Look What I Found… (times 2)

Re-reading this title one could be led to believe I was referring to this blog.  I actually wasn’t, but I guess it could serve as a double entendre.  (I’m not going to admit how many tries it took for spell check to accept my massacre of that word – trying to somehow think of a way to blame this on my dad, the english major….).  Keep reading and eventually it will all make sense…

I’m going to pretend that this little gap in blog entries was 5 days and not 5 months, and therefore I am just going to forego all the excuses and apologies.  Following Fifth Avenue Mile last fall I took a long break, then started up slowly but steadily.  I never really stopped workout out at Elite Athletic Performance though, continuing to lift and stretch, but taking a step back from running for a handful of weeks helped my knee, achilles, and hips to finally start feeling a little better.  Eventually it was back in the HydroWorx pool, with an occasional track session as the Polar Vortexes allowed…

Once we started back up again, I knew that my 45th birthday would fall towards the end of the indoor season.  Ever since my open 800m last June in Des Moines (and the comment on the FloTrack site that led me to check what the M45 world record was), I had set breaking the indoor 800m world record as my primary goal.  I looked for meets to get some races under my legs, then meets at good tracks after my birthday (2/26) to take the shot at the record.  From that point on it just became a matter of executing the “grand plan”…

January took me up to Penn State for another one of the Nittany Valley Running Club’s open mile races.  They put on another great show, and I was able to run 4:27, placing second behind a Penn State club runner.  It wasn’t particularly easy, but not extremely taxing either.  It was a good prep for the 2014 Hartshorne Mile which I had committed to 2 weeks later, and a good way to kick off the season.

The Hartshorne Mile was another event that lived up to its great reputation.  Tom Hartshorne and Charlie Fay put together the strongest field I have ever seen up there in my 4 years of participating in the event – besides me, he had Scott Weeks (2013 Champ), Peter Brady, Mark Williams, and Chris Blondin, among others.  All five of us were legitimate sub-4:30 milers, so I had no idea who to key off of or how this would go down. After last season’s breakthrough and my decent tune-up at PSU I felt confident that I could run in the mid-4:20’s, but was not sure I could challenge Weeks if he delivered a low 4:20’s performance like the previous year.  The first 7 laps of the race were essentially Groundhog Day, with Scott following the rabbit about 20 meters ahead of the pack, and me, Mark, and Peter following the lead of Chris Blondin (must have drawn the short straw).  With about 250m to go I was able to sneak by Chris on the rail into second, and through the bell I was surprised to see the gap between Weeks and myself had shrunk to less than 10 meters.  I pulled up behind him with 150 meters to go and was settling in to plot my finishing strategy when Mark Williams blew past us both on the outside.  Completely surprised I fortunately was able to pull off another inside pass, this time slipping by Scott, and matched Mark stride for stride down the backstretch.  I eventually was able to out kick him to the line, winning in 4:25 (and closing in 30 secs).  It was a great race, and like 2013 Fifth Ave Mile an unexpected repeat win after several years of coming up short.  Like I said then, you appreciate victories like this more and more when you expect them less and less…

2014 Hartshorne Mile – full race video

Following Hartshorne, I jumped in a meet at Bucknell University to run an open 400m.  Since the strength and conditioning program at Elite had rebuilt my fragile hamstrings, I no longer feared this distance and was curious to see what I could do.  Getting a time in this event served two purposes for me – 1) it would serve as a qualifying time for indoor nationals if I decided to run that event on the Friday before the Sunday 800, and 2) if I could run a time that put me in the top 4 in my Greater Philadelphia club team I would become eligible to run on our 4×400 relay at the Millrose Games.  Not really knowing what was going on (it had been years since my last open 400), I think I ran pretty hard on their flat track and bagged a 53.17 – exceeding my expectations.  My success got my competitive sprinting juices flowing, and I went ahead and entered the 400 at nationals, along with the mile and 800m – possible visions of the triple crown.  I also qualified for our Millrose relay, where I ran another 53.xx split on our second place team several weeks later in what is always a fun event.

This took me to mid-February, where I started buckling down for some big races.  At the Hartshorne Mile a bunch of us started hatching a plan to take a shot at the 4×800 world record that had been set last year by among others Scott Weeks and Mark Gomes.   I had previously held this record with my GPTC teammates, so “getting it back” held a slightly more personal meaning for me than the others.  Scott elected to sit out instead of trying to displace his record holding teammates, and Peter Brady was recruited to run with his club in an effort to break the M35 WR.  That left me, Mark Williams, and Chris Blondin looking for a fourth.  I gave a shout out to 400m ace Ed Winslow, who had started dabbling in the half mile last year.  He was excited to join us, and we all met in Boston at the Boston University Last Chance Meet on 3/2.  The world record was 7:58, meaning we would have to average a little under 2:00 per man – right about where we all were.  On a great track everyone showed up big time – Ed led off with a 1:59.91 and more than held up his end of the deal, and Chris followed that with a 1:59 leg of his own.  Mark got shot out of a cannon, running a crazy 1:55.75 leaving me with very little pressure or obligation.  I must operate best under those sort of conditions, because I too made the most of BU’s lightning fast track and ran a 1:54.93 split.  Everyone nailed it, and we shattered the record to say the least, running 7:49.90.  Beers and burgers followed!

Winslow, Blondin, Williams, Berra M45 4x800 WR

Winslow, Blondin, Williams, Berra
M45 4×800 WR

With that mark out of the way, I had 6 days before my next world record attempt.  This one was the one I have had circled on the calendar for the past 6 months – the M45 800m indoor world record, held by masters legend Anselm LeBourne.  The mark was 1:56.29, almost exactly the same time I ran in Des Moines in my breakout race last summer.  This would be indoors though, and I would be 9 months older.  With the way things had been going at EAP, however, I felt like despite being almost a year older I was getting stronger at a faster rate.  The relay leg at BU was a huge confidence builder – I ran totally alone the whole way, and just banged out 4 smooth laps with very little stress.  As the event (Columbia Final Qualifier at the NYC Armory) drew near, I almost felt like it would be a “choke job” if I didn’t break the mark – I really felt like there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to run that time.  I wasn’t born yesterday though, and knew 1:56 times do not grow on trees and nobody was going to hand it to me – I had to go out there and do it and it was not going to be easy….

Pete Brady stepped up for me in a huge way by volunteering to help set the pace for me.  He was nursing a bum achilles and has a baby due any day so he was prepared to shut things down after his M35 4×800 WR, but living in the NYC area and knowing what I was going to be trying to accomplish he made like Cosmo Kramer and “did me a solid”.  Mark Williams also entered along with Jonevan Hornsby from CPTC.  Having four known quantities (and good buds) alongside me at the starting line knowing they all had my best interest in mind was a huge plus for me.  We were seeded with two slower college runners, so the track was ours from the gun (well, almost – it wouldn’t be a college race without the obligatory collegiate runner biting off way more than he could chew early on – luckily for me the “victim” was Mark Williams – kids never learn…).  Pete hit the pace I had asked for to the tenth of a second, taking me through the quarter-mile in about 57 flat then giving me the track at about the 500m mark.  The announcer knew what was at stake and had the crowd behind my effort the whole way.  I felt strong after taking over from Pete and did my best to control myself as I passed through 600 in 1:26.3.  I made it to the home stretch before starting to tie up but knew I had it when I crossed the line.  The scoreboard flashed almost immediately – 1:56.10 – mission accomplished.  Sharing it with my dad and wife who came up to watch, as well as my masters buds who played a big part in the race made it all the more special….

On the line for the record attempt.  L-R Williams, Hornsby, ?, ?, Brady, Berra

On the line for the record attempt. L-R Williams, Hornsby, ?, ?, Brady, Berra

Pete Brady doing the dirty work

Pete Brady doing the dirty work

Peeking at the clock and sensing I had it....

Peeking at the clock and sensing I had it….


I’ve always felt that national and world titles are largely dependent on who is healthy, able to travel, and in your age group at the time.  Some wins are more satisfying than others depending on the challenges that you face achieving the title.  My biggest regret in the five years that I have been running masters track was in the last race I had circled on the calendar for months ahead of time –  Sacramento, 2011 WMA outdoor championships.  The 800m field was loaded, but for whatever reason (I’ve since come to figure out what probably happened, a lot of good it does me now) I laid an egg.  I felt at the time that you are remembered by how you compare against the best, and on that day I did not show up.  The beauty of this mark is I feel like I have essentially held my own against every M45 800m runner who has ever laced them up on the indoor track – my generation of runners as well as the guys older than me who have all passed through this age group.  Holding my own against them and now being able to associate myself with guys who I hold in high esteem is a very good feeling.  I won’t name all the names, but the previous record holder, Anselm LeBourne, is a perfect example of the type guy I only used to dream of being compared to.  I feel like I’ve just been inducted into some world record hall…

The other bonus to getting this goal accomplished is now I can go out for the rest of the indoor season and have some fun in my new age group.  This post is way too long already, but there’s a lot of racing still to come on the miniature oval.  For now I hope I don’t lock the blog back up and throw away the key again, because I have missed venting over the keys every now and then.  I didn’t want to jinx my WR plans leading up the races, but being a part of two world records in a week was as good a reason as any to revive the blog.  Some say its better to be lucky than good, but I’ll take both any day of the week….


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 5th Avenue Mile, Aquatic Fitness, Competitive Races, Hartshorne Mile, Hydrotherapy, Masters Running, Masters Track, Millrose Games, Running, Uncategorized, Underwater Treadmill and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Look What I Found… (times 2)

  1. Mark Gomes says:

    You were already a Masters legend my friend. This just cements it.

    Congrats. Well deserved and well done. Hell of a feeling I’m sure!

    Mark A. Gomes, CEO Pipeline Data, LLC (617) 901-3725 mark@pipelinedatallc.com

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  2. Debbie Wilson says:

    Great job, Nick! It must feel amazing!

  3. peter taylor says:

    Tremendous running, Nick. You are running about 17-18 seconds faster than I did as a high schooler. More to the point, you have a world record. The mark by Tony Young of 1:55.70, as great as it was, should not even be considered in the same breath as yours, as he did it in an 800 that took only 2.6 laps, while you ran the conventional 4 laps for indoors.

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