Suicide Pace – A Race Report by Ned Cunningham

Before Comeback Runner of the Year Ned Cunningham made his way to Lehigh for a very successful run at the XC Club Nationals, he led the way for the Whippets in this tune-up held in Van Cortlandt Park, on one of the very toughest XC courses in the nation.  

In addition: Ned, who had spent much of the past year returning from a nagging lower leg injury, leveraged this result into an over-all 1st Place (and 5 mile PB) at the Philadelphia Insurance Companies 22nd Annual Turkey trot, held, naturally, on Thanksgiving Day.  It’s been a year of redemption and triumph for the Phast Philadelphian, to which we say: Congrats and welcome back to the front of the pack!


All Photos: Simon Durkin

The night before the Fred Lebow Cross Country Championships, I was told a quote by Steve Prefontaine: “The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today’s a good day to die.”  In typical Ned fashion – against a field stacked with NYAC jerseys, a nationally ranked high-school athlete, and many of UA and CPTC’s strongest runners – I took Pre’s quote to heart and raced to win.

It was a disaster.

For those who don’t know the Van Cortlandt Park 5k layout, it starts with a flat and fast opening mile that seduces racers into Pre’s suicide pace.  The opening forces an aggressive start as, within the first 200 yards, the racers must jockey from a wide lane into a narrow gravel path.  They then fight for optimal positioning around a series a leftward turns circling several soccer fields.

Without regard for my own survival, I went out hard and found myself in 7th place at the first mile.  I was told that someone behind me ran a 4:57 opening mile, so I must have run 4:53-4:55.  Yes, that’s suicide pace.

But, the flat and fast abruptly ceased, as the next mile and a half led me through brutal undulations that turned my efforts to run a steady tempo into a stop-and-go fartlek.  I can’t remember much about miles 1.25 through 2.5, but I’m almost certain my pace hit 6:00 on some of the uphills and sub-4:30 on the downs.  I’m sure I ran over 5:50 pace, far from the steady 5:20’s I should be able to run for this distance.

Winding back onto the flats at mile 2.5, I wanted to kick.  CPTC’s number two passed me with 800 meters to go and I knew, for the sake of scoring, I couldn’t let him win.  I even failed in this regard.  I knew when he kicked from so far out that he would burnout.  So I sat and threw down the hammer in the final 250.  I started going after the UA guy in front of us.  I had CPTC buried.  But, in the final 25 yards, he pulled a Billy Mills and found a whole new gear.  He passed so quickly and so late that I couldn’t even respond.

Ultimately I finished 15th and ran 17:08, 13 seconds slower than my high school time on the same course.  I know I’m fit to run thirty seconds faster but I need to invert my approach: run the opening mile at a fast but controlled tempo pace, hang tough, then unleash a wild animal for the close.  I need to be more aggressive in the middle mile.  If a guy comes up on me, I need to tag him.  I can’t be scared of burning out.  And getting out-kicked in a final sprint… I won’t let that happen again.



This post is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Dashing Whippets Running Team, its board, or its captains.


More about Dashing Whippets Running Team

The Dashing Whippets Running Team is a New York based running team that is founded on, and driven by, the diversity of our team members. With team members from all over the city, the country and the world, and with greatly different running goals, we find unity in recognizing and appreciating each others differences and our mutual enjoyment of running and participating in the New York running community and beyond.

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