by Karen Bertasso-Hughes
At the end of 2022, I ran a marathon PR of 2:41:27 at age 38 at the California International Marathon (CIM), which was also the 2022 the National Marathon Championship. After the race I took a moment to reflect on my training, buildup ,and support system. While I didn’t know exactly what I wanted moving forward, I knew something needed to change. Some of these feelings were brought on by the pandemic, which had resulted in me training alone most of the time.
I realized that training and putting in high mileage, primarily alone, during long dark winters and hot summers is something that is not sustainable. If I was going to pursue even bigger goals, it was evident I needed a change that would keep me motivated more than ever, but at the same time allow me to continue to balance my work, training, sleep, family, and friends. I decided that I needed to step away from my old routines and running habits. I needed something new, reinvigorating and fulfilling.
To be honest, I had NO IDEA what that change would be. I thought about other teams, both locally and outside of NY but realized that was not feasible. I talked this over with my friend Tricia Longo, and we committed to each other that we can train and go to races together and be a source of motivation. Tricia’s husband, John, recently started running with a group of younger guys who had created Run Club Track Club. We got thinking, if there are younger guys who are interested and committed to running, training, and racing together, there must be other talented younger women runners in the area too.
At the same time, it hit us that we could do this too. I LOVED Willow Street because I was motivated by the older women competing at National Championships and running well as masters’ runners. The inspiring older women racing for Willow Street were what had drawn me to the team in the first place. Sadly though, the last couple years brought new realities and I realized I was now becoming that older women. The tables had turned and now I wanted to be that example Emily Bryans and other older team members were for me back when I was in my 20s. I wanted to give the younger talented runners looking to find a team and give them a platform for their own goals something that I had been fortunate enough to have gotten as a member of Willow Street, and also as a member of the ARE team and Runner’s Roost before that. The fact this area has had a strong presence of different USATF teams as well as a larger supportive network, HMRRC, has allowed me to have a strong network of running friends.
I wanted to keep the competitive post collegiate road racing on the women’s side alive and felt this was important. I wanted to bring together talented young women and support their goals and keep them in love with running and competition the way I have always been. After a lot of deep thinking, reflecting and brain storming, we knew what we had to do, and the process unfolded fast.
At first, we thought we could maybe create a brand-new team. There were a lot of unknowns, and we initially decided to take things one step at a time. However, as usually happens when you have motivated women working on putting together a plan, everything seemed to come together all at once. A few nights later I was brainstorming team names and came up with CREW, Capital Region Elite Women. This name seemed to pair well with the idea of racing in a trendy Tracksmith singlet, which is something else I was envisioning. Our friend Meg, has an artistic side and after explaining Nipper is not only Tricia’s dog (as cute as he is), but the big dog on top of the building in downtown Albany, she created a logo of him running through the air. I built a website overnight, Tricia applied for a USATF club and we established a roster of 4 women. Things were HAPPENING! We then reached out to several women who not only are extremely talented, but more importantly loved training and competing while balancing life and who we could see striving and thriving in the environment we wanted to create. The team we’ve built thus far is a group of incredible ladies all who inspire me to train hard and stay motivated. Now instead of looking up to the older women, the time has come where I’ve flipped a switch. I’m now looking to the younger women to reinvigorate me and only hope I can be as motivating back as I was when younger by the Willow Street ladies.
Lauren Fleshman’s new book, Good for a Girl, highlights that there is an alarming number of women who run their fastest in their teens, and/or quit running after college or during college The goal of the CREW Racing team is to be an option for young women to keep running after college, supported by role models of ladies continuing to run well as they age, stay healthy, and be involved in a sport that is lifelong and has such a wonderful community.
Jannelle Al-Mustafa: A Burnt Hills native, Janelle recently moved back from Austin, TX and has a treadmill mental toughness that will put us all to shame.
Meg Champagne: Grew up in Plattsburgh and ran at UNH before landing a job in the Capital Region. Meg will be heading back to graduate school (fingers crossed!) this year while continuing to run impressive times
Tricia Longo: A Shenendehowa native and Syracuse University grad, Tricia keeps lowering her PR’s from the mile through the marathon over the years.
Lizzie Predmore: A Shenendehowa and Boston College standout, Lizzie recently got her NP and has started recently racing again busting out an impressive 5k last fall.
Abbi Raghubar: A Bethlehem native and Siena grad, Abbi had a successful full year on the roads in 2022 with her marathon debut and second place finish at Mohawk Hudson Half.
Cara Udvadia: A Mohonasen native and UAlbany standout, Cara is already known as a competitive road runner in the area having success from the 5k all the way up through the marathon.
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