I’ve had a pretty productive week+ since last post, including two road races.  The Drake Relays is less than two weeks away now, and I have finally been able to string together a decent stretch of preparation – lifting, racing, running, and every now and then a little sleeping.  With a pretty decent work schedule for the next couple weeks hopefully I can map out and execute a plan that will keep me moving in the right direction.  And moving in the right direction I am…

I said I had raced twice since last writing – last weekend I jumped in a 5k in Harrisburg hoping to run a more inspired race than my road debut back in March.  The weather was better, but a stiff wind on the outbound mile+ turned the race into a “tactical” (slow) one, with everybody trying to figure out how to lock in their share of the prize money.  Being no better than my fellow racers, I too sat on the poor guy who decided to forge into the headwind, through the mile in 5:35 (tempo run pace) and two-mile in a hair under 11:00.  Ended up finishing in a lackluster 16:59, second place.  Nothing to write home about other than the $100 prize, which despite my “ehh” time I did not refuse.

Lifted and ran Sunday and Monday despite planning on racing on Wednesday evening, because if I took it easy before every race I would never get any training in.  Wednesday’s race was The Main Street Mile in Westminster MD.  I had run it two years ago, but I entered too late last year and didn’t get in (seems like I have written that once or nine times before).  The race is your typical fun small town mile, with the added attraction of being “slightly” downhill.  By slightly I mean if you drop something round, especially anywhere in the first quarter-mile, you better get after it quick or you might have a long chase ahead of you.  I ran 4:15 here in 2011, and really thought I left something on the course since I was unfamiliar with the layout – kind of like putting on unfamiliar greens and not knowing how to “play the break”.  This time I paid more attention to where the 1/4 mile markers were in conjunction with the downhill portions, the flat section, the little uphill stretch, then the slightly downhill finish, and felt like I had a plan this time around.  I also was committed to finally being aggressive and attacking the course regardless of my positioning in the race place-wise – something that I had failed to do in my two previous road outings.

Only thing I had working against me was that I had to work Tuesday night, so after flying all night I got home Wednesday morning and tried to get as much makeup sleep as possible.  I don’t think that shifting your body clock all over the place is very conducive to being ready to run your best, but until the prize money starts getting into four or five figures (not counting the digits to the right of the decimal point) I still have to go to work.  I did my best to catch some day zzzz’s, then split for Maryland with my wife to see what I could do.  Took a pretty casual approach to my warmup, partly because I got there pretty late, partly because I was still tired/hung over from the all-nighter, and partly because I was implementing “Operation Casual”.  Sometimes when you don’t care about a race good things happen – I was hoping that this would be one of those times.  I knew I had gotten in some pretty decent training recently, so I figured why get myself mentally all worked up over what I was going to do – just go run fast.  Warmup consisted of about 2 minutes of jogging and some solid drills, then I was ready to go….

I really hoped to challenge my 2011 time – I had put in a ton of work that year (not to mention being two years younger), but I felt like I had a better plan this year so maybe that would be able to offset some of the difference in conditioning.  I felt the first half mile had the greatest loss of altitude, so I would try to go through in 2:06-2:07, then try to hang on.  “Hanging on” in this race means surviving until the last 300m, where the course slopes down to the finish.  The slope probably helps you as much mentally as physically, because you can see the finish from farther away, and even if you are in total rigor mortis all you have to do is lean forward and your body will keep moving.  The starting line was stacked with twenty-something aged guys with DC area club singlets, so I knew there would be some fast movers leading the way.  I just hoped to run my race and not chicken out when the going got tough.  The weather was great – slight headwind, but the warm temperatures were a welcome relief after the miserable spring.  The sun was still out for the 7pm start, a great night for some downhill milin’…

I got out clean, almost had to hold myself back down the first quarter-mile.  Through in 61.59 MIT (Manual Ironman Timing), didn’t freak out like I did in ’11.  As the course flattened out I continued to be aggressive.  I was feeling pretty good and the course was flying by, it’s always a good thing when you get surprised by the next marker instead of wondering where the hell it is – second quarter in 63.88, could see the total time on my watch was 2:05.  I know you aren’t supposed to take your splits and analyze them during the race, but you also aren’t supposed to be running downhill, so that makes this race an exception to every rule.  2:05 was pretty fast, but I still felt ok so I didn’t panic.  The third quarter included a couple more flat blocks, and culminated in the uphill portion of the course.  I kept my focus on the top of the rise, because I knew that if I could get there relief was on the other side.  I kept my pace up, hit the third quarter in 64.17 – 3:09 and change through 1200.  Now I just had to hang on…

The last quarter was almost pleasurable.  My legs still felt fresh (enough), the grade made you want to go fast, and I knew downhill or not I was in uncharted waters time-wise.  I gave it everything I had, and after several watch checks to see how much longer I had to go I picked up the clock and saw it flip to 4:00 (spoiler alert – this story does not end with me vanquishing Roger Bannister).  Still, I approached the finish line mat as the big clock hit 4:10 – no friggin’ way.  Was very happy – my hamstrings and legs were pretty cooked, but that was a small price to pay.  Got even happier when I found out the chip had me at 4:09.1 – reviewing my splits had the last quarter in 59.47 (when was an en-route self-taken split ever not accurate to the hundredth of a second, right?).  Either way, I’ll take it…

So, what will I take away from this race?  First of all, it is an apples to apples comparison that I was 6 seconds faster over the same course this year than I was two years ago, which has to count for something.  I am also happy that when the course flattened out and the going got tough I was able to keep my foot on the gas and power through it, something that I had failed to do during both 5k’s.  I also liked feeling fast over the last quarter-mile, downhill slope or not.  Could that be the weights and stretching kicking in?  Hopefully so.  I am also pretty excited about results – I was 4th overall, with the average age of the top 10 being a ripe old 25.  Just when I want to put myself out to pasture this stinkin’ sport keeps drawing me back in….


The thing I am most pleased with is just saying 4:09.  Am I laying claim to being a sub-4:10 miler.  No, I’m not an idiot and that would be an insult to all those that can get on a track and run those incredible times.  Did my old, fat butt cover a land mile in under 4:10?  You bet.  So, all that being said, if you saddle up to me thirty years from now at some grungy old VFW bar and the topic of discussion turns to “what was your best mile time?”, don’t be surprised if I happen to leave out a couple small details as I describe “that time I ran 4:09…” – I’ll just blame my memory lapse on the Old Milwaukee.  Downhill shmownhill….


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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2 Responses to 4:09.11*

  1. D Clingan says:

    Hi Nick-

    If you’re interested in a fast, competitive masters mile race, you might consider the Oregon Masters Mile in Portland on June 8th. It would be great to have you in the field. Info at:

    Dave Clingan

    • Nick Berra says:

      Your meet always looks great and I would love to wave a magic wand and make it happen, but the schedule always works against me. Will take another look and see if I can join your great field. Thanks for the invite!

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