Now that she’s on the right side of 2:45, the qualifying standard for the Olympic Marathon trials this February in Atlanta, Karen Bertasso ’06 is about to try sometime new: take time off work to focus on running.
It’s a new concept for one of the nation’s top marathoners, who until now has had to balance her 80 mile-per-week training around her work life as an orthopedic physician’s assistant, a job that requires long shifts on her feet.
Through two graduate programs and two hospital jobs, time to train has been scarce. When she took her current job at the VA Hospital in Albany, it was with the understanding that she would be taking time off this fall and winter to train for the trials. And to get married.
Success came gradually for Bertasso. In 2008 she ran a marathon in Jacksonville, Fla. in 3:57, a respectable first marathon time but perhaps not much to suggest what was to come. In five years, when she was done with graduate school, she had hired a coach, joined an elite regional team – Willow Street Athletic Club – broke three hours and set her sights on the Olympic trials.
She ran four sub 2:49 marathons before breaking the barrier with a second-place finish at the Eversource Hartford. (Conn.) Marathon last fall. Though her racing resume is filled with top finishes at more than 20 marathons, she has an unusual range with multiple championships at the 5K distance.
She plans to do altitude training in January either in Colorado or New Mexico, and to find a place to acclimate for a possible warm day in Atlanta. Bertasso is coached by three-time Olympian Jen Rhines.
Women’s marathoning is more competitive than ever, as evidenced by more than 340 qualified for the Olympic trials by late summer. Bertasso attributes her own rise in part to social media. “When you can see what other people are doing, you realize what you are capable of,” she said. “It’s really made a huge difference for me.”
Her work in orthopedics gives her an appreciation for the limits of the human body. “I’m mindful of what’s going on and I see the repercussions of someone pushing through an injury,” she said. “So, I’m a little more cautious and I back off.”
At Union, Bertasso was a busy neuroscience major who split her athletics between soccer in the fall and indoor and outdoor track in winter and spring. Though trained as a soccer player from an early age, her success in track – she was on Union’s record-setting 4 x 800 relay – convinced her to pursue the next levels in running.
“The track kids were always nice, and [Coach Dave] Riggi was really laid back,” she recalled. “I really enjoyed the environment and I realized running is a lifetime thing I can do after college.”