SCHENECTADY — Karen Bertasso of Albany blends her career as an orthopedic Physician Assistant at St. Peter’s with a marathon career that commands the time for 70-80 miles of training per week.
“It can be tough in the OR,” she said. “You’re operating on a lot of joint patients, which means their leg is generally as big as my whole body, so you’re on your feet and it’s physically exhausting all day.”
On Oct. 13, Bertasso was the one with the big legs.
She ran an even mile pace well under 6:20 for 26.1 miles of the Hartford Marathon, and the reward was a 2:43:46, which was a personal record through Bertasso’s 20 marathons. More importantly, she was comfortably under the 2:45 standard to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials.
Since then, she has “indulged” herself by taking a break from training, but still should be one of the top women in Sunday’s MVP Healthcare Stockade-athon 15k, a race she last ran in 2015. No matter what happens on Sunday, she already has her ultimate goal in the bank, and looks forward to the 2020 Olympic Trials to be held Feb. 29 in Atlanta.
Her previous best was a 2:45:46, also at Hartford, in 2014.
“I was actually happy, because I had a pretty good cushion at 24, and unless something drastic happened, like pulling a hamstring or something, I was good,” she said. “I felt good at the finish, and it was very emotional, especially because I had a lot of family and friends at the finish.”
The 34-year-old Scotia native played soccer and ran track at Union College while pursuing a degree in neuroscience on her way to a career as an orthopedic PA.
She has run well at a variety of distances, including a 56:11 at the 2015 Stockade-athon that was good for fourth place and would’ve won last year’s race.
Bertasso runs with the Willow Street Athletic Club and will be trying to help them get some team prize money at Sunday’s race, but she won’t be approaching the Stockade-athon as a target race by any means.
“I’m really not planning on racing it,” she said. “I really indulged after Hartford with no workouts. I needed a break. We’ll see what my legs have in them. I don’t want to do anything to hurt myself.
“I haven’t run it a lot because I usually have been in marathon training, and it’s hard to run that course with the hills.”
The Stockade-athon will start from Veterans Park adjacent to the MVP headquarters on State Street at 8:30 a.m. The course heads through the Stockade and moves toward Central Park via Nott Street before turning around for the finish downhill on Franklin Street at City Hall.
“The last 5k is definitely where you can really run fast on that course, so if you don’t kill yourself in the first half, you can still run a good time,” Bertasso said. “But it is one of the tougher 15k’s because of the hills.”
At Hartford, Bertasso faced some rolling hills early and a long out-and-back along the Connecticut River on a cool, lightly rainy day, conditions that suited her.
She ran with the eventual women’s winner, Rachel Schilkowsky of Providence, R.I., for nine miles before Schilkowsky pulled away. Bertasso maintained her pace and was 12th overall out of 1,560 finishers, 2:33 behind Schilkowsky.
“I knew it was there, I just needed the day to come together,” Bertasso said. “I stayed on my pace pretty much the whole way. I was comfortable and confident and even picked it up a little bit around 18 or 19 miles.”
Her marathon experience includes a 2:49:29 at Berlin in 2017 as the fourth American and 33rd female finisher, and a 2:48:14 as the first American at the 2015 London Marathon. She also suffered a hypothermia-induced “disaster” in heavy rain and wind at Boston this spring.
So that 2:45 has remained tantalizingly close.
She credited coaching from three-time Olympian Jen Rhines, who started working with Bertasso last December, for helping her get over the hump at Hartford.
“I think it’s trying to change things up so you don’t go stale, like when I’m doing my long runs, trying marathon pace at the end of things,” Bertasso said. “I definitely think that helped at the end of Hartford.”
Rhines wants Bertasso, who has never been in a 90-100 mile schedule, to dabble in longer mileage early next year to see if there’s some race benefit to that, while trying to manage the potential for injury.
Bertasso believes she can take some more time off her marathon PR. She’s also trying to save some time off from work to devote to Atlanta in 2020.
“Generally, I can incorporate everything; you just keep chugging along,” she said with a laugh.