Jim Berger remembers his early years of running. He weighed about 170 pounds and ran 50 to 75 miles each week. GPS-enabled watches were unheard of when he was in his 30s. There were no chip-timed races. His running log was handwritten. “We used to stash fig newtons in plastic bags,” he recalled, “and put water on the route of long runs the night before.”
During this phase of Berger’s running life, he was a strong young man, running his best 5K in 20:07, covering 10K in 42:39 and completing his top half marathon in 1:36:25. Two races from this time stand out in Jim’s memory. Both were in the Chicago Marathon. In 1986, Chicago was his first ever marathon. He came away from it with a feeling of accomplishment no one could ever take away. A few years later, at the 1990 event in the windy city, he set his personal marathon record: 3:28:10.Then life got in the way and he quit running. For years he sat on the sidelines. He gained weight, tipping the scales at nearly 240 pounds. “I missed running,” he said, “but never seemed to find the time to get back into it.”
In November 2009, Jim decided something had to change. He had recently turned 56 and his youngest children, identical triplet daughters, had just turned 14. He knew if he wanted to be around to meet their children, his grandchildren, he needed to be more active and improve his health. He talked to his wife Patti – his very supportive, non-running, best friend – about getting back into running. She said, “Go for it!” and bought him a GPS for Christmas.
Shortly after his decision was made to get back in shape, Jim discovered dailymile. He had previously lived in a community where he ran with a group. Now, living in coastal Maine, he primarily ran alone. The social network provided by dailymile added a new and wonderful dimension to his running world. “The site serves as a source of inspiration, information, motivation,” he said. “I know nowhere else where elite and near-elite athletes share information and motivation so freely with mid- to back-packers like myself.” Jim really likes to encourage others on the site, too. “Working through problems and challenges with others is a great way to reinforce your own motivation.” Being a part of the community has led to tremendous face-to-face meetings and friendships that go beyond the virtual world.
A little over a year into his renewed running life, Jim now weighs just under 200 pounds. He runs an average of 150 miles per month. His post-55 PRs, all established in the last 6 months, are 5K at 26:12, 5 miles at 43:10, 10K at 52:54, 10 miles at 1:30:45 and the half marathon at 2:04:00. “I’m still mid to back of the pack, but making progress,” he reported.
“My favorite distance now is the half marathon,” Jim said. “I never have been particularly fast but I am strong and determined so I feel I can train better for endurance than speed.” Berger finds that during a half he can settle into a good workable pace. “I find this distance comfortable, but still challenging as I take on more difficult courses and work on improving my pace.” He enjoys the camaraderie that he develops with other runners during longer races. “There isn’t the sort of ‘sprint feeling’ you get participating in 5K and 10K races,” he said.
When asked about his plans for future events, Jim spoke of his near future and long term goals. “In the short term, I just want to stay healthy, run happy, get stronger and a tad faster while increasing my endurance,” he said. He wants to focus on improving his half marathon PR and go sub-2:00.
His plans for the year include running the Marine Corps Marathon this October. He is also registered for two halfs and his first 25K trail race in the next few months. He’s adding in core and strength training to his training regimen. “I am going to give yoga a more active aggressive try as well,” he promised. Jim also enjoys rides with Patti on a tandem bicycle on occasion.
“In the long run, I am aiming for a BQ in my 60th year.” That currently requires a 3:55 or better finish, but Jim knows he’ll have to run closer to a 3:51 to have a real chance to get in. “I believe I can and will do this,” he stated. “Patience and continual improvement will bring this about.” He knows what it takes. He’s run marathons without the proper training and will never do that again. “Confidence and hope wrapped in optimism support physical preparedness, but do not supplant it,” he stated wisely.