“We’ll shout, ‘You can hurt for five more minutes,’ which is what he yells during our meets,” said Patrick Watson, a sophomore from South River. “That should bring a smile to his face.”
Could that happen? Berdan, 36, has won the marathon at the Baltimore Running Festival twice (2013 and 2015) and looms as a favorite Saturday. This year, for the first time, members of the Stevenson team plan to be there for support — and to turn the tables a bit.
“We’ll root for [Berdan] all during the race, then we’ll catch the finish,” said Ryan Siegel, a sophomore from Flemington, N.J. “Hopefully, he’ll be all alone out there, just him and the clock. And we’ll use his own lines against him. It should be fun.”
For his part, Berdan — in his fourth season as Stevenson’s coach — enjoys having his charges on board.
“It’s good motivation for me,” he said. “It’s a long race and it’s nice to see faces you know, to push you along. I’m sure they’ll mess with me too, saying the same stuff I tell them, like, ‘Don’t settle in [with a group], keep passing.’”
Last year, Berdan, of Owings Mills, finished fifth, having pooped out late. It was his first marathon since hip surgery the winter before. That he completed the course at all, he said, was in deference to his team.
“I knew they were watching on TV, and I think a lot of them figured I’d stopped,” he said. “Thinking about them was the reason I finished the race; I thought, ‘It’s only five minutes. You’re not going to die.’ I couldn’t tell them, back at Stevenson, that I stopped because I didn’t feel good.”
That Berdan has won the Baltimore race twice resonates with his runners.
“The fact he has been through all this goes a long way in terms of trust and respect,” said Kelly Winklbauer, a junior from Frederick and Stevenson’s top female runner.
“It makes him more legit, more believable,” said Langston Gash, 20, of Edgewood. “But he doesn’t brag about it. Coach is very nonchalant about all of this stuff. He might say, ‘I did 12 miles this morning, at a sub-six[-minute] pace, and I’m doing another 10 later on’ — but he talks about it like he just went to the store to buy groceries.”
A junior, Gash is the Mustangs’ best male runner and said Berdan’s resume helped him choose Stevenson.
“Other coaches at bigger schools didn’t have the same accolades as distance runners that he does,” Gash said. “You can major in biology anywhere, but you’re not going to have a Dave Berdan everywhere.”
None of the Mustangs have yet run a marathon, to the relief of their coach.
“Their bodies aren’t ready for it yet,” he said. “They need more miles and longer runs. I’m confident they could finish one, but I’d want them to do it to the best of their ability.”
But they’ve known all week that Berdan is gearing up for Saturday.
“He walked past me [Tuesday] downing a whole can of sardines,” Winklbauer said. “I know they are good omega-3s, but that was most disgusting.”
Two years ago, she said, the team celebrated Berdan’s victory in the Baltimore Marathon with a surprise party before practice.
“We had green balloons [the school color] and a cake that said, ‘Number 1,’ ” she said.
And if the coach wins again?
“Maybe I’ll go to Costco and get a big can of sardines,” she said.