Getting Plastered at Nationals

Back from Bloomington, straight to work.  Sitting in Newark after having flown in last night from the meet, party is definitely over.  I think everyone had a fun time out there though, both on the track and on the town.  I know I had a good time – I didn’t get (too) plastered St Patty’s day, nor did I get (really) plastered in the 800m, but in the end I got Plastered in a way I never saw coming….

Back to the meet.  I ended up getting to the track on Saturday with all my stuff, and even warmed up a little bit before realizing that being feeling good at breakfast wasn’t the same as being ready to race.  The joints were definitely sore and I could tell that Friday night effort had taken its toll, so I opted out and became the official videographer, split taker, photographer, and cheering section.  A bunch of good mile races plus my wife Melanie reached low-earth orbit in the high jump in taking an age-group silver.  Nothing more stress-free than a track meet you aren’t running in…

Being St Patrick’s Day, we hit the local Irish bar afterwards, carb loading with a ‘couple’ frothy Guinesses that evening because it just had to be done.  Needless to say I had none of the sleep issues Saturday night that I endured on Friday, and woke up Sunday ready to get back out there.

By the time we were warmed up and ready to run on Sunday morning, it turned out due to scratches and no shows only 3 out of the 12 entries showed up to run in the M40 800m – quite different from the full house we had for the 3000m.  Frankly it didn’t bother me at all because I knew the other two guys quite well.  Charlie Kern had won the mile the previous day in an easy looking 4:26, and Lance Elliot had run in Albuquerque.  I had run against both of them and knew they were good guys, so there weren’t going to be too many surprises in this unexpected “match race”.

At this point in our weekend/season/lives, I think we all just wanted to run as fast as we could.  Before we were called to our lanes, we decided to work together for the first 600m to get us across the line in under 2-flat.  I volunteered to take us through 400m in a little under 60.0, then if he was able to, Charlie was going to take the third lap though in another 29-30 secs.  From there it was every man for himself. This took any tactical hesitancy out of play, and let us just go for it without tripping over each other or fighting for position.  I started on the pole and took it out in what I thought was 30 pace – it had definitely been a while.  Think we went through the quarter in about 30.3, then through the half in 29.8/60.1.  I felt pretty good going into the turn, waiting to see what was going to happen…

I kept plowing along down the back straightaway, waiting to see if Charlie would be able to take the next 200 or not.  Once I got to the next turn and didn’t see him my slight disappointment was replaced with an equal amount of optimism because I was still feeling pretty good and I thought maybe the pace was too much for him.  Maybe this was the day I had his number!  Through the third lap in 29.8 (1:29.9), only 200m left to seal the deal.  Down the backstretch for the final time, still felt ok and started ramping it up for the final 100m.  Into the turn, announcer Peter Taylor barks out his trademark “Nick Berra, Charlie Kern, heading for home!”

The only thing that can ruin the feeling of exuberance you get when you can see the finish line less than 50 meters away with nobody else in sight is when you lose the ability to pick up your feet.   Nothing good ever happens when you start shuffling, and sure enough with about 25 meters to go I had company, namely the aforementioned Mr Kerns.  Alongside, then slightly ahead, I was unable to do anything about it.  2011 all over again.  To the line probably about 2 meters behind, 2:00.25 to 2:00.53.  Ahhhhh!!!

Charlie showed why he has been piling up big-meet titles – he ran a great race and was a step better.  I think we were both a little tired from our earlier races, but I still have to admit it would have been a little easier to stomach getting nipped if we had been sub-2:00.  Charlie regretted afterwards not being able to take the lead, but said he just couldn’t get around.  In hindsight (not having ever really done this before), I guess it would have been a little easier for him to execute the plan if I had deferred a little bit – I certainly wasn’t trying to hold him off,  I just held my pace.  The burst that he would have needed to put on to get by me was too much to ask, so I didn’t hold it against him at all.  I don’t think leading hurt me tactically – whether following helped him or not I don’t know, but c’est la vie..

I cooled down for a half hour with both Lance and Charlie.  It was good to pick each other’s brains and see what’s been going on in their neck of the woods, on and off the track.  I tried to sell both of those (unattached) guys on joining me at Greater Philadelphia – I gave them the easy sales pitch, will hit them with the hard sell version later if necessary.  Got changed then to the airport, another national meet in the books.  I had mixed feelings leaving Bloomington without any gold, losing two races by about a combined 1.25 seconds, but I learned a little something on the way home…

Since there were a bunch of guys and gals who run indoors from the PA/NY/NJ area, it was inevitable that the handful of flights heading east each had a bunch of familiar faces on them.  Mine had at least 10 folks from the Athena Track Club, Central Park Track Club, Shore AC, etc..  I had the distinct pleasure of waiting for the flight with and sitting on the jet next to M60 middle-distance runner Tony Plaster.  I have known Tony as long as I have been running masters track, and he has always bent over backwards to get loud during my races, take my splits, and be the first to offer enthusiastic congratulations.  I have no doubt that he does the same for everyone – he is a fixture at our meets, both on and off the track, and probably calls just about everyone a buddy.  Lets just say Bloomington was good to Tony…

Tony runs in the M60 age class, a tough age group with record holders sandwiching him on the old and young side.  It doesn’t keep him from throwing his hat in the ring though, regularly mixing it up with those guys and giving it his all.  For Sundays M60 800m, Tony, the ultimate team guy, offered his services to Nolan Shaheed as Nolan tried to make a run at a world record.  Tony was going to rabbit Nolan through the first lap at a pace much faster than Tony would have run if it were his race.  Before his rabbit duty was complete, however, Nolan was forced to step off the track due to injury and Tony was left way out in front.  One lap, two laps, three laps – Tony just kept on going,  building up a huge lead.  On lap #4 he starts to tie up, but has a such a lead that he just has to finish.  Without exaggerating, at the 797 meter mark it looked like he tore his hamstring (just fatigue) – he popped up in the air, half misses the next step, then falls right on his face, literally eating the finish line.  If the race had been 802 meters he would have been in deep trouble, but it wasn’t –  victory was his, and as a crowd favorite he got up to a huge ovation with the biggest grin I think I have ever seen.  On the flight home he was still on cloud nine, and tells me that in the 19 years he has been running masters track that this was his first national title.  It got me thinking – here is Tony, the most positive and happy guy on the circuit, probably having run upwards of 50 races at the national level and due to circumstances often out of his control has never broken the tape.  He just absolutely loves this stuff – the running, competing, hanging out, supporting others, and keeping the spikes on his feet at age 60.  Here I was waffling about how I felt after running probably the closest thing I’d ever run to a max-effort race, PR’ing, exceeding my goal, but coming in second.  Boo-hoo.  I learned a lesson from Mr. Plaster this weekend – congrats to the new champ, thanks for the little life lesson my friend!

Tony Plaster - Shore Athletic Club
2012 M60 800m Indoor National Champion

Day off today, maybe tomorrow too.  Calves are very sore from the weekend’s races so if I do anything tomorrow it’ll probably be on an elliptical or bike.  No plans to race anytime soon – that can change at a moments notice of course, but for the time being I’d like to figure a few things out and hopefully continuing with the miles but adding some speed work.  Will keep throwing my hat into the ring like Tony, shooting for gold but more importantly having fun and making sure if I don’t win I die trying.  For now, it’s a satisfied “hi ho silver!”

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About Nick Berra

I am a 45 year old masters runner from Central Pennsylvania. I have been participating primarily in track events since turning 40 in 2009. This season has produced marks that I have not run in several years, I believe primarily due to starting a strength and flexibility program here at Elite Athletic Performance - I've felt stronger and faster than I have in a long time. That, coupled with lots of underwater running, has kept me healthy and fit - at this age those are things I no longer take for granted... I run USATF events with a team out of Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club. They are a great group who have played a big part in making the sport enjoyable for me again. I also run local races for HydroWorx Track Club, supported by HydroWorx here in Harrisburg PA. Their underwater treadmills and training center has proved to be a crucial part of my training, rehabilitation, and recovery programs. I set personal records in the 800m (1:56.06) in 2010 and in the 1500m (4:02:63) and mile (4:23.48) in 2011. Despite the fact that I am not getting any younger, I nearly PR'ed recently and set the M45 indoor world record in the 800 meters at the New Balance Armory in New York City. I ran 1:56.10, besting the 9 year old record by less than a second. I feel like there are still more big things to come... I am married and have two daughters. I am an assistant XC coach at my alma mater, Cumberland Valley High School here in Mechanicsburg PA. I am also a 1991 graduate of the US Naval Academy, currently working as a pilot for FedEx after serving 10 years on active duty flying in the Navy. Beat Army! Beat Army!
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