1500m Gold, With the Bonus Plan…

Well, Saturday was a whirlwind day with the 1500m final, a parting gift from World Masters Athletics, and an evening train to Vienna. It’s now been over 3 days since taking the track for the 1500m final, and while it was great to have won another world championship race, the “after party” definitely put a little damper on the occasion. No worries though (well, not “no” worries), the trip to Budapest was a wonderful one, and it’ll be an experience that we will all remember for a long time. Now, as for the race….

While running the 1500m semi-final heat on Friday my right achilles took a turn for the worse. This is a problem that I am not unfamiliar with, but usually it sets in sometime in July or August after a long year. I think since I have been so busy racing this month this low-grade nagging sensation started earlier in the year than normal, but while running the semi on Friday I could feel my foot burning in my shoe throughout the race – it definitely got more serious. Afterwards it was sore to walk – I went to the USA trainer, who sent me to the local medics who apparently were the keepers of the ice – a precious commodity in Hungary. I was “issued” about 5 pieces of ice in a sandwich bag – when I asked for more I got the customary “yeeeeeys” from him and he threw in another piece. Jackpot. Iced it while stretching, then toured the city on our last day “limp-style”, babying it as best I could. I hit up the hotel bartender that night for another bag of ice, got a couple of cycles out of it. Popped some ibuprofen (important) before hitting the rack…

I knew that despite how the trials went, and how we all “self-seeded” ourselves going in, that I was just as good as everyone in the field. Having spent most of the indoor season racing Mark Williams, Peter Brady, Chris Blondin, Scott Weeks, and others (all M40 studs), moving up an age group to M45 things were not going to get any more difficult than I was accustomed to. I think 4:30 is an above average time for M45 milers, and I felt confident despite the lack of workouts (probably 1 in the last month) and excessive amount of recent racing (10 times) I could still count on my ability to hit that mark. That put me with the leaders no matter what. What I didn’t know was what kind of shape David Cowlishaw was in (self seeded in 4:04 (~4:22)), how fresh he would be having skipped the 800m, and where I would find myself in the race (lead vs sit-n-kick). All this, plus I had the achilles problem to deal with, which nobody else knew about. I popped a couple more ibuprofen in the morning, and got to the track a little early to get my warmup done in time to visit the trainer again. I skipped most of the drills I usually do that involve running in order to avoid beating up the foot too much – it felt a little better when I woke up than it did when I went to bed so I didn’t want to make it any worse. Stuck to easy jogging, lots of leg swings, and a handful of sets of the different leg kicks I’ve been using this year. Stretched the left side but laid off the right. Got to see our (USA) trainer just before having to check in, and he massaged my calf and lower leg and did some sort of bladed voodoo trick on it that he said might help break some adhesions up. If nothing else the balm made me smell fast…

Everyone checked in, which meant 12 guys on the “B” track – aka “Rollerdome”. This was the 4-lane track, as opposed to the big “A” track (where we ran the 800m – a very nice oval) that was being used that day for the sprints. The sprints definitely needed the big track more than we did, but 12 guys on this steeply banked thing was definitely going to cause some problems. Once again, I locked in my strategy by watching the M45 women – just seeing 12 runners line up was enough for me. Eight people on the first waterfall, the last person (#8) barely fit on the track. Numbers 9-12 were up on the second waterfall – just seeing this cluster made you want to place even money on someone not getting a fair shake off the line. We were eventually lined up, I was #5 coming off the trials so I was smack dab in the middle of the lineup. Plan was to get the hell out of dodge, even if it meant staying out in lane 2-3 and running a crazy-fast first lap. From there I would see how they wanted to play it – if they let me lead I was planning on shooting for a 4:30 pace, because I felt confident I could out-kick anyone who wanted to try to sit on me if we hit that pace. If someone else wanted to take things up a notch I was all for that as well, because as I said earlier I felt that mano-y-mano I would take my chances with anyone in the field and “may the best guy win”.

I got out at the gun, which seems to be a required survival tactic here in Europe. I heard some demolition derby action behind me which made me glad I had chosen to go the route that I did. For me the 1500m indoors is very confusing – just having that half of a lap difference makes everything seem off – especially when there are no splits given at the start line. The only the clock on track “b” was at the finish, not in your line of sight, and served very little purpose. I knew I wanted to run 67 sec quarters, or about 33-34 second laps, but having to add 17 seconds to the wall clock was all but impossible to keep track of – to be honest, without the guy at the line flipping the “x laps to go” counter I probably not have ever known how much we had left. In the mile what lap you are on is never a problem – in the 1500m, for me, not so much….

I essentially had no idea what pace I was running. I know I ran the first 300m pretty quick, then felt like I got settled in and started waiting. After about 3 or 4 laps I heard some guy yell something as he came up behind me – it was Cowlishaw, and I thought the race was about to get interesting. He pulled up alongside me and maybe just ahead of me down the back stretch, then kind of stalled there. I would have let him go initially, but as we neared the turn I thought I’d make him work for it a little bit so I sped up and kept him in lane 2 through the turn. Out of the turn he fell back a bit, then it was quiet up front again. My spotter (9-year old daughter Kate) was instructed to tell me (if I was leading) every lap “a little” or “a lot”, depending on the size of my lead. As the lap counting guy started flipping over 3 then 2 then 1, she finally started yelling “a lot”. A quick peek here and there confirmed I had opened up a 10-15 meter lead. I still felt fine going into the last 250m so I picked it up a little bit to ensure nobody got any life breathed into them. Didn’t even see the clock at the finish so I had no idea what I had run…

1500m finish - photo by Shaggy

1500m finish – photo by Shaggy

It turned out David Cowlishaw got tangled up on the start (he “won” lane 1 in the semi’s by being the top finisher – the inside lane on that track is no “reward” at all!) and was forced off the track. Score one for my strategy to avoid that mess. He apparently lost his shoe as well, so he put his shoe back on then joined the field when they came back around in an effort to help one of his country mates run a faster time. I guess (from other’s accounts) that when he came up on me and was yelling that he was trying to tell me he was out of the race and just there to help. How was I supposed to know that?!?! In any case, he unfortunately was DQ’ed and never a factor, which stinks for him as he probably had a good shot to be up there at the end, now we’ll never know….

We took the customary group picture at the finish (Thanks Shaggy!), then I was immediately met by a young volunteer lad from WMA Doping Control – winner winner, chicken dinner. Would I please come with him. (no question mark on purpose). No sweat, swapped out shoes, grabbed my warmup, off we went. We went up to the office clearly marked “Dopping Office” (must have lost something in translation), where the Swedish M50 1500m winner was running around in circles with a big bottle of water. Having been randomly “whiz quizzed” countless times at the Naval Academy, in the fleet, and even by the FAA while with FedEx, I had been through this before. I’d never had to do it right after running a race though, and had flashbacks to I-Day (Indoctrination Day – first day of plebe summer) at USNA where we all stood in line for hours, scared to death, praying to God we could muster a pee before our superiors choked us to death for taking so long. Adding pressure to everything except the bladder does not produce results, trust me…

I couldn’t blame the Swede for taking so long once he got taken into the office. 30 minutes passed as I did the same as he did, killing a 1.5L bottle of water while attempting to stretch and cool down in the hall. I told my escort that at 3:25 I was going down to my medal ceremony and to see my family whether he liked it or not, he said no problem he just had to come with me. 30 minutes passed, no Swede, so we went down to rejoin the gang. It was the first I had seen anyone since the race – family, fellow competitors, and Mark Williams, who looked like the cat who had just swallowed the canary after bagging a bronze in the M40 race. High fives all around, congratulations to everyone, medal presentation went off on time and was just as special as the first time around. I saw the WMA drug czar growl at my escort for letting me get a little to far away, felt bad for the kid. It kind of pissed me off though that this was taking away from the whole experience – from the time I got done running to now I had about 10 minutes with everyone, then back up to the hall. Problem #2 was now developing though – I ran at 2:45pm, sat in the office until 3:25pm, got my medal at 3:40pm, and had a train to catch to Vienna at 5:10pm. My wife and I had said ahead of time that we needed to be walking out of the center NLT 4:15pm to catch the track subway to the Eurorail Station, with enough time to spare to figure out the Hungarian station and maybe grab a bite to eat on the train. When I left my family I told them that if they didn’t see me by 4:15 to go without me, I’d catch up. Fast forward to “Dopping Office” – the fun was just beginning….

We got back up to the “Dopping Office” at 3:45pm, so I had about 30 minutes to “get it done”. I’d been sipping water non-stop since he grabbed me, but I still had no urge to pee. When he took me up the first time we made a detour to my luggage so I could get my medicines – I had saved the prescription bottle that had contained some antibiotics that I had just finished that morning “just in case”, as well as the wrapper off the back of one of the foil wrappers of the Mucinex D Extra-Strength I had been taking along with the prescription drugs (at the suggestion of my doc). I had started getting a sinus infection the Tuesday before leaving for Hungary – I was on a FedEx trip, sleeping very poorly, and started to get run down when the nasal drip and sore throat began to raise its ugly head. This is something that I unfortunately seem to develop a time or two a year so I know the symptoms very well. I got with my doc as soon as the symptoms started, and he got me on the Mucinex while I was still in Los Angeles (over the counter) then the Cefuroxime when I got home the next afternoon. When I filled out the initial paperwork with the Doping volunteer there was no mention of writing down any drugs you were taking, so when I saw my family and we re-shuffled my bags I left my medicine sack with them. My second visit “upstairs” got me into the actual WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) office, where the second round of paperwork had the dreaded question – what medication/drugs have you taken in the past 10 days. Oh shit. When I realized that I didn’t have my meds anymore I immediately busted out the international phone I had rented for the trip and texted my doc – “Getting drug tested, need name of antibiotics!!!”. Phone paid for itself 100-fold as he immediately texted me back “Cefuroxime”. Whew. Then I shot him back “Need ingredients of Mucinex!!!”, he lobs me another priceless text “pseudoephedrine + guarfenesin”. Whew 2. I proceed to fill out the forms – name, address, drivers license number, blah blah blah as the two officials very curtly/officially lead me through in their best Hungarenglish. I write down “Cefuroxime”, “Mucinex D – pseudoephedrine + guarfenesin “, and “NyQuil – sleeping” in the “medication” box. I’m not worried at this point (ignorance is bliss), but I start to realize that this whole thing is not good – best case, everything comes back good and I am right where I was in the first place, worst case there is something I haven’t thought out very well/something gets screwed up/I am getting led down a path I don’t want to be on. This is all on top of the fact that this whole thing has certainly put a damper on my afternoon, and is starting to threaten my personal plans, which I realize Olga and Igor could care less about. When I finally finish the paperwork I still don’t have to pee, and it is after 4pm. Not good….

“Not good” became “really strange not good” pretty quickly. Igor understood I was in a hurry, so as Olga was finalizing my paperwork he suggested I take off one of my two shirts to make things go faster once we went to “get urine”. Huh? Take my shirt off? Like I said, I had done this probably 20 times before, and in the Navy if the guy actually leered over the urinal partition to watch the flow you felt a little creeped out. Shirt off though? What was he talking about? She gave us the thumbs up, so Igor told me to “pick a bottle” out of the box of sealed bottles in bags. I picked one, then he said to follow him into the toilet. No biggie, at this point I could almost feel a twitch in my bladder which might just save my train ride. I hadn’t decided if push came to shove on making my train if I had the balls to just split and save our vacation, knowing the WMA/WADA would not like that at all (automatic failure). I was dreaming about it though – giving the WMA boss the big “New Yorker #1” sign on my way out the door. I pressed on though to hopefully fill my bottle. Once in the bathroom, he told me to undress. O, K…. “Everything?” I asked – “No, you can keep your socks on”, he replied. Not exactly what I was asking, but I guess I got my answer. Boot camp style, down to my socks, there I stood in all my glory, just him and me. Silly me for thinking that things had gotten as weird as they would get – “Turn, spread buttocks”, he then said, giving me the vague clothed demo. Is he kidding? Am I getting punked? I knew better from his tone though, so San Quentin style I let him confirm that I hadn’t just won the 1500m race with a bag of apple juice shoved up my butt. “Now you turn back around, lift penis”. Sure, why not. I can see where shoving it in your butt was so “last year”, and taping it to the underside of your nuts was definitely the “new black”. I let him check the junk out, low and behold there was nothing squirreled away under there either. Now he said it was time to pee, and that I needed to get to the 110ml line on the cup to have it count. I took the cup, stared at it like Luke Skywalker, and commanded flow to fill up the cup to the magic line. The tickle became a trickle which started to fill ‘er up. Was going strong for a second, then the flow started to wane, when all was said and done I think I had 111ml maybe, but Igor was satisfied. Back out to the desk, the two of them had me verify all the digits, then systematically pour the collection cup into a couple of glass bottles (A Sample and B Sample, made famous by the likes of Lance Armstrong…) with steel locks on them that could have been used by the NRC to store nuclear material. It started dawning on me that this is exactly what the Olympic guys go through all the time, but it seemed a little excessive for guys “playing track” to be put through the same thing – kind of the feeling you get when you see 90-year-old ladies getting patted down at the airport, I can only imagine some 87-year-old guy who had manned some foxhole in Bastogne in his previous life standing in the bathroom and being told to spread his butt cheeks for some guy to verify he isn’t about to cheat on his masters track drug test. Crazy…

Anyway, after I seal the glass container I check all her paperwork and sign the thing at 4:20pm. I grab my copies (which they told me to keep for 8-years?!?) and split at full speed. My family had left as I had instructed them to do, and I eventually caught up with them at the station where we made our train with a couple of minutes to spare. Got to Vienna and enjoyed a great day visiting a 600 year old castle-estate which included the oldest zoo in the world (giant pandas with no line to wait in – score), and a trip to the park to ride the tallest swing ride on the planet – kid “bucket-list” kinds of things. Have since hit Venice, and am now sitting in Rome. Will be bringing a “body by gelato” back to the states, but I think the rest will have done me good and the Italian souvenir I’ll have around my waist will hopefully melt away like it has always done in the past.

Is the drug test thing over? I have no idea. The postscript to this story is that upon further review (a.k.a. review that should probably have been done beforehand), pseudoephedrine is on the 2014 WADA “Prohibited List” if detected in certain quantities during competition, and on their “Monitoring Program List” in lesser quantities. I was taking the Maximum Strength version of Mucinex D which contained 120mg of pseudoephedrine, but did not take them in the days leading up to my race because I had started taking Advil for some soreness and thought that you couldn’t take them together – turns out I was (luckily) confusing Mucinex’s acetaminophen warning with the ibuprofen I was taking. Remind me never to moonlight as a pharmacist…

Part of "The List".  Some easy reading....

Part of “The List”. Some easy reading….


My advice to anyone reading this who cares to listen is cold meds seem to be the “gotcha”, specifically pseudoepherine. Most of the rules and prohibited items are hard-core stuff like “steroids” (think Schwartzenegger), masking agents (like Zoro and the Lone Ranger), manipulating blood components (of course), and hormone modulators (huh?) that are the sort of things that I am assuming most guys would never dream of doing. The stimulant things (including caffeine, which I have played with) are on that previously mentioned “watch list”, so I will indeed “watch” that to see if anything changes on that. I’ve perused the entire list, but without being a dual licensed M.D. and trial lawyer I can’t say that I understand most of it (ever hear of “methylenedioxymethamphetamine or dehydrochlormethyltestosterone”? They’re banned). I don’t know what other over the counter meds contain pseudoepherine, but in roaming the internet that seems to be the one that has bitten “olympic” level guys and gals the most in the past. If my number didn’t get called there’s no way I would hesitate to fight a common malady for me with the same course of prescribed medication that I’ve been doing for the past couple years, because it has worked. Is ignorance an excuse? No. Do I regret doing it? Of course, although its easy to regret something that’s in the past. Will I do it again? No, because I’m sure there are some other medications out there that don’t have that ingredient. Why was Mucinex good for me? As a pilot, it’s non-drowsy, which is a requirement when dealing with “heavy machinery”. Kind of a catch-22, because I’m guessing the reason it’s “non-drowsy” is the very reason it’s banned is certain levels. Hopefully (fingers and toes crossed) you have to be a serial pill-popper to get to the banned levels and I am losing sleep for no reason. I asked every doc I know back home this question, and the consensus was that with the listed half-life of the drug and the history of my usage it should have been almost completely gone from my system at the time, let alone under the allowed level. All I can say is from the time the doping guy snagged me to the time I am showing him the underside of my junk to the time I spent tossing and turning in bed over this it has not been a fun experience, and I do this to have fun. If I was ever going to end a blog with “stay tuned” this would be the one – more on “MucinexGate” as I delve deeper and deeper into the shady underworld of ugly green mucus monsters…..


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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3 Responses to 1500m Gold, With the Bonus Plan…

  1. Rafe Weaver says:

    Congrats!!! My name is Rafer Weaver, I would like to see if you would like to team up and break the 4 x 800 meter record in our division 45 to 50?

  2. Delvin says:

    Nick, I had a similar pee-in-the-cup-while-I-look experience at Nationals in Ohio in 2011. Talk about up close and personal. At least I didn’t have to lift or spread anything, though!

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