Dave Berdan was the Baltimore Marathon Champ in 2015 and 2013 and when Under Armour was still recruiting International competitors in 2011 he finished tenth in 2:21. I should also mention that ALL performances were completed with a torn labrum above his femur as it enters the hip socket. Thanks to our friends Dr. Sedgley and Dr. Kenneth Tepper at Medstar, Dave is on the mend, but not running much these days.
After several years as a teacher in the city and then at Garrison Forrest School, Dave landed his dream job as a college head coach at Stevenson University. He is currently in the midst of building a nationally recognized cross country and track program and was kind enough to sit down with me in the throes of recruiting, coaching and winter weather school cancellations.
Dave is a special guy. He is fast clearly. He is also very smart. He studied to be a wildlife biologist and is now constantly trying to get better as a coach. It is evident that he never relaxes in terms of his learning. He gobbles up information about coaching methods and several of his responses referred to individualism. He coaches every kid differently, based on their running background, injury history and mental maturity. When I asked Dave questions about his own running regimen, he replied that just because certain habits work for him, it should not be assumed that they will work for everyone.
Let’s not even talk about toughness. When I started Charm City Run as a former collegiate football and lacrosse player and finisher of multiple marathons, I thought I knew a little about toughness. Sure contact sports display the obvious signs of toughness, broken bones, gruesome ligament injuries and the constant challenges of playing in pain. However when I worked my first finish line at a XC meet, I saw for the first time 15 through 18 year olds vomiting and passing out. I felt bad for them. I admired them and my perspective changed. Runners in general and the competitive ones give all they have to give until they cross the finish line and I mean ALL. I am not advocating an ESPN special to determine the world’s toughest athlete, just do not be fooled by the size, friendly nature and soft-spoken characteristics of the runner. He or she is very tough.
In 2015, Dave had to take off 3 days after each time he ran so he would do ridiculous workouts knowing that he had a long rest period ahead. These workouts would include multiple repetitions of 3-4 mile loops at marathon pace and generally last 2-2.5 hours. The most running he could do in between tough workouts was a 20-30 minute easy run.
When asked about nutrition, his response was that he was still figuring it out. On these tough workout days, he had nothing is his gut, just some coffee and water. Sometimes the coffee was spiked with a little coconut oil. On marathon day, he drank an Ensure at 2AM and that was it pre-race. Dave seemed almost enthralled with nutrition like it was a puzzle that he was continually learning about. Carbs are tough to figure out because what the body does not need is stored as fat. If he ate too many he would bonk in his workouts but he found that when he did not eat anything he had more energy (To be clear Dave is not suggesting his regimen for other runners).
During the race he would take a mouth full of Gatorade at every water stop. He prefers the paper to the plastic cups so you can squeeze the top together and drink without giving yourself a bath. As a younger man, Dave ran hard and ate what he wanted. Now he is paying a little more attention especially as it relates to carbs. I got the feeling that his workouts are far more fine-tuned than his meal plan.
Dave is a strong advocate for cross-training and the form it takes depends on the athlete. For him, with his hip injury, strengthening gluts and hips was the most important. For his athletes that are working up to more mileage, Dave favors swimming and biking. He wants his athletes working hard but not always running if their bodies are not ready to handle it.
On the subject of watches and keeping track in general, Dave thinks a good mix is important. On easy days do not run with a GPS watch. Let your body tell you how hard to go. It is the same with races. Dave wants his athletes to know what it feels like to run at different effort levels. GPS watches can be a great tool for workouts but should not be used all the time.
He views the weekly mileage count as a disservice to athletes as well. Shouldn’t we be keeping track of how we did on our workouts and how to improve, vs. a number to attain over a week? Dave knows the weekly total of his runners’ workouts but that is not something he shares with the athletes. If they want to add it all up, so be it.
When asked about his favorite trails, Dave lights up. He grew up in the Poconos and wanted to be a wildlife biologist. Dave likes to be in the wild. His favorites are Soldier’s Delight and the Irvine Nature Center. His teams run at both places and he takes his kids hiking at Irvine. Irvine, a real community resource, is about to complete a major expansion opening 10 miles of trails in total in the near future. At Soldier’s Delight, Dave loves that you can experience 3 different ecosystems in one run.
Dave is an elite runner, he is humble and he cares. If any of my kids had the chops I would love to entrust them in Dave’s care. I think any parent would want a great dad looking over their kids. I got to know Dave because I asked him to volunteer at the Marathon Kids final mile. He signed a few hundred water bottles in an hour and engaged every Marathon Kid that approached him. Dave takes his responsibility to the community seriously and could not thank me enough for the opportunity.
I thank him for another hour of his time in his busy recruiting season. Now if I can only get up at 2AM and drink that Ensure. I think that may be the ticket to Boston.
About the Author: Josh Levinson
Josh and his wife Kara founded Charm City Run 14 years ago. To learn more about their story, please click here.