Short Strides and Odd Thoughts: Gone Berserking

One of the staples of Mascenic track is the “challenge.”  While I try to cloak the concept in mystery, if you’ve been part or around Mascenic track and field you know the challenge means the “Berserker”.  In full disclosure, the Berserker was stolen from Belmont. John Goegel and apparently a single athlete in Brian Oliver.  Going way back, way further than I wish to agree to, I remember watching what I thought was a significant amount of the Belmont boys crew line up for the 1600, come back for the 800, suffer through the 3200, and then rip one final lap in the 4×400.

It’s safe to say at my addled, adult stage I might remember that recollection incorrectly, but I was younger then, much like Mr. Oliver, and had things right.  His coach at the time, the fabled John Goegel, has since informed me, that it was only one athlete, Brian Olvier, and he was about to embark on a senior trip to a tropical island that wouldn’t allow for any training. It challenged him to take on the longest distance events on the normal schedule.

In the interim, I’ve learned quite a lot.  According to Mr. Goegel, this was a once off. A particular situation where he had an elite athlete in need of some stimulus beyond the normal training.  I swear I remember him lining up for the 4×400, capping an epic meet for him, leading the 1600, then the 800, and absolutely dominating the 3200 in a way that simply screamed to me, a true distance coach, the most “b*d*ssery” display I had ever seen in high school sports.

So as a procurer of other coaches’ best practices, I absorbed it into my own coaching.  I reviewed all the coaching literature on the internet and in books regarding the concept of taking the proverbial aerobic “gas tank” to zero, giving the athletes the opportunity to reboot, and then focus on what it takes to be relevant at the State Championships.  History shows the concept works fairly well.

The only rule to the Berserker is that you have to get after it.  There is no option for simply getting through the events. You need to race them.  The purpose is the workout. Getting sufficient stimulus to take that next step.  Regardless of how you’re feeling the only answer is to stay on the gas pedal.  Backing off only means you’re missing the entire point.

This past Friday, seven girls (our Varsity cross country team) and the boys that made up our Varsity cross country team stepped up and accepted the challenge. The conditions were excellent, low wind, low 60s, and the appropriate amount of competition to make the efforts worth it.  And competing in only seven events on the girls side (two throws and one sprint) the ladies came within spitting distance of winning it all; compiling 110 points in the just those four events alone.  (We scored another 2.5 points in discus, losing to Belmont 113.5 to 112.5.)

In the girls 1600, we swept places 1-6, and added 8th, the long tomato red line finishing one after another.  The boys 1600 netted three PRs. In the 800, the girls outnumbered the field 7-5, with five of the top six and the first two places secured by us.  In the 3200, Mascenic (boys and girls) made up over half the field (11-20) with six athletes running season bests with six laps of racing in their legs before they even stepped to the line.  Over the span of the day, we had six of the girls, and all of the boys run at least one season best.  And in one case, we had one athlete run three season bests.

While a lot for what was being accomplished was lost on many of those watching the meet, there to see their son or daughter in their events and not really paying attention to the meet around them.  We had a handful of parents make the 90 plus minute trip, interested in seeing how their athlete would survive the 15 laps of gut churning racing.  Nerves were palpable and while expectations tend to be low, I encourage the athletes to take things one event at a time and give themselves the opportunity to do something special.

And I think that can be summed up by what took place in the final moments of the meet.  As the 3200 was finishing up, meet director Scott Clark was looking for the girls 4×400 meter teams.  Noticing there was a leg missing on one of our teams, he inquired about the whereabouts of that fourth leg.  The team, pointing down the finishing straight, told him they were on their way, 80 meters from both the finish of that race, and the start of their next one.

Having been a combined 3200, the ladies had little time between this and their last effort of the day.  All that stood between them and the end of the day’s efforts was 400 meters.  While fresh they might have won the event, but they lost by half a second to Laconia, after having made up 40 meters on the last leg.  While the Laconia team and their fans were celebrating winning the battle down the straight away, my girls were simply basking in the satisfaction of a day well done.

As teams were packing up and heading off to their buses, my squad was circling the track and athletic fields making sure to get in their cool down and flush the lactic acid of the 400 from their legs.  Over the next three days they’ll take some down time, either not running over the weekend or running easy or biking.  On Monday they’ll do a bit of a workout to test the legs and put in their last regular season effort before the Wilderness Championship and then States.  

Will this prove to be beneficial in their run up to the championships?  Will they gain fitness that will propel them forward in their races?  Will they perform better?  I really can’t say. But what I do know is, I now have eleven athletes that do not question whether they are fit and are empowered to do big things.  

And that matters.

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