PROFILE--Sid Howard has finished 35 Fifth Ave Miles in a row

Neither cold nor ran could keep Sid
Howard from his 35th consecutive
Fifth Ave Mile on Sunday.

(9-18) On Sunday, September 10, New York's Sid Howard ran the Fifth Ave Mile for the 35th time in a row--the longest-known streak among Fifth Ave milers.  Howard, 79, hit the finish line in 10:11, not his best time but he says he's happy to keep the streak alive. He is a 10-time age group winner on Fifth Ave.

Howard’s track and field career includes five world championships, 50 national championships, five world records and eight gold world champion medals. Also on his resume are the American indoor 65-69 records of 2:19.4 for the 800, 5:23.05 for the mile, and 4:45.36 for 1500 meters. He was inducted into the USATF Masters Hall of Fame in 2005. Howard is running, coaching, and continuing his role as ambassador for the sport he loves, always with a smile and encouraging words for everyone he meets.

Sid lives a full life. He loves to break out in his signature dance moves at any moment; he loves the Bermuda Half Marathon where he is the only non-Bermudian to have native status at that race; he loves the 90+-year-old seniors he teaches strength training to as part of his job with New York Road Runners. And, he loves his streak at the Fifth Avenue Mile (FAM), which he has been running since 1983.

Why did you start running the mile? You were a marathoner? I had just run my ninth marathon (eight more than I should have!). I didn’t know anything about what I was doing. I just liked to run. So when I was invited to run the mile in 1983 I thought,
“man, that will be much easier than running 26.2 miles.”  I finished in 5th place in 4:38, behind Gary Muhrcke, who won the first New York City Marathon in 1970. I still have the prize as they went five deep for awards. It’s a silver apple that opens up and I can put stuff in it. The race shirt had a picture of the Fifth Avenue candy bar on it.

But let’s backup. You need to know the history of FAM. It first started in 1981 and was for elites only. Sydney Maree, 25, won in 3:47, and his record still stands. In 1983 the field was open to masters runners who qualified. I was invited to run, never had to qualify. There were 44 masters that year. Now the race gets close to 8,000 entrants and has six different categories including wheelchairs and handcycles. It’s come a long way.

In 2016, Howard ran with his wife, Asteria,
a former sprint and hurdles champ from Bolivia.
Had you ever run the mile event prior to this?
Actually my very first race after my high school track days was a mile race in 1978. My kids laughed at me for saying I used to run so to prove it, I ran that mile race and finished in 5:05 at age 39. I didn’t even train.

Favorite FAM memories? My best memory is the year that I won my age group, in 1999 (the George Sheehan Memorial Mile). I ran a 5:11 at age 60. I went on to win nine more times. Another great memory was pacing Bill Benson when he was 96. He finished in 21:43. Benson had his own 16-year streak at FAM.  It was an honor to run with him. I hope I can run like him when I’m 96.

What’s the appeal of running FMA? It’s become a bucket list item like the marathon. And most runners think it’s easy but it isn’t, if you run it competitively.

Do you train for the mile?  I haven’t trained for the mile since 2013 when I competed hard and I was winning Now, I don’t train, I don’t use common sense, I don’t have any patience, and I certainly don’t practice what I preach as a coach. It’s about the completin’, not the competen’. What I do have is an abundance of love for our sport. 

Compare running the mile with running a marathon: I think of the marathon as running 20 good miles and 6 miserable miles. The mile is miserable for only one mile, if you are competing. But now, since I’ve been injured I don’t really compete. I enjoy being out there, being part of the camaraderie. I get to catch up with old friends I only see once a year at the race. That’s the beauty of our sport. It has a worldwide community that never fails you.

Another streak: Two weeks before FAM, Howard held his 30th family reunion, bringing together eight generations that included 200 extended family members, among them his 19 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren. “This is one streak that I am ready to hand over to the next generation,” laughs Howard.

Howard received his degree
from Kean University at age 59.
Closing remarks:  His running has been put on hold since 2014 due to chronic hamstring injuries. He was also recently  diagnosed with asthma.  In the past four years, the only race he has run is FAM.  "The Lord blessed me with this gift and I'm sharing my gratitude," says Howard.  "I hope when they call for all the guys 100 and over to the starting line, I'll be one of those guys."