Interview with Kari Anne Bertrand
by Sarah Wassner

Above and Below: Kari Anne Bertrand during the 24th mile of the 2003 ING New York City Marathon.
(Photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Kari Anne Bertrand
(Better photo coming as soon as we get one!)

Dr. Kari Anne Bertrand may be coming all the way from California for this year's ING New York City Marathon, but that doesn't mean she's a stranger to the streets of Manhattan. In 2000 — while completing her medical school residency at Bellevue Hospital Center — she nabbed NYRR Runner of the Year honors for 20-29 year olds. Contributing to this honor was a 2:47:45 finish in that year's NYC Marathon — her debut performance at 26.2 miles.

Still running strong at 32, Bertrand has set her sights on eclipsing the 2:48 mark again. After finishing in a heartbreaking 2:50:25 at Grandma's Marathon in June, Bertrand is returning to the scene of her many past successes in the hopes of attaining an Olympic Trials qualifier. A practicing OBGYN, Bertrand works and lives in Gilroy, California, with her husband, Andrew Matthews, plus their two dogs and three cats.

Bertrand recently discussed her career and plans for the race with in between attending to two of her patients, both of whom happened to be in labor. You were an All-American middle distance runner at Georgetown in the early 90s and later raced the 1,500 in the '96 Olympic Trials as part of the [now defunct] Reebok Enclave. When did you make the switch to long distance? What factors influenced this decision?
Kari Anne Bertrand:
Once I started my residency, I really didn't have the time any more. It gets a lot harder to train for middle distance — you have to get to be able to get to a track and you need for access to coaching. At least for marathoning, you schedule your own runs and you run longer.

FW: Are you looking forward to returning to New York, a place where you enjoyed so much success on the roads?
Yes, I'm so excited. I can't wait. After I failed to qualify for the [Olympic Trials] at Grandma's Marathon in June, I was thinking about where would be best race to go try it again, and I couldn't think of a more perfect place than New York. I feel like I'll be running in my own backyard.

FW: So, the New York City Marathon will be somewhat of a homecoming for you. Are you planning on seeing your family and friends along the course?
Yes. My family is going to drive down from Syracuse, New York, and lot of my residency friends are still in New York City. Also, my husband will be on First Avenue, where we used to live, and I think he'll stand in the same place he did in 2000 and give me Gatorade there, like he did the last time.

FW: You're now living and working in Gilroy, California. Did your job lead you there or was it another factor?
It was mostly work. My husband grew up in California and had been moving east, east, east and he had always wanted to go back west eventually. So when we were finishing up our residencies in New York (her husband, Andrew Matthews, is a plastic surgeon), we decided that we'd concentrate on looking for jobs out here and both found one in Gilroy. In fact, we share an office — mostly out of convenience sake, although you'd be surprised how much crossover there is between specialties! Childbirth certainly doesn't leave our bodies intact, and I guess he's there to pick up the pieces afterwards.

FW: How was the adjustment to living on the West Coast?
Initially, I was definitely homesick and missed having people around to run with. But, now that we've bought a house, established some friends and some running partners, it's gotten easier. Plus, it's really beautiful here — we are about an hour and 15 minutes outside of San Francisco and about 17 miles inland from the coast — so that made it easier to get used to.

FW: What's your affiliation with the Reebok Aggies, the Northern California-based distance running club?
I joined the club after being encouraged by an Aggie member I met at local road race. But since then, I rarely see them other than at road races. My work schedule really stands in the way of me being able to meet with them regularly, but I'm hoping in the future we can meet up for some long runs. As of right now I'm mostly self-trained.

FW: Undoubtedly, your job is extremely demanding. When do you have time to squeeze in your training?
I try to get my run in as early as possible. I'm usually up around 5:30 a.m. and out the door by 5:45. I'm used to training at early hours from the days as a resident when I had to be at work by 6:00 a.m.! I also try to incorporate some kind of cross training every evening for about 30 minutes.

FW: How many miles are you doing per week? Do you take any days off?
My maximum mileage per week has hit between 90-95. I rarely take days off, unless work completely limits me from running. Running is the thing that gets me through each day. It's really the only time that I have a few moments to myself to clear my head.

FW: You've attempted the Olympic Trials 'B' standard (sub-2:48) twice already this year — in Las Vegas in February, and in Grandma's Marathon this past June. What happened in both of those races?
First, I chose Las Vegas as a race where I could go for the 'B' standard. I heard the course was mostly downhill and the weather was usually agreeable. But that day, the headwinds were clocking 35-40 mph. I bowed out at mile 15 because I felt like I was running into a brick wall. It was pretty miserable — I think that was their lowest finisher turnout ever for the race. Then, I was going to run the Washington, D.C. marathon, which was canceled, so I decided to enter Grandma's because we have friends in Minnesota and I heard it was a beautiful course.

Prior to Grandma's, I had run a couple of road races which indicated that I should be able to get the 'B' standard, so I thought I had it in me, but it just didn't happen (she finished in 2:50:25). I missed the standard by only two minutes, which was extremely frustrating!

FW: Have you altered your training since in order to shave off those extra minutes?
Yes, I added a few more long runs and some longer tempos. Because I'm training by myself and need to keep disciplined, I've done a couple of half marathons on the treadmill at race pace, that way I'm forced to stick with [the pace].

FW: Do you think you are in just-as-good (or even better) shape now as you were in 2000 when you ran 2:47:45 in NYC? Have you made any major adjustments in your training or lifestyle since that time?
I think I'm in better shape. The race in 2000 was my first marathon ever, and I had no expectations — I just ran as fast as I could. I learned a lot from that race because if you run as fast as you can in a marathon, the last six miles are probably the most painful thing you can experience! I have a better core base now than I did before 2000. Then, I had only done one long run, whereas now, I've done at least a half a dozen. Also, running has just become more important to me now in terms of balance. Back then, I still felt like I was running for someone else and now I'm just running because I truly enjoy it.

FW: You are quite familiar with the New York City course. What are you looking forward to? Are there any parts that you are uneasy about?
I was just thinking about that today when I was running. Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn is pretty amazing because the crowds are incredible and running up First Avenue, because that's where I used to live and the crowd there just carries you. And of course, there's nothing like running through Central Park.

I'm a little nervous about the Bronx — it's a little lonely up there and that's where it really starts to hurt. You're still running away from the finish at that point.

FW: What's your race plan?
Basically, I'm going to follow Sara Wells (the 'B' standard pacer) until she drops out at mile 16 and just go from there. I think we're lucky that Dave Monti has been so great about getting a group of women trying to meet the 'B' standard and [providing] a pacer. I'm hoping that works out in my favor, because I'm not very good in holding back early, so I'm just going to follow. I think if I run smart and stay behind Sara, I'll finish somewhere between 2:44 and 2:46.

FW: This year's professional women's field promises to be one of the strongest ever. Does toeing the line with such greats as Joyce Chepchumba, Margaret Okayo and Marla Runyan intimidate you at all?
I'm very excited to be on the line with elites, but I think it's a totally different race for them and myself. I'm just very happy to be going back to New York City and I just want to run under 2:48.

FW: What do you consider to be your favorite race of your career?
Probably the Olympic Trials in 1996. That was pretty amazing experience, which is why I want to make it again so badly in the marathon. Also, I went on a trip to Europe in 1994 as part of a developmental program for middle-distance women from the US We raced in Finland, Switzerland and Austria. It was fun to taste what it was like to be considered a "top" athlete!

FW: What else (besides running, of course) do you do for fun?
We have a lot of animals at the house — two dogs and three cats — and we take them to the beach, or we'll go out to dinner with friends.

FW: Seeing that you are around babies all the time, are you planning to have one of your own in the near future?
Well, I'd like to do this marathon, hopefully make it to the Trials, and then see what happens.

(Interview conducted October 22, 2003, posted October 28, 2003)

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