If You Can’t Beat Them, Read Them

I wanted to get yesterday’s entry “in the mail” before I hit the sack, so I tried to keep it about the race and the day (and under 2000 words).  There were other things I wanted to mention but felt that it would be better and easier to just write a wrap-up part 2 today to cover all the bases….

I ran the Hartshorne Mile back in late January along with Scott Weeks, Lance Elliott, Kent Lemme, and several others.  I actually felt the race was going pretty well before my hamstring started acting up, and I finished in 4:29 or so.  If the hamstring didn’t act up maybe I run 4:27, maybe not.  Don’t take this the wrong way, I am very appreciative of the fact that I have been given the health, means, and talent to compete at this level, but that race was me slugging it around the oval without any pop, which had become the norm.  I had conceded the fact that my ‘career’ was on a trajectory that was following the course of my age.  I was getting older, therefore I was getting slower – both were getting bigger at an irreversible rate.  It didn’t really bother me other than the fact that I realized that my days of being competitive against “masters” (40 and over) may be numbered, and I was eventually going to have to sit down and see if I was willing to continue to dedicate the time and effort into competing in an “age-group” (M45, M50, etc) fashion from here on out.  The commitment that had to be made to even do that was huge, and I didn’t know how much longer I could do it.

I had planned last year to make 2013 a road year and skipping track altogether.  Tom Hartshorne talked me into his race though, and the next thing you know I am dusting off the spikes again.  Funny how you always seem to get sucked back into things.  Anyway, after the problems at that race I made the decision that maybe self-rehab on the leg wasn’t the way to go, and that I would seek some professional advice.  My relationship with HydroWorx led me to Elite Athletic Performance in early February.  I’ve described before the problems I was diagnosed with and the difference the therapy and training had made.  What I didn’t see initially but later became clear was that the work I was doing in the weight room and on the stretching racks was making me fast again, which was renewing my spirit and giving me focus.  When I was younger (high school) I never ran cross-country.  I would play football in the fall, then run whatever events the coach needed me for in track.  I never ran the mile once, because I was a ‘speed’ guy in the mind of the track coach (who just so happened to also be the football coach) – 100m/400m/4×8/200m?  No problem.  4×4/4×8/400/800?  Did it a hundred times.  I was just born pretty fast, loved to race, was weight-room stronger than the average half-miler from my football background, and hated to lose.  I was an athlete first, “runner” second.  Getting athletic again showed me that maybe some of the ridiculous “promises” Rich was making about improvements in my times weren’t so ridiculous.  Yesterday certainly proved that.  There are a million different approaches to training middle distance runners, and I will be the first to admit that the “spaghetti theory” that I usually use is probably not the best (throw shtuff up against the wall and see what sticks).  I do think though, from my own experience as well as coaching the high school kids, that you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time to be able to excel in the 800m, or even the 1500m for that matter.  Like they say in the Department of Transportation: “Speed Kills”.  Getting it back has made a world of difference…

Buy it on Amazon!

Buy it on Amazon!

Another thing that I have never discussed that also provided me with a litany of new ideas and approaches is the book “Faster Than Forty” by none other than my old arch frenemy Mark Gomes and his buddy and fellow master Rick Miller.  It was exactly two years ago this weekend where we duked it out in Eugene in the USATF Masters Invitational 1500m – literally and figuratively (ok, we didn’t actually duke it out like some webbers have implied – we merely “tangled”).  We went back and forth for the entire season, and I have to admit that he had my number by the time things wrapped up at Outdoor Nationals in Berea, OH.  I knew he was writing a book about his experiences leading up to his winning the 800m national title, but until I cracked it open and started perusing the pages I had nooooooo idea the level of intensity he was talking about.  The guy was crazy!  Now granted, he had some job and personal flexibility that most guys don’t have, but I was floored by his dedication and the volume and thoroughness of training regime.  He made my “Rocky in Siberia” example of bearing down seem like child’s play.  Two, three, four workouts a day?  Considered buying an oxygen tent?  Went to Albuquerque a week early to acclimate to the altitude?  Two words – hard core…

Anyway, I probably enjoyed the book more than most because I was there during many of the races he describes, and it was cool to get a look into the mind of your chief rival in a completely open fashion.  I highly recommend the book for others though because thorough does not even begin to describe the research he has done on every minute detail concerning various training approaches, dietary and supplement benefits and pitfalls, injury prevention, rest, and many more things that affect all of our lives in the sport.  I’ve kept in touch with Mark since his “retirement” (do any of us really retire?), and he continues to work out and coach in South Florida.  The proceeds of the book go to help youth running programs, so if anyone is looking for some new ideas or just a book to get a glimpse into the life of a guy going through the same ups and downs on the masters circuit as everyone else I think it has really helped me get out of the rut and could do the same for you. (thanks Mark!  I have to admit every time I see those spikes on the cover of that book my pulse starts to quicken – like a hunting dog hearing a shell chambered, it’s go time!!)

Hopefully I can stay in this “good place” for a while.  I think my increased use of the HydroWorx X80 units at EAP has helped keep me fresh, while at the same time my renewed use of the track has kept me sharp.  The weights and stretching are providing a balance that enables everything to come together, and come together they have.  Is this the recipe for everyone?  Who knows.  For me, however, I have achieved as much mental and physical synergy as I have had in a long, long time, if not ever.  If the speed doesn’t get you the confidence will, so now it’s time to find another race and see if I can keep the ball rolling – next up, Harrisburg Mile on July 17.  Hopefully I can catch lightning in a bottle one more time on my home turf…

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!
This entry was posted in Aquatic Fitness, Competitive Races, Hartshorne Mile, Running, Uncategorized, USATF Indoor Nationals, USATF Outdoor Nationals, Water Running and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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