to think again about what was possible, this year’s will offer another lesson. “If that guy could do it, anyone could.”  And it’s true.

That’s me, always teaching.

Now we begin.