Coach Rick Runs for the Diamond in Berwick, PA.


In 2007, after a fairly frantic but successful end of the season, I ventured down to the Run for the Diamonds in Berwick, PA.  It was the 99th edition of the race but my first time participating.  I had a fantastic day, finishing first in the 40-49 Master’s Category, which, as the name of the race suggests, netted me a diamond (ring).


Quite naturally, I was inspired to return for the 100th edition of the Run.


The race is held in small town Berwick on Thanksgiving Thursday.  This year, there were 1300 keen registrants.  There were many diamonds to be had by the fastest 7 men and women overall, and in each of the Master’s categories.  Needless to say, competition for the top spot is always tough.


And so is the race course.  Holy crap it beats you up!  At 9 miles in length, it is a beautiful tour of the area, but as is often the case, beautiful means hilly.  The first mile is flat, the next a gentle down hill, then the next 2 miles are up hill, similar in grade to Pink Lake but 5 times longer.  Once at the top, to paraphrase the saying, you must go down, and then up again, then down again, then up and down and up and down and up, and down, then flat for the final mile.  For various reasons, the crowds are great, not the least of which are the 100 year history, the start time of 10:30, the course going right down the main boulevard, it’s Thanksgiving so everyone has the day off, and drinking alcohol on the side of the course is tolerated by the Police.  What more could you ask for?


I travelled down with Joe DuVall, Dave Pedley, Wendell Lafave, Henry Cote, Chris Jermyn, Mike Day and Christina Towers, Mike’s daughter.  We left Wednesday morning and were in town by 5 to pick up our registration, go to the hotel, and then back for the pre-race pasta meal with guest speaker Mark Will-Webber who has written a book on the historic Berwick run.  Mark Will-Webber romanticized about the history of the race, and the fact this is not a flat and fast course like so many others today.  This race is one of the few races left that tests every runners’ full arsenal of weapons—up hill running ability, down hill ability, flat out speed, endurance and adaptability to the conditions.  It was good fun and well worth the effort.  And the 50 cent beer was quite pleasing to many of the crew.


The next morning, we woke early, ate, and waited.  It was 5 degrees, windless and overcast.  They were fantastic conditions.  But since we were up at 6 for a 10:30 race, we were left with lots of time to do nothing.  Finally, at 9:15, we decided to head over to the race and get things under way.


Things were set up exactly the same way as last year with sufficient port-o-potties, road closures etc and, since this was Joe’s 15th running here, he knew exactly what to do.


At 10:15, they played the Canadian national anthem on the clarinet, then the American one.  It’s a very nice touch for them to play ours as well.  At 10:25, they lined us up and at 10:27, one of the directors went across the front line telling the non-seeded runners to get behind the seeded runners.  Seeded runners all had numbers below 50.  I was # 24.  There were no iPod wearing or water bottle carrying people on the front line in this race.  The front line in this event is reserved for the fastest folks, and it’s enforced.  Very traditional.


Off we went and, like last year, it was a fast enough start.  Through the first mile in 5:30, I was in the top 50.  Through the second mile, a few of the fast starters drifted behind and the slow starters passed me.  I was in about 40th spot at the bottom of the big hill.  Half way up is the three mile mark, which I passed in 6:50, passing a few people.  I hit the fourth mile in 6:14 but, while I was passing people steadily, I too was passed by the lead woman and a tall lanky guy that looked to be over 40.  I could do nothing but resolve to keep him in sight for as long as possible.


Over the top of the hill, the second female caught me and cruised on by.  We free fell down the steep hill for half a mile, turned left and headed up hill again, then down and up and down and up and… the next mile was 5:42.


Thanks to gravity, mile six was run in 5:08.  It dawned on me this was barely fast enough to be the world record for the Beer Mile, without the 4 beers. 


I passed mile six at 35:15 total run time, and 10k in 36:20.  The previous year, the women’s winner was minutes behind me.  This year, they were ahead of me, and I was running fairly well.

This day was a special day in the women’s field.


My seventh mile was 5:30, as was my eighth.  My ninth mile saw me looking at 5 people in front of me within 15 seconds.  At one point, I looked at my watch and saw I was going to be close to my time from the previous year, and had run 3:30 of the last mile.  I told myself I had 2min to go, and to give it everything I had.  I stepped on the gas, leaned forward and nothing happened.  No more speed was to be found.  It just hurt more.


In the final block, I tried again for an acceleration that might nab me a spot or two.  They were so close!!  I stepped on the gas, leaned forward and nothing happened.  There was absolutely no more speed to be found.  I crossed the line in 52:00.  I was I was tapped out, but still in control.  I was 11 seconds slower than 2007, yet I considered myself in nowhere near as good race shape.  I was very pleased with my effort.


And then I remembered the diamond.  I ran after the guy I thought might be in my category and asked him his age.  “46” he says.


Oof!!  Three spots in front me, a scant-yet-impossible-to-make-up-on-this-day-16 seconds, Paul Leonard finished and won the diamond for our category (10 year increments).  I congratulated him on his race.  He did everything right.  I feel I did as well.  He was simply a better runner on that day and proved it.


The women’s race was a fast one.  The second fastest ever in a very fine 51:01 (CR is 50:50) with second place at 51:33.  It was a pleasure to be able to watch their race develop, because the front guys were out of sight by mile two.  Ah, I remember the good ‘ol days when the front guys were never out of sight…


I grabbed my warm clothes then headed off on my cool-down, seeing Chris Jermyn running strong ahead of his nemesis Bill Horwich to win his category and claim his 2nd diamond.


Next up were Joe, then Wendell, Mike, Christina, Dave and Henry.


We showered at the YMCA, checked out the results, jumped in the vehicles and hammered back home so Joe and Dave could get to the Sens game against Toronto on time, and me to swim practice. 


Stiff and sore after the long drive home, we all agreed to go back and do better next year.


Epilogue of thoughts.


In 2007, I trained a lot.  I trained hard and I ran with fast people who pushed and pulled me every step of the way. As a result of the hard work, I had a flurry of great races and results as my reward.  In 2008, my preparation was lackluster to say the least, running on very low volume and nowhere near as fast as I should have been running.  In neither raced did I hold back or ever feel like I had another gear or could have gone faster.  


My training, or lack thereof, for the two editions of this race were diametrically opposed to each other, and yet, the difference between the two race times was only 11 seconds.  Go figure.


My thoughts on this go back to something one of my first coaches told me, and many other coaches have said, and I have said to many of my clients “if you can’t be fit, be rested.”


Seems to work for me.