Sunday, January 22, 2017

A streak of a different color – sub five miles for 30 years

Published by the DAILY RECORD of Morris County, New Jersey
On Sunday, January 22, 2017


Oh sure, Steve Spence made it into the news for breaking five minutes for the mile for 41 years straight.  Spence, after all is a former Olympian.  But he had just turned 54 years old so it was no small feat to run 4:54 last May.  How about you?  Do you have a fast time that you have been able to hit for several years in a row?

Gary Rosenberg of Morristown, who has been running since he was a kid, began to wonder if he had a sub five streak like Spence.  He dug into his running logs to see what he might find.

Now one thing to keep in mind is that 30 years ago I was not thinking ‘Hey, I would like to see how many years I can break five in the mile’ which I assume goes for Steve Spence as well,” said Rosenberg in an email.

Rosenberg admits to taking some liberties, which Spence has done as well.  High School miles are for 1,600 meters so when Rosenberg ran a 4:55 that equates out to a sub five for the full mile.

Rosenberg ran his first one when a sophomore at Morris Hill High School back in 1987.  After graduating from Rutgers where he was on the track team he kept on running and competing.  But his log shows a gap in his freshman year at Rutgers when he didn’t run at all for most of the year.  He thought his research would show his streak had ended after just five years.  But no!  He found a 3,000 meter time trial that he ran towards the end of that year.   Yes!  A streak of 29 years of sub five minute miles.

“I don’t have splits but my total time equated out to 5 minute pace for 3,000 so I think it is fair to assume I ran the first mile in under 5 since I averaged 5,” said Rosenberg.

One year Rosenberg ran only a 1,500 meter race, but his 4:12 is well below five minutes for a mile and would equate to about 4:30.   In that same year he hit 4:59 for a 1,600 meter workout, just a notch over five had it been a mile. 

“My PR is 4:26 from my 20s when I wasn’t even training to run track,” said Rosenberg. “I built up a lot of strength when I got out of college and I had natural speed so I was running very fast track times in my 20s without even training.”

At 46 Rosenberg is rueful about the affect of age on performance and lost opportunity if he had focused on track speed.  He didn’t start doing track type workouts for 800 meters or 3,000 meter races until he had turned thirty.

“ It is depressing now to think about it since I think I could have run much faster PRs if I had trained for it back then,  and now I am barely breaking five,”  he said.

Rosenberg started the year recovering from yet another hamstring pull and having trouble getting back in his fitness back. 
“I was running personal worst’s in most races,” remembers Rosenberg.   “I decided to come out of marathon retirement again and hoped that would jump start my running.  It had been almost ten years since my last marathon.”

Then Rosenberg’s longtime companion, Janice Morra, was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.

“Running wasn’t very important anymore, “he said.   “But at the same time I needed it to keep me sane.”

Rosenberg threw himself into marathon training, while conscious that he might not even get to the race depending on how Morra was faring.    The only mile race he had planned was the Midland mile road race that was the masters NJ championships.  It should have been a snap to break five minutes but the race was three days after a hard 21 mile marathon training run.  The mile was run in a steady rain.  Rosenberg finished in 5:08.97. 

Just two weeks after the Steamtown marathon in which he finished third masters in 2:47,   Rosenberg entered a Spartan race that he was not prepared for.   He underestimated how hard it would be with steep trails and poor footing.  Rain and 40 degree temperature didn’t help. 
“I ended up getting banged up even worse and couldn’t run much without hip pain for about six weeks,” he said.

Time was running out for running a sub five mile.  In early December he hit the track, running with the high school kids at Morris Hills.  With their help he ran a mile time trial but hit 5:07.99.

“I was running out of time and not feeling too confident,” he said.   “I did a treadmill workout and then a good track workout and I felt I had a good chance.”

At a Monmouth University meet on December 27th Rosenberg ran in a heat with mostly high school runners.  A slow start had him worried and he worried that his younger self’s phenomenal kick might not be there when he needed it.  It was and he finished in 4:57.  Done.  Thirty years of sub five miles.

Well not quite done.  It’s a new year.  Time for year 31.  Look for next week’s column for the “rest of the story”.

Rosenberg reports that Morra is doing well and hopeful for a good outcome.

The New Jersey championship meet is at the Bennett Center at Tom’s River next Sunday, January 29th.


A calendar of USATF sanctioned events can be found at 

Contact Madeline Bost at

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