NOVA Featured Runner: Paul Burger

By | November 20, 2017

From Coach Jerry: Paul had a truly exceptional fall, and while I would not encourage his teammates to run 4 marathons in 3 months, it worked out great for him. If anything, Paul looked stronger as the season went on, and I was really impressed with how quickly he recovered after each race. But what most impressed me was how selfless Paul was in marathon 4, which was MCM, where he ran side by side with a teammate for most of the race and helped her run a huge PR. That team orientation makes Paul a truly valued member of NOVA, and I’m looking forward to seeing more PRs from him in the future.

1) What are your PRs (5k, 10K, any others?)
5K: 19:32 10K: 40:37 10 mile: 1:06 Half marathon: 1:26 Full marathon: 3:08

2) What were your goal race(s) for this year? What thoughts do you have on your performances at your four marathons this fall?
So I didn’t start out the year planning to run five marathons (or do four in three months). There was only one race, the Air Force Marathon, I was sure I’d do. This is a race I’d run several times before and was to be my BQ race. The other four marathons just sort of…happened…through a combination of proximity to home, peer pressure and sheer curiosity about whether I could pull it off.

When telling people of my plans the most positive response I received was “Are you sure you want to do that?” Most people, including my father (who has run 30+ marathons starting in his 40s), told me “You can’t do that”. The bottom line is that I enjoy racing. To me a marathon is the reward for months of training. A solo, 20-mile training run is way harder for me than a marathon with crowds, fellow competitors and water stops to break up the monotony. A bunch of marathons just sounded fun.

I decided that besides running a BQ at Air Force I needed two more goals: 1.) to not get injured and 2.) to PR at least one race. Because I wanted the races to be quality efforts I needed some help. Enter Erin, my enabler, who, after politely telling me I was crazy (or words to that effect), worked with me and created an awesome training plan to support my effort. She not only helped get me a BQ and kept me injury-free but also two PRs in back-to-back races.

3) What do you consider your best race performance to date?
Despite taking me more than twice as long as my next slowest marathon Pike’s Peak was my best race even if it wasn’t my best performance. Every race is a learning experience and I think some of the best lessons come when things don’t go well. And Pike’s did not go well. Although I’d done a lot of hill work all summer the amount of energy I expended on the 13-mile ascent with its 7,800 feet of vertical gain (and thin air) left me completely shelled only 2 miles into the descent. I’d pushed so hard for the summit, enjoying the amazing views along the way, that I neglected to take in adequate nutrition. With 11 miles still to go there was nothing to do but settle into a survival pace and get down the mountain.
I missed my finish goal by over 2 hours and suffered more physically and mentally than in any other race but I don’t regret the experience. The race not only taught me (okay, reminded me) of the importance of taking care of one’s body during a race but also that I’m capable of pushing way, way beyond what I thought I had in me.

4) How and when did you find NOVA, and what do you like best about the team?
I found NOVA late last summer when I was doing my own workouts at TC Williams. Someone ran over and said “Coach Jerry says you should join us”. I now have no recollection who it was but I’m very grateful to her and Jerry for the invitation. The energy and motivation, the support, the camaraderie, the lack of egos…there are so many reasons I love being part of the team. The team has some incredibly talented runners and there’s always someone to whom you can turn for advice. And no matter your ability or goals there are always words of encouragement or congratulations. Joining the team has done more for my running than anything I’ve done in the last 10 years.

5) What’s the best piece of coaching advice you’ve ever received?
“Embrace the suck”. This isn’t exactly coaching advice…I think I first heard it on a deployment…but I find myself reflecting on it during almost every race. Because almost every race has a little bit of “suck” no matter how well it’s going. The last 10K of a marathon, the last 5K of a half, 90% of a 5K all feel pretty awful if I’m doing them right. But during those painful miles I reflect on the fact that I’m still able to race, to push my body to do things most of my peers can’t make theirs do anymore and I try to feel grateful for that fact.

6) What non-running fitness related (or other) activities do you enjoy?
I lift weights 3-4 days a week and commute to work via bike whenever it’s not raining or snowing. I’ve done CrossFit but found the atmosphere a bit competitive which would, I feared, cause me to injure myself. I’ve been a downhill skier since birth but don’t get to do that very often anymore. I’d like to do triathlons someday once I fix my terrible swim form.