Breaking Through

In preparation for Saturday’s race (and after letting the mileage get a little out of hand on Wednesday), I tried to take it easy on Thursday and Friday.  I was right where I wanted to be after logging 30 easy minutes in the HydroWorx pool Thursday morning and sticking to coaching (not ‘participating’) during the XC practice that afternoon.  After our practice I then drove my junior high daughter Lindsay to the Appalachian Trail for her summer XC workout, and ended up running into one of my old Cumberland Valley High School track teammates Julie (Renninger) Ober and her husband Brian.  Their daughter is also on the team, and they were planning to get in a run on their own while the kids did their thing separately.  Since Lindsay seems to prefer crawling through hot coals to running with dad, I invited myself to join the Obers to catch up on things rather than go with the team.  I assumed I would just be getting a couple harmless miles in, but Julie was the leader and she hadn’t lost a step since her days of Mid-Penn Conference domination.  Luckily we turned around at the two-mile mark on the trail, because I was no longer describing the mileage as ‘harmless’ in my mind and was about to wonder aloud how far they were planning on going (something I realized you should always establish ahead of time).  It ended up being a great little trail run, and consecutive “double days” may help me out in the long run, but it wasn’t necessarily in my pre-race plan.  Oh well, it was good to catch up with Brian and Julie, and sometimes you have to keep your priorities straight…

I took Friday off, making sure that I didn’t stumble into any other old acquaintances while on a running trail dressed in my gear.

The Ben and Tim Days 5k was run Saturday morning at Hershey High School, the school where the two boys had gone before being tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1992.  This was the 21st running of the race, which supports a scholarship fund in their honor.  I think I had mentioned before that it was a popular local race, with a large, talented field chasing a substantial purse (over $1500 in prize money total).  The course was slightly rolling but pretty flat so I was ready to run fast.  It was also nice to run a race that didn’t require an ungodly wakeup time and hours of driving – the 9am start made for an easy morning.  By the time we were ready to go I had gotten in a good warmup and was ready.  Breaking the elusive 16:00 mark was the only goal – with this being my first road effort of the fall I have a couple of goal times in mind to cross off my “bucket list”, and this was the biggest one of them all.  After a couple 3000m efforts this year at around 4:50 pace, running 5:10 pace over the longer distance certainly seemed doable.  Then again I have probably run about 100 of these things and can count on my antlers the amount of times I have gone sub-16:00, so I needed to stop doing pace math and just get it done….

I ran into a 23-yr old buddy of mine (Kevin Fuller) at the starting line who runs about the same times as me, and he was onboard with my effort and volunteered to do whatever he could to help me out.  At the gun I tried to avoid the usual “I feel great” first mile that inevitably becomes regretful about 8 minutes later – the downhill start didn’t help matters, but I did my best to keep things under control.  The lead pack of 5 separated themselves pretty quickly, luckily I was with Kevin and we held a pretty even pace.  What would a race be without split confusion (Dear Race Coordinators: please put a measuring wheel on your Christmas list this year), this time it was at the mile.  After Kevin kept me from going ballistic when the kids reading times were not stationed at the right point, we pressed on.  I didn’t even bother with the 2-mile split, but still felt pretty good.  An unexpected (good) turn put the high school and the finish line clearly in sight, after Kevin fell back a little bit I was patient with my finishing move but anxious to get to the tape before the looming gorilla hopped on my back.  Unfortunately every “downhill start” results in a “climbing finish”, but with the balloons and crowd in sight I worked it as hard as I could.  I first saw the finish line clock say 15:48 and knew I had it.  I also vastly overestimated how far I could travel in 12 seconds, so as the clock ticked 15:56…15:57…15:58 I hustled my panicked butt across the rubber mat.  Thought I saw it going to :59 as I was in the chute, knew it was up to the electronic timing gods at this point since the finish clock and the chip timing are independent systems.  I’ve been disappointed by the finish line clock on more than one occasion on the track – you think you see one thing crossing the line, but inevitably your FAT time is slightly slower.  I didn’t have much room for error on this one….

Results were posted and I wasn’t disappointed this time.  15:58.8, officially 15:59.  6th overall, first master ($50), happy camper.  Ask anyone shooting for a benchmark PR and they will tell you that the difference between 15:59 and 16:00 is so much more than a second.  I think I can definitely go faster (hopefully at the Syracuse 5k national race), but I doubt I will be more satisfied than I was yesterday morning.  It had been a while since I set a PR, so it’s good to know that there are still distances out there where there is still some meat left on the proverbial bone.  Did this happen because I am in the best shape of my life?  Probably not.  But a PR is a PR no matter how you look at it, so I am going to enjoy this one for a while.  Thanks to Julie and Brian and Kevin for the help – unexpectedly running into CV alumni is paying big dividends this week.  I slept very soundly last night as a sub-16 minute guy – granted, it wasn’t the sound barrier or the 4:00 mile, but an elusive mark has fallen and the bucket list just got a little shorter.  Ahhh……

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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