This Is Why I (We) Do It

Medal worth more than it's weight in gold...

Medal worth more than it’s weight in gold…

Running isn’t always fun, and to achieve any measure of success on the roads or track you know before you even get started that you are going to hurt.  Bad.  There is no way to run a great race in the 1500m or 800m (arguably the mother-of-all-painful-races) without being willing to go to a place that 99.9% of the people on the planet would find highly undesirable.  Seeing the finish line 50m ahead of you but feeling like you are unable to get there because your legs cease to respond to the call for “more power” is no fun.  Knowing you still have a lap or more to go and the lungs are already on fire is something I dread.  Starting a workout that you know will end with you wishing you had taken up tennis but you do it anyway is just a sick form of entertainment.  With all this either in our minds or in our recent memory we keep pounding the pavement, hitting the track, doing our pushups, and skipping the cake because we hope and pray that the next race will be the day when our legs don’t fill with cement, our lungs will fend off the burn, and when the gorilla tries to jump on your back he just can’t find the handle to hang on.  Today for me was that day, and it made every minute of suffering worth it….

Mighty Ford Fiesta parked in Iowa (in case the corn wasn't enough of a clue)

Mighty Ford Fiesta parked in Iowa (in case the corn wasn’t enough of a clue)

After a crazy day of travel yesterday (if crazy is the airline norm these days, is it really even accurate to call it crazy?), I managed to reach Des Moines four hours later than planned but was just happy to be there.  Got to my hotel by 10:30 Central Time, knew I could sleep in a bit so didn’t sweat the late arrival.  Got 8+ hours in the rack so I didn’t consider the entire debacle anything to worry about.  I knew my way around Des Moines from my 4 previous trips (now there’s something to brag about), so I stayed in the hotel until the last minute to avoid hanging out in the warmup gym dodging the heat.  At least that’s my story – it could also be argued that my addiction to reality TV had me saying “just one more episode” of “Fast and Loud” – I admit I just can’t get enough of alligator hunters, antique pickers, gold miners, Gas Monkey gear heads, or Duck Commanders.  Hey!  That’s good stuff, Jack!

I gotta admit I really like this sort of stuff...

I gotta admit I really like this sort of stuff…

The heat – holy cow.  I can only imagine the memo to the “The Sun Organizing Committee” regarding their attempt to host this meet – Dear The Sun, we regret to have to inform you that in an effort to find the hottest place in the galaxy you were unfortunately beat out by Des Moines, Iowa.  Please reapply next year….  After arriving at Drake and seeking refuge in the warmup gym, I decided to head outside for a jog.  Radio on the way in said 93 degrees with 70% humidity, I’m no meteorologist but I’m guessing if I had a wet bulb globe thermometer (thanks Coach Bill Bixler – the real ‘science guy’) the heat index mercury would be in the zone marked “crazy hot”.  To think that on the way to the track in Eugene (June, 2011) I stopped into a store and bought a pair of tights!  It was the same conditions for everybody though, and on the upside the wind was probably half what it ‘usually’ was every other time I’ve run on the blue oval – probably ‘only’ 10-15mph.

Yeah Kate!

Yeah Kate!

As I wrote yesterday, the field was strong and fairly evenly matched.  With eight runners we started in lanes, I got assigned lane 8 which made me think of my youngest kid, who has taken to choosing that as her softball jersey number so she can write her name K8 (her name is Kate for the puzzley challenged…).  Good omen maybe?  Waiting the 4 minutes out on the track for the start got very old very fast as it felt like the sun was going to ignite my new afro like I’ve seen happen countless times to similar looking balls of straw on the reality show “Dual Survival”.  Luckily I packed my “Semi-Pro” headband to control the ‘fro, so the sweat running down my forehead was stopped as described on the Target advertisement.   At the gun I was unusually calm and ready…

Me and Jackie Moon rocking the afro...

Me and Jackie Moon rocking the afro…

I had gone over what I wanted to do countless times leading up to this race.  Unlike past races (successful and unsuccessful) where I didn’t care what anyone else did because I was going to beat them all into submission from the front (like a dope), the plan for today was greatly dependent on the tactics of others.  My dream race would have had Scott Weeks taking it out, which wasn’t a huge stretch since he has been fairly dominating since entering the scene last season as a world leader.  I thought he would probably go through the quarter in 58 seconds or less, but still be able to back that up.  From there I was hoping there would be another person or two sub-60 that I could go with through the quarter with in a nice and relaxed fashion.  I then hoped to repeat the Henderson 800m race from a couple weeks ago, just with a little more conviction and strength.  I really thought I could go 59./58. for something in the vicinity of 1:57-high or 1:58.00, and I was perfectly prepared to make a run at tracking down Scott from 10 yards out or so just like I had done to the kids at Henderson.  Whether or not I could take him in the last 100m would remain to be seen though, but I thought if I got a good run up on him maybe I could just keep it rolling downhill…

Again, it was just one of those days where everything went my way.  I settled into a pack at the 200m mark with Lance Elliott, Mark Williams, and Scott Weeks.  Scott took the lead down the homestretch, I was positioned in fourth, catching a little bit of a draft and staying relaxed.  I think the clock captured Week’s split in 58.02.  I was comfortable on the rail still in fourth, figured I went through in 58.5 or so – exactly as I had hoped.  Like my last couple ‘pace’ workouts I felt very comfortable, which is a huge confidence builder because the last 400 can be a real bear if you are hurting before it even begins.  Weeks started to pull away a little bit in the turn, but I had envisioned making up ground on him in the last 300m so I didn’t panic.  At about the 300m mark I still felt strong, and having envisioned this exact scenario over and over again in the past 3 weeks I got to work.  I didn’t try to get it all back at once, but I could tell as soon as I picked up the pace that I was closing the gap.  I probably settled in behind him with about 150m or so to go, so I gathered myself and prepared to see what he had left.  I was feeling the pace, but I honestly was not stressed at all.  At about 80 meters I pulled alongside him and didn’t sense much of a response.  I didn’t tie up until about 20m to go, was dreading a late move by someone but held on to the line.  I had seen the clock flip to 1:50.00 coming down the home stretch, which is really good sign because there is no way I can make that out without my glasses unless I am close to the finish.  As I approached it I  saw 1:54…1:55…., so I knew that this was going to be something special.  Broke the tape in 1:56.27 (God bless FAT – instant gratification/disappointment).  Wow…. webcast of the race – Masters 800m at USATF Outdoor Championships

2013 USATF Outdoor Nationals Masters Invitation 800m

2013 USATF Outdoor Nationals Masters Invitation 800m

Shock?  Disbelief?  What in the world?!?  I knew I had run a good race start to finish, but along with the 1:56.26 I ran at Boston in 2010 this was essentially tied for the second best time I have ever run, and the fastest time I have run in 3 years.  Hell, I focused on the Sacramento World Championships in 2011 (when I was “only” 42) for a solid year and only ran 1:57.06.  I knew I “felt good” going in but I had no idea I was felt “that good”.  I do think I was as strong, fit, lean, prepared, and most of all confident as I had been in years though.  There you have it – Nick’s “Big 5” tools for success – SFLPC.  I think the lifting has helped me immensely (thanks Rich!), the pool has kept me fresh and conditioned (thanks Anson!), the weight was right where I felt comfortable (thanks chicken!), and with all those falling into place I just knew that I could do it.  I told my brother last week exactly what I was going to do on the last lap, I told my dad his big Father’s Day gift was coming on Saturday, and told Rich that although I didn’t have the resume of some of the other guys anymore I wasn’t going out there to come in second.  Oh yeah, just thought of one more thing to add to Nick’s “Big 5” that can’t be understated – the afro.  Make that CHALPS!

This is already way too long, and there are a couple more things I wanted to talk about that will give me a reason to log on again tomorrow (teaser – the mother of all ironies played a huge role in today’s success….).  Three consecutive entries may be a 2012-2013 record, but it seems like today has already opened the door to the “anything is possible” realm so maybe it will be so.  Until then I am going to continue to savor this day – it didn’t come without a price, but whenever I think “I wish I had been a jumper” (because when was the last time you saw one of those guys curled up in a oxygen-debt-ridden, dead-to-the-world heap under the bleachers) I will know this is why I race.  That and I can’t jump, but that is beside the point…

Post-race interview – just like the pros!

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, Interval Training, Masters Track, Running, Uncategorized, USATF Outdoor Nationals and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to This Is Why I (We) Do It

  1. Chris Simpson says:

    Congrats Nick!!!
    Unbelievable race. Very inspirational too. It is great to see it all come together for you.
    The blog doesn’t even give me a perspective of how hard you have been training and the adversities you’ve had to deal with. Especially leading up to this race.

    Mark Cleary tried to get me out there. Just wasn’t in the cards this year. ( thankfully, heat and humidity especially crush me)
    Would have been great from the passengers seat to see your epic run.

    Spoke to Mark Gomes afterwards. We were both happy for you. (also not completely suprised since we both have tasted your strong kick personally)

    Enjoy this one. Well deserved.
    Loved the head ban.

    Chris Simpson
    Eliot TC

    • Nick Berra says:

      Thanks Chris. Part II (hopefully today) will include some of that stuff – Mark’s book gave me a lot of things to think about and has to get a lot of credit for the “comeback”. Would have been great to have you out there but I know how it is – this stuff would be a lot easier if it was our job instead of our hobby. If you don’t like the heat this would not have been your race, that’s for sure…

  2. That’s it. I’m growing a ‘fro. 😉

    Seriously, that was an amazingly strong performance and was a joy to watch on video. Hell of a race, Nick.

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