Vol 1 – The 400m

When I wrote “One For The Road” 21 days ago, I didn’t intend to make it look like I was going away forever.  It kind of turned into that though.  I’ve been gone so long it took me 3 tries just to remember the blog password.  While a lot has happened in the past 3 weeks, nothing has really changed in the grand scheme of things.  To save myself from one big epic catch up, the past 3 weeks will be summed up in 3 days, starting with “a long, long time ago”…..

[long pause]  This is going to be tougher than I thought.  Ok, 3 weeks ago I left for a trip, spent some time in Chicago and a day in Laredo.  Blah blah blah.  Probably stayed up all night Mon-Thursday, arrived home on Friday at 10:00am a complete vegetable.  Sad that I know this without even really trying that hard – it’s like a vampire groundhog day….

I do remember being sore the beginning of the week, and stuck to the elliptical for a couple days before getting out on the Chicago lakefront on Wednesday.  Back indoors in the Laredo on Thursday for some more mechanized fun.  I took Friday off because it was the dreaded travel day, and also because it was my rest day in preparation for my reluctant return to the 400m dash….

I had entered myself in the Danny Curran Invitational at Widener University on March 31.  I hadn’t run an open quarter in almost 3 years, and since then I’d only run it a couple times in relays when I was 41.  I used to really enjoy the distance, and wasn’t half bad at it, but my hamstring issues (beginning in college and recurring almost annually for the last 6 years) have made me very skittish about stretching it out in a race of that speed.  Penn Relays were around the corner though, so since I hadn’t had any hamstring problems in almost 20 months I figured what the heck…

I warmed up like never before, several miles on the roads and every drill and strider exercise I could conjure up.  I would have bailed had I had any indication of a problem, but although it felt tight (the usual), it didn’t feel bad.  Maybe the tightness was in my head, who knows.  Anyway, I had seeded myself at 54.50 as a conservative best guess – my 52.85 was several years ago, and I had no desire to get absolutely smoked if I had lost a lot of my speed mojo since then.  That seed put me in the 7th of 10 heats, which was perfectly fine with me.

The weather wasn’t helping my cause much.  After enjoying a March for the ages, once meet time rolled around it was back to normal – probably high 40’s, with a steady breeze (wind) and misty rain.  Went with compression shorts and a fitted long sleeve shirt, half because I am too old to try to impress anyone with my cold weather bravery and half because I was willing to sacrifice the .09 for the comfort.  When our heat was called I was in lane 5, with one no-show that left 6 college kids adjusting their blocks and one geezer standing behind his line wondering what the hell he had gotten myself in to…..

Started standing up as was my M.O. back in the day – that, and my objective was to avoid all rapid or explosive movements to preserve said hamstring and other assorted muscles and tendons (achilles, etc).  Plan was to hopefully run something close to 27/27, and hopefully finish in the high 53’s.  No bursts, no extreme sprinting or “going for it” down the home stretch.  85% the whole way – what I got was what I got.  From lane 5 I was able to see a couple guys in front of me, and then I assumed I would also eventually get company from my inside as well.  I just didn’t expect to get that company before we were even out of the first turn….

What is it about college guys and their desire to get to the front?  You’d think this was a NASCAR event, and someone was going to give them credit for “laps led”.  Our race wasn’t 150 yards old and I was so far in last place that it wasn’t even funny.  Lanes 1-4 passed me while we were still in the turn like I was standing still (granted, I may have lost a little bit of my “standing start” prowess since 1987).  It was obvious that not all of these 20 year old guys were told going in to the race “run kind of fast the whole way, but whatever you do, don’t go really fast or you might pull all of your muscles at once”.  That was my plan, and at the 200m mark a casual fan might have thought that I should have approached the race with a different strategy based on my dismal showing.  Luckily for me the race wasn’t only 200m, and that after college most of these kids will be going pro in something other than track and field.  Make that all of them…..

At 220m I passed the first guy.  The legs felt ok – hammy failure was definitely in the back of my mind, and I was being conscious to keep my stride in check. I had gotten up to cruise pace though and I was finally beginning to see some results.  By the 300m mark I had moved into 3rd.  With 50 to go there was only one guy ahead of me, but it was by a solid 10 meters.  With 20m to go the lead was only a couple of feet.  I think you see where this is going.  Yep, your 400m heat 7 champion was the old guy who didn’t use blocks.  Didn’t catch the time, dressed quickly after the race and hit the streets for a long cool down.  When I got back I checked the results -I was very curious how fast it was.  I felt pretty good the whole way, and I did beat 6 other guys all seeded in the 54 second range.  Was it really quick?  52.9?  53.3?  I scanned the mass results list (70 finishers) but could not find my name for the life of me.  Finally located it, dragged the finger over to the time, and……. 55.28 – rat farts!  You had got to be kidding me!  Slow and steady is one thing, but that was just slow and slow.

Sad thing was that I finished 41 out of 70.  So much for seeding myself with the “54” crowd – 29 of these guys were south of my time.  This result, and my inability to go for it from the gun, probably signals the end of my 400m career.  It just wasn’t fun like it used to be, so I think I’ll leave it to the sprinters and stick with the longer stuff.  If I did have an itch to try it again I will have to get in the weight room, work the 200’s on the track, get the leg right and the body used to the fast stuff again.  Just jumping in to something like this “because I used to be good at it” isn’t in the cards anymore.  Oh well, live and learn.  Guess I will be catching the Penn Relays on Flotrack….

That’s all for today.  In the next exciting episode I will host a masters champion and world record holder to my underwater sanctuary.  Who will it be?  Tune in tomorrow for that and a whole lot more.  Actually, there won’t be much more than that – I can only remember so much from that long ago.  I should have taken notes….


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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