Simpson, Willis Lead Fast Day on 5th Avenue
The 2017 New Balance 5th Avenue Mile featured more than 7,500 runners streaming down the east side of Central Park, the largest field in the event's 37-year history. With the biggest field to date, the race's professional athletes provided historic performances to match, with Jenny Simpson extending her record for most wins in event history to six, and Nick Willis tying the men's record with his fourth win.
Although the course covered just 20 blocks of New York City streets, the event offered a range of opportunities for different types of runners.
For locals, it was a chance to outsprint their crosstown rivals in the 2017 NYRR Club Points standings, or to earn credit toward their 9+1 program in only a matter of minutes; for the professional athlete fields, it meant one final race to close out their season; but for all runners who lined up at East 80th Street today, the race served as a way to challenge themselves and chase a new personal best with a straight shot down 5th Avenue.
The Local Races
With 23 heats of one mile, plus three shorter-distance races for kids, the morning was filled with milers speeding down 5th Avenue. The day began with age-group heats, followed by specialty races—including the NYPD/FDNY Mile, the brand-new New Balance 5-Borough Mile, and the second-annual NYRR Youth Wheelchair Invitational Mile—as well as the NYRR Road Mile Championships for local elites.
In the battle of New York's Finest versus New York's Bravest, the FDNY's Timothy Clarke, from Brooklyn, followed up his win last year with a 4:38 to break the tape today, although the NYPD claimed the team victory.
In the New Balance 5-Borough Mile, pitted teams of 20 runners from each of New York's boroughs against one another, all decked out in custom New Balance race-day kits.
Guess who’s representing the Bronx in the New Balance 5 Borough Mile? Can’t wait till tomorrow, it’s gonna be a fun one! Gonna give my best effort for the Bx! Good luck to my @bronxsole comrades @ebeats99 @husammie I know y’all gonna crush it also! #NB5thAveMile #BronxStrong #BronxSole #TeamBronx #CantWait
Daniel Lewis, representing Staten Island, crossed the finish line first in 4:27, but Brooklyn proved to be the fastest borough, winning the team title.
Then in the NYRR Road Mile Championships, Jack Hallas, from Liversedge, England, broke the tape in the men's race in 4:06.4, while Kristin Andrews of Englishtown, NJ won the women's race in 4:42.4—just minutes before her brother, Robby Andrews, competed in the men's professional race.
The Pro Races
The men's and women's professional athlete fields featured 29 athletes who had competed in this summer's IAAF World Championships in London, all of whom looked for one last fast performance to end their 2017 season.
In the men's race, a steady pack held together through the quarter-mile mark, cracking slightly as Drew Windle and Craig Engels dashed ahead to take the $1,000 prime for leading at the halfway point.
As the pack's pace wound up in the second half, Nick Willis of New Zealand used his experience with the course to power away in the final quarter-mile. The Kiwi became a four-time 5th Avenue Mile winner in 3:51.3, tying Isaac Viciosa of Spain for the most victories by a male athlete in event history. Finishing second was Chris O'Hare of Great Britain in 3:52.0, with American Ben Blankenship third in 3:52.3.
In the grand finale, the women's pro race featured Jenny Simpson of the United States looking to break her own record with a sixth win on 5th Avenue, and she delivered on her pre-race goals. Keeping toward the front of the pack for all 20 blocks, she held off persistent challenges from Jessica Judd and Laura Weightman of Great Britain to break the tape in 4:16.6, equaling the event record time set by PattiSue Plumer in 1990. Weightman would finish second in 4:17.6, as Judd rounded out the top three in 4:18.3.
The women's race also rewrote the 5th Avenue Mile record books, as runners recorded five of the top 10 times in event history today. Brenda Martinez of the United States—the 2012 5th Avenue Mile winner—placed fourth today in 4:18.4, while Great Britain's Eilish McColgan ran 4:19.2 for fifth.
Post-race, Simpson commented on what it meant to match a time that had stood for 27 years, and to end her season with a record-setting performance:
"I thought the course record would have been out of reach for my whole career, so I’m really proud to have equaled it.” She added, “I’ve had all the range of emotions before on 5th Avenue. I’ve finished this race before and cried because the season felt so long. I’ve finished this race before and hoped there was another race the next week. I feel so appropriately in the middle of those two emotions right now.”
After earning her fourth global championship medal this summer, and then breaking her own record for most 5th Avenue Mile wins and equaling the event record today, Simpson has plenty to celebrate as she looks back on this season and ahead to next year.