Not Quite Ready For The Pasture

I know that it probably seems like I had been sent to the glue factory after failing to make it as a running blogger, but that is not the case, nor is it the meaning of today’s title.  After a prolonged absence I am back, and am revitalized in all senses of the word.

Without boring everyone with every step I took over the last couple weeks (I’m actually afraid to count how long it’s been), I will sum it up in a couple of sentences.  After a week or two which included some very fun evenings that led to very unproductive “day afters”, I hit the wall.  I got about 8.5 miles into an easy 10 miler and could not take another step – with the heart rate in the stratosphere and the legs feeling like cement, I had my Forest Gump moment.  I just stopped running – half by choice, half because I couldn’t run anymore or I think I would have died.  I took about 5-6 days off, then gradually picked up where I left off.  I jumped in a little 5k on Memorial Day, cruised 16:36 and won a gift certificate – I was happy with how it felt, and that my next pair of flats would now be free…

Since then I’ve continued to get in about 40 miles a week – an occasional 10-11 miler, a bunch of 7’s and 8’s, and a visits to the track every now and then.  Borrowed one of Delvin Dinkins workouts about 2 weeks ago which was a series of 300’s, 400’s, and 500’s all at about 65 second pace with the last 100 being pretty quick, then ran a handful of XC 1000’s with a Cumberland Valley runner training for a post-season fun meet (belated congratulations to the CV 4×800 relay – state champs!).  All of this stuff intermixed with pool training whenever I am home has kept me feeling pretty good.

Feeling ‘pretty good’ is a lot different from feeling ‘race ready’ though, and 6/9 rapidly approached.  I had this date marked back in the beginning of the year when I was still planning on giving this season a serious go.  I backed off of that plan a while ago, but still thought that if I had any inclination of running a fast race this would have to be one the weekends to do it.  I ruled out a great masters mile in Portland when I found out that a nice distance festival in West Chester shared the same date – the travel difference (2,760 miles vs 89 miles) made it a no-brainer to stay on the east coast.  I then found out that a low-key, downhill, mile road race was also that day – who wouldn’t like to say they were a 4:08 miler?  I was back and forth on which to do (casual vs serious, phone-it-in vs step up to the plate), but was then talked into my senses by Chuck Shields – I set my sights on the mile at the PA Distance Festival at West Chester Henderson…

Not much special to get ready for the race – actually took Thursday and Friday completely off because I had felt very sluggish on Wednesday.  For my pre-race, we invited over a handful of friends Friday evening for dinner and some beers, got to bed around midnight.  Perfect.  Up at 7:30 Saturday morning for a weekend softball tournament, sat in the blazing hot sun from 9am til 3pm watching three U-12 girls games.  Textbook.  Luckily my wife volunteered to accompany me to the race, so I caught an hour sleep on the way over to the meet while she drove.  Got there about 90 minutes early for an easy car shakeout and race warmup….

I had thrown down “4:25” as a seed-time on my entry form, but was not very confident at all going in that this was where I would finish.  I planned to run around 4:30 mile splits initially, and if I wasn’t in shape I wouldn’t embarrass myself too badly with a colossal collapse, and if I was in shape I hoped I would be able to run a hard last lap.  My entry time made me the top seed in the “open” class, which was fine with me – I didn’t feel like I was worthy of an entry into either of the “elite” races, which included a lot of college runners and high school milers looking for another race coming off their just-completed seasons.  I was just looking to see where in the world I stood…

Facility at West Chester Henderson High School was very cool.  Built into a hill, it had a protected final turn with bleachers on both sides and a nice turf field.  The weather was perfect – probably 85 degrees or so, a beautiful, calm evening.  My race probably got called around 7pm, me and about 10 high school kids.  Cue the circus music.  Since it was an outdoor mile where I had no intention of pulling the field along, I was prepared (and almost hoping) for a couple of suicide attempts at keeping the pace around 67 secs or so.  From that point I figured I would either struggle home and run 4:32, or hammer the last lap and run 4:25.  If I had to bet I’d have taken the former, but I was trying to keep an open mind.  Having not raced since Drake, and not broken 4:30 or 2:00 yet this year, it was hard to be overly optimistic, but I had put in some good mileage in the last couple months and wasn’t quite ready to press ‘submit’ on the retirement paperwork so what the hell….

As I had hoped, I had one taker for the lead so I was able to just stay on the rail and follow the first young chap through the quarter (plus the mile extra 10 meters) in around 69 secs, right on pace.  I then got passed by a handful of other teens (I thought college kids were young – this was ridiculous), probably ultimately settling into about 5th or 6th place.  I remember 2:15 at the half, 3:21-22 at the 1200m mark.  Two of the boys had pulled away, and I was comfortably settled in behind two others at this point.  I was definitely feeling the pace, but didn’t have a feeling of impending doom so I wasn’t panicking quite yet.  The pace had been about perfect thus far, so it came down to the final lap as I had hoped.  I passed one guy into fourth at about the 250 to go mark, then moved into the lead of my little pack at the start of the final turn.  From there I just kept my big butt rolling, and the next thing I knew I was channeling my inner Neil Fitzgerald and began to close on the two leaders who were probably about 15 meters ahead at this point.  I got one of them out of the turn, then pulled up on the other with about 40 meters to go.  Somewhere in the stands the old people (person) were going crazy, banging their canes and doing golf claps as an elder statesman was reeling in these youngsters, some of whom actually had drivers licenses….

Ended up breaking the tape in what turned out to be a time of 4:24.74 – not a PR but much faster than I ever thought I was capable of running at this point.  I’m guessing I closed in around 62-63 seconds – a much better feeling than my typical finishing collapse. Being in the fast lane down the stretch beats the hell out of coming down the home stretch with your hazards on to ensure the guys behind you don’t run up your back.  I don’t run a whole lot of miles/1500’s on the track, but all things considered I have only really run better probably 2-3 times ever.  Glad Chuck talked me out of the downhill dash measured with a car odometer and guided me to man-up for this event.  The meet, weather, field, and race were tailor-made for me that evening, and I was very happy with the results, especially considering that I didn’t really do anything right leading up to the event.  It’s given me a little boost for the rest of the summer and fall season(s), so I am back on the computer looking at a race or two to hopefully break 2:00 or maybe go lower in the mile.  Maybe I wasn’t quite ready to join the local seniors on the charity 5k circuit quite yet – I am shredding the retirement papers and putting down the cupcakes, at least for a little while longer.  Time to take things (training and blogging) back up a notch!

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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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