September 2017 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Family: Parents, Pete & Kathy; sister, Nicole; brothers, Brian and Kevin; dog, Mia; new cat, Ferra
Occupation: Physician Assistant in Orthopedic Surgery, St. Peter’s Hospital, Albany
Primary Sport: Running
Secondary Sport: Kayaking, Swimming… anything in the water!
Running Down a Dream
By Christine Bishop
“If you can dream it, you can do it,” said Walt Disney, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. In reality it takes commitment, hard work and sacrifice, and if anyone knows that, it is Karen Bertasso, a magical runner with a big dream: to race in the United States Olympic Marathon Trials. The possibility for this arose at the NU Hartford Marathon on October 11, 2014, when she came in third in a PR of 2:45:45, just 45 seconds short of the necessary Olympic time.
The next year she focused on qualifying. So in 2015 she began to train seriously for the London Marathon, which is an incredible spectacle. It is the largest fundraising event on the planet and is almost at the $1 billion mark. Many charities and runners compete to get into the Guinness Book of World Records giving the race a carnival atmosphere with thousands of runners in zany costumes. That year a woman set the world record for the fastest marathon in high heels. Karen was placed with the sub-elites and shared running space with Paula Radcliffe who in 2002 at the Chicago Marathon set the women’s world record with a sizzling time of 2:17:18 that has yet to be bested.
Seeing the Ethiopians and Kenyans warm up further energized her. Her sister, Nicole, lives in London so it became a family affair with her mother and father flying in. She saw them all wave at her several times as her sister is a pro at navigating the crowded streets of London. The excitement of the event carried her too fast down the roads as she clocked several below 6-minute miles. It had rained the night before and there were puddles everywhere, which helped to contribute to a dynamite blister on her foot. Still, Karen finished as the first American and 37th overall in a World Major Marathon event in a time of 2:48.
After London, Karen decided she would go back to Hartford that October 2015 to achieve her Olympic Trials Qualifier. She felt she was in the best shape of her life that summer and ran personal bests in the 5K and half marathon in August. However, a knee injury prevented her from running Hartford. She came back in December after a condensed training block to finish short at California International Marathon and then again six weeks later in Houston, running 2:46 in both marathons.
She realized she needed a break so she went on a cruise with the Albany Running Exchange club members. After returning, she slowly got back into her running routine and decided that 2016 was about recovery since there was no reason to run high mileage. When 2017 rolled around she started to get ready again as the 2020 Olympic Trials window would open on September 1.
Karen came to running through soccer and played competitively through high school at Scotia-Glenville. She grew up in Scotia and also attended Union College where she continued to play soccer, but also joined the indoor and outdoor track teams. In graduate school at Boston University School of Medicine she met runners who did marathons and half marathons. When she started running with them, she increased her distance substantially. Her first marathon was the Breast Cancer Marathon in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2008, in honor of her aunt who had died of the disease. Her only goals in her first marathon were to finish and fundraise. She achieved both in three hours and 57 minutes!
Shortly after, she joined the Albany Running Exchange and attended numerous events where she made many new running friends. Several months later she joined the Hudson-Mohawk Road Runners Club. She eventually qualified for the Boston Marathon during her second marathon in 2008 and ran 3:27. From there she progressed to a 3:19, 3:13, 3:12, 3:08, 3:07, 2:59, 2:50, and eventually to a 2:45 marathon. She co-captains the women’s section of the Willow Street Athletic Club, and has shared many happy times with them, racing and socializing. She sees women in all age categories who are great role models, while balancing jobs, family life and running. Certain members like Emily Bryans of Delanson are great resources who help to advise her. Also, there is always someone to run with from both the men’s and women’s teams.
Karen’s favorite distances are the half-marathon and marathon. As she noted, “You can’t do that many marathons in a short time, unlike the half where you can recover quickly.” Karen has also done ultras. She did the JFK 50 Miler in 2009 and enjoyed it even though she couldn’t walk down stairs for a week. She feels she will delve into ultras again when marathons are no longer her focus.
Other highlights include three-time winner of Adirondack Distance Run in Lake George, two-time champion at Bridge of Flowers 10K in Shelburne Falls, Mass., and two-time champion at Troy Turkey Trot 10K. Her PRs include 5K in 17:29, 5M in 28:58, 10K in 36:18, half in 1:17:45, and marathon in 2:45:45.
Karen works as a physician assistant in orthopedics at St. Peter’s Hospital. She spends most days in the operating room, which can be pretty exhausting. Most days she runs before and after work; once she has her daily latte she is good to go. Her coworkers understand her prerace ritual of trying to avoid standing in the operating room the day before a big race, and do other work in the hospital to try to rest her legs as much as possible.
When she’s not running, Karen enjoys spending time on the lake where her parents live, either kayaking, boating or swimming with her family and her dog. Spare time activities include dining out and exploring all ice cream and brunch options in the area with her friends.
Recently Karen began to coach. She has several clients who run the gamut from beginners to Boston Marathon qualifier hopefuls. She felt a need because she has witnessed others get counterproductive, if not damaging, advice coupled with inaccurate information. Her running experience, medical background and emphasis on healthy cardiovascular and physiological workouts are critical to her role. Her training programs are called “Kickasso with Bertasso.”
Memorable races for her this year were the CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge in Albany and the Mastodon Challenge 15K in Cohoes. On May 18, the Workforce Team Challenge race began with temperatures above 90 degrees, later to be followed by gusting winds, lightning then torrential rain. The extreme weather threw out all her expectations for the race taking away any ideas of PRs. She thought that she would just have to suffer along with everyone else and run for the fun of it. Well, lo and behold, she did her best time ever for the race and won the women’s title for the second time. She was shocked. She had been in Arizona the month before and thought that maybe that helped her.
As for the Mastodon Challenge 15K on May 6, which is infamous for its wicked and numerous hills, she went into it with the attitude that this is so crazy, just run with no pressure, and enjoy. Again, she loved running up and down those mountain like hills and most amazingly set the women’s course record.
To achieve her Olympic dream, she is setting up her running program to ensure that she does not get involved in a crazy tight schedule of races to qualify again. The window opens on September 1, and on September 24, she will run the Berlin Marathon that’s well known for its fast times and usually pleasant autumn weather.
In August, she went to Colorado to train in high altitudes for strength. Karen previously lived in Colorado and loves running in the Fort Collins area, which is a maze of bike paths that connect one breathtaking park to another, sometimes going underneath roads so that people exercising never have to go on a main road. Animals also use these paths and one day she saw a bobcat. Every day she ran miles with friends and sometimes doubles. One day she did a workout in Breckenridge, a town in the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 9,600 feet. The training seems to have paid off since when she returned she did the 18.12 Challenge – an 18.12-mile race on August 23 in Watertown that ends on the historic 1812 Battlefield in Sackets Harbor – in a course record time of 1:53.
We end, wishing her fulfillment in her dream and citing a relevant quote by Langston Hughes, “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-wing bird that cannot fly.” Berlin, here she comes!
Christine Bishop (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Schenectady is a retired media specialist who loves running, photography and bird watching.