Dentist sinks teeth into Marathon - 76-year-old doc is game for competition

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With the New York City Marathon fast approaching, the runners are tapering down their training mileage, and are getting into proper condition to complete their 26 mile 375 yard journey.

Dr. Sherwin Berger, a dentist from Bensonhurst who now lives in Midwood, falls into this category.

And, at 76 years of age, he happens to be the oldest male runner in the field from this borough.

Berger, a late bloomer in marathons, will be competing in his 28th such event. His first one came in 1980 at the age of 48, where he clocked in at 4:21. His personal best time came when he covered the grind with a recording of 3:40 back in 1987 at the age of 55.

He’s run in the marathon every year with two exceptions: in 1981 when he took his specialty to Israel and in 2006 when he tore a Miniskis in his left knee, which needed surgery to repair.

One marathon a year is enough for him, for he finds training difficult.

“My objective is to finish without a time goal, for my days of setting personal best times are over,” said Berger. “My strategy is to start out slowly, find my pace, and try to stick with it.”

Berger runs between an 11-minute and 12-minute mile, and is shooting for a 5:30 finish this year.

“A lot depends on the weather, for I cannot run in the heat,” said Berger.

During the race, he expects to see his family at the 23 mile mark, at which point he will have almost three miles left to the finish. He will see his family again on the West Side.

During the race his goal will also be short term ones and not think about the finish line. He wants to be able to get to each place in good health and to be able to pace himself.

Entering the marathon, he wears a T-shirt that says “Dentist,” leading to cheers from bystanders of “Go dentist!”

A former graduate from Lincoln High School here in Manhattan Beach, Berger got into running in 1977 after he saw a marathon on television.

“I said to my wife. ‘I wonder what this is about. and I couldn’t run around the block without stopping,” he recalled. “I was out of breath half way around the block. I was 45. Now I’m 76. Dentistry keeps me going. I’ll never retire.”

Without any coaching, he entered his first marathon in 1980 and clocked in at 4:21. He didn’t know if he would finish and how to pace himself in running what he termed “an incredible distance.” He also competes in races at various distances to keep in shape and won some age group awards.

In preparing for a marathon, Berger runs the required nine races as conducted by the New York Road Runners Club, that also conducts the NYC Marathon, runs up to 35 miles a week starting in July, and does long runs of 18 miles either on Fridays or Sundays. He trains a lot in Central Park.. Occasionally he would go south along Ocean Parkway from his home in Midwood to Coney Island and run on the boardwalk toward Seagate and then back home.

“A day prior to the race I’ll rest and hydrate as much as I can,” he said. “I usually have an afternoon lunch of pasta and in the evening I would eat half a bagel, and drink mostly water.”

Running keeps Berger young because he competes with people younger than himself, thus giving him a different feeling about life in general.

“Just because I get older doesn’t mean I have to slow down,” said Berger, who has many hobbies, including photography.

When he went to Abraham Lincoln High School years ago, he finished third in the city in the Public Schools Athletic League fencing championships, the only interscholastic sport that he indulged in. He went on to Brooklyn College, where he was on its fencing team. He went into the service after his junior year, came back to Brooklyn College as a senior, and finally wound up his education at New York University’s Dental School in 1960. While in the service he helped start a fencing team.

Berger would like to run a marathon with one of his six grandchildren if he can get them to race. As he plans to keep running, there’s always next year.

“One of my goals is to run the New York Marathon when I’m 80,” he said.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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