It’s mile 11 in the 1985 Marine Corps Marathon.
Tom Bernard notices the pace of the lead pack slow down. He’s trained for a specific speed and knows this is his chance to gain the lead.
It’s mile 12. Bernard and the previous year’s winner, Brad Ingram, leave the lead pack and stay shoulder to shoulder for the next 12 miles.
“At that point, it became a very exciting race,” Bernard said. “His presence helped me keep pace. I was silently urging him to stay there. I didn’t think of him as a competitor but just as a companion.”
By mile 24, Bernard got nervous that Ingram was STILL right there with him.
But not for long. Ingram soon fell back, Bernard surged forward and by mile 25, he knew no one could catch him.
The crowds became thick as he neared the finish line. Bernard climbed the last hill and circled around the Iwo Jima Memorial before arriving at the finish line at two hours, 19 minutes and 16 seconds, breaking through finish line tape held by two Marine Corps generals.
“I was wrapped in the Coast Guard flag and treated like a celebrity and was even assigned a Marine guard to escort me,” said Bernard. “It was a wonderful feeling and to get reunited with my wife and two kids and to see all of my friends from work show up was really something.”
It was really something not just because he had won the Marine Corps marathon, but because of the journey it took him to get there – from lazy, smoker on the couch to full on marathon addict and believer in physical therapy to keep him moving.
From Sedentary to Active
Born in New Jersey, Bernard lived in New England and Florida before earning a nomination to the Coast Guard Academy. Through high school he ran track and played basketball.
Bernard met his wife in Boston during a sailing regatta. They married in 1968 and had two children. Bernard served 30 years in the Coast Guard, moving around the U.S. and living in North Carolina, California, Hawaii, Alaska and Virginia.
Throughout that time, Bernard got into a routine of working and coming home to be with his family. He began to put on weight, sitting around the house most weekends watching sports. He became a self-proclaimed couch potato.
When Bernard was 29, his family was transferred to Hawaii and his life soon changed.
The trigger? His bathing suits that had been packed away while living in the cooler climate of Northern California, no longer fit. Then, in July 1977, a friend invited him to the Honolulu Marathon Clinic.
Dr. Jack Scaff, a cardiologist renown for working with heart attack victims interested in running marathons, led the clinic, gearing it toward those who wanted to strengthen their heart muscle for health and distance running.
“I lost 30 pounds, got into better shape and I even stopped smoking,” Bernard said. “Most importantly, I brought balance back into my life. I ran my first ever marathon that December, the Honolulu Marathon.”
He completed his first marathon in three hours and 46 minutes.
Running, Running, Running
Bernard went on to complete 39 more marathons after Honolulu.
“It’s a very emotional thing to accomplish that,” said Bernard.
As he got older, Bernard wanted to continue maintaining good race times. He would get occasional nagging injuries and even experienced a sciatic nerve injury along with a condition called drop foot later in his running career.
When a doctor told him once that he may never run again, he sought a second opinion from another physician, who recommended he see a physical therapist.
So Bernard began seeing a clinician at the Gloucester Courthouse Tidewater Physical Therapy location.
He learned about balancing and the science behind strengthening opposing muscles with specific exercises.
When Bernard and his wife built their home in Gloucester, he incorporated a home gym and he uses the principles and techniques learned in physical therapy on a daily basis.
“So many people think of physical therapy after an injury,” said Bernard. “Tidewater Physical Therapy was always good at recognizing and knowing that I wanted to return to and stay active. The focus was always on preventative care.”
Bernard credits the use of physical therapy with keeping the muscles around his knees in balance allowing him to run for over 30 years with no injuries.
Top Tips From Career Marathon Runner
Among Bernard’s top marathon training tips, include three key tenets.
“You have to train. You don’t have to train all the time, but it’s a necessary part to run fast.”
Secondly, Bernard said, speed work is an essential part of running fast.
“If I wanted to run a seventy two second quarter mile, at each quarter point, I would make an adjustment to my pace,” Bernard said. “Selecting a pace and sticking to that is something that is learned.”
Lastly, Bernard said to hit the road with your bike.
“When I was training, I did a lot of biking. I always used clips to lock my feet in so that when I was riding, I was pulling up on pedals instead of just pressing down. That works your quadriceps which are the muscles you use the least in normal running but in racing, it’s the muscles you use continuously.”
Through his running career, Bernard completed 40 total marathons and ran over 70,000 miles. He went on to publish a book, The Running Evolution, about his running career.
“I wouldn’t have traded my years of running for anything. Staying active all those years gave me a life far more enriching and rewarding than any I can imagine and, more importantly, taught me that remaining active is an essential part of life, one I do not intend to give up,” Bernard wrote in The Running Evolution.
Today, at the age of 67, Bernard still runs four miles, three times a week.
He continues to stay active in kayaking, golf, tennis, biking and sailing.
“Everything I like doing and can still do, I do!”
Learn more about Tidewater Physical Therapy clinics at
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