Nick Berra aims to deliver more goods after 1:57 anchor leg

Nick Berra

Two days before American Neil Fitzgerald took a close second in the M40 800 final at Lahti worlds, Nicholas Berra ran essentially the same time — high 1:57s — at a meet in York, Pennsylvania. Nick ended his first season of masters track as the No. 4 American in his age group. His presence on the masters circuit was felt from the get-go — with second-place finishes at Landover (2:01.35) and Oshkosh (2:00.13) nationals. But he didn’t seize my attention until his sensational 1:57.4 leg Sunday at the Armory, where he anchored his club’s 4×8 world record. Obviously time for a quickie Q&A! So here’s what I learned about Nick, a FedEx pilot who trains on an underwater treadmill: He started out just wanting to show the high school kids he coaches that he could crack 2 in the half. Mission accomplished!

Nick with a stick: Didn’t know he helped set a world record till hours later.

I sent Nick 10 questions, and his replies are combined here:

Your request was unexpected and a little humbling, but I am honored you would be interested in my story. I grew up in Mechanicsburg, PA, played high school
football and was a seven-time AAA state track medalist (Cumberland Valley HS Class of 1987). I placed all four years in the 4×800, anchoring winning relays my junior and
senior years (7:49/7:45). Collected a couple thirds and fourths in the 400 and 800
open as well. PRs were 1:53.7/48.3.
I then ran for Al Cantello at the U.S. Naval Academy for four years (PR 1:52.8). After graduation (1991), I served in the Navy on active duty for 10.5 years,
flying on and off aircraft carriers.

(Then came) casual running, library 5Ks, etc. I am still in the Navy reserves (commander, USNR), but now am paying the bills as a pilot for FedEx Express.
I moved back “home” to Enola, PA, in 2005, and started to volunteer coach back at
my old high school – indoor/outdoor/XC (still have 800 school record!).

I ran
the workouts with the kids and when in shape could still hold my own. Our head
coach (Bill Bixler) had been a successful masters runner a few years earlier, so
as I approached 40 he gave me some advice and guidance about getting started

Last indoor season I ran a couple meets in Philadelphia, had some moderate success, then turned 40 right before indoor nationals in Landover (2/26/1969). I came in second in the 800 there, and then second again at
Oshkosh. I was stuck at 2:00 until I had a breakout race in late July at the
Keystone Games (PA “Olympics”) when I ran 1:57.8. 

Since then I have  “recalibrated” my goals (all I originally wanted to do was prove to the high school kids I could still break 2-flat!).
I have had a lot of support with my family, and the extended track family at
Cumberland Valley. A lot of the kids and their parents at CV have taken an
interest in how I was doing, and since I can still mix it up with most of them
we have a fun back-and-forth with it. 

Working out with them not only kept me in
track shape, but gave me a good idea I could still be competitive based on the
times I would read about on Web sites such as yours.

I am married and have two
daughters (Lindsay, 10, and Kate, 5) who I have been dragging to meets for the past four years, so they are troopers.
My father is my mega-fan/driver, insisting on attending every meet under the veiled disguise of giving me a ride. I take him up on it every time, not only because I hate having to drive home after a meet, but it’s been great having him still involved after all these years.

I probably train like most guys and gals — I try to get in an interval workout
every 4-5 days or so (400s up to 1000s), and some easy distance (35-45 mins)
on off days. I feel that my ace in the hole this season has been my access to
a HydroWorx underwater treadmill. The product essentially is a treadmill submerged in a pool with water jets providing an additional source of resistance.

I am able to set both the speed of the treadmill and the force of the jets to create a difficulty level commensurate to what I am trying to
accomplish that day. I can get a great interval-style workout, indoors (PA
weather can get ugly in the winter), and have little to no residual soreness or
stiffness the next day due to the effect of your buoyancy (as a masters runner
yourself, I am sure you can appreciate the importance of that).

After running in the HydroWorx pool for the last couple months I have felt not just faster, but more important, significantly stronger. With winter fully set in, I expect to complete almost all of my interval training underwater. It has been an invaluable addition to my training regimen, and a great way to keep icicles off my ears.
I was invited to run the Hartshorne Mile at Cornell in mid-January, so my
schedule may not allow anything between now and then.

The jury is still out on
my miler ability — I’ve been a 400/800 runner for so long that although I’ve had
fun doing road miles in the past, on the track I am still a rookie. I didn’t
want to tell Tom Hartshorne that I have never even run one indoors before! I
think Greater Philly is also going to field a 4×400 at the Milrose Games, so I
am planning on seeing that venue for the first time as well.

After that, I have
entered the World Indoor Championships in Kamloops, and am really looking
forward to the U.S. national meet in Boston. 

The race in the Armory was my first experience on a banked surface, and I am sold! For the first time I am really not sure how low I can go — I spent the first year involved in masters track trying to break 2:00, but I have gained a lot of confidence recently and feel like if the race goes 1:58, 1:57, or even lower I will be able to answer the call. It’s a great feeling, and has made me want to race more than ever before. 

Greater Philadelphia TC has been a blessing for me. I raced a couple members my first time out and they passed my name along to Chuck Shields. He then sold me on not only the success of the team and its members, but the support structure that they are so proud of. Chuck is a master coordinator (no pun intended) in
addition to being a great masters runner, and I’m sure I would not have been
able to compete in a lot of the events had it not been for his hard work and
perseverance — this world record race was as much his doing as any of the relay

I have met a great group of people through GPTC, and really look
forward to becoming more and more involved in the future.
The 4×800 at the Armory was a great experience. I had never run on such a great
track in such a great stadium. 

As you probably know, we went merely trying to
make a run at the club record, but after a couple fast legs I could do the math
and knew that the American record was within reach. Running alone is never
easy, but the announcer was doing a great job keeping the crowd involved, so my
laps flew by. I felt great throughout, and just kept ratcheting up the pace by just the right amount (luckily). 

I was able to hold it together to kick the last 100 meters — which sometimes can only be explained by the power of the baton (for the team!) When I finished I knew I had run a pretty quick leg, then we saw the clock and realized we had outdone ourselves. We grabbed some dinner to celebrate the American record, and it wasn’t until the ride home another club member made us aware that the American record was also the world record.

Any world record is great (I’m guessing, never had one before), but to be able to share it with a great group of guys is even more special.

Nick takes a dip: Training with his underwater treadmill.

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December 30, 2009

9 Responses

  1. Mark Steger - January 4, 2011

    Great job on the running Nick. Not bad for an old man. I think some of my teammates (Hempfield HS, Lancaster PA) may have run against you in 86/87 when you were at CV. I was a (slow) 2 mile guy. Great landlord, too, from what I hear.

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