2013 Tussey Mountainback USATF National Road Championships

David, Cassie, Matt, Me (pre-race)

I had been looking forward to returning to Boalsburg/State College, Pennsylvania, ever since last year’s Tussey Mountainback 50-mile race. Quite a few new faces made the trip this year, and it proved to be a competitive few hours on Sunday morning, packed with festivities both before and after the race. For example, I was privileged to be given the opportunity to give a brief talk and answer some questions at the pre-race dinner. This was a great way to interact with a bunch of the folks who were excited to hit the trails first thing in the morning.

Recap

The 50 Mile National Championships started out a bit slower than last year. We approached the first 3 mile ascent running just under 7:30/mi. Once atop the mountain, the pace quickened. Matt Flaherty and I pushed a bit ahead of David Riddle as David grabbed a drink from the aid station. Matt really opened up a quick pace—something comfortably below 6:00/mi—as I continued down at approximately 6:00/mi. When I arrived at the first major aid station (mile 11), Matt had a two-minute lead, and I was maybe 30 seconds ahead of David. I was a bit skeptical about whether I could push up towards Matt: Once at the bottom of the mountain, I had an average pace of 6:27/mi, and this year's course change made it a tougher race. Still hoping to dip below the old course record, I did not slow down.

Things stayed pretty even for the next few miles as we approached the next big climb at mile 14. The course wound gradually up the side of the mountain for just under two more miles before easing back downward for a few miles and then leading to the new section of the course at mile 20.

Here David caught up to me and we lowered our heads and grinded up what was, in my opinion, the toughest climb on the course. It was here that Matt really began to gap David and me. When we came into the aid station at mile 24, we got word that Matt had a seven-and-a-half minute lead. I was shocked that he was pushing the pace that much, but I knew Matt had the talent to pop off an amazing effort if all things fell into place for him.

I was feeling pretty good, considering I was only halfway through the day. I came through mile 25 at approximately 2 hours and 47 minutes. At this point I was hoping to negative split the course and try to squeeze in under five-and-a-half hours. I knew this would take a good push, but knowing we were at one of the highest portions of the course and already had the two longest ascents behind us, I thought it would be possible to run a faster second half.

Indeed, the next few miles proved to be fast ones. When we hit a downward portion of the course, I felt like it was a good time to get a bit aggressive. I managed to slip in a 5:45 mile at mile 27, followed by a 5:52 for mile 28. It was in this section of the course that I separated a bit from David. He wasn't far back—maybe 1 or 2 minutes at most—so the heat was still on from behind.

When I rolled into the next aid station, Matt had extended the lead to eight-and-a-half minutes. What a surprise! I felt like I had been running a pretty smart race, so I thought Matt must have been as well. If he continued at the level he was running at, it would be his day. This perspective calmed me because it allowed me to just run my race rather than worry about trying to close the gap ahead of me.

The next four miles were quick. I ran low-6:00 miles for a good portion of it. When I arrived at the mile 32 aid station, I again heard word that Matt was flying and maintained his significant lead. I spent the next mile doing mental math, wondering if he would manage to break 5 hours and 20 minutes. With the old course record being set by Michael Wardian (5 hours, 33 minutes and 46 seconds) it would be a monstrous day to go sub-5:20 on the new, more difficult route.

The three-mile stretch into mile 35 had a less lengthy, but still pace-killing, climb. As I passed through the aid station I heard that David had dropped from the race. He had had a lingering foot/ankle injury that acted up on him, and he decided to limit any damages by calling it a day. It was likely a smart decision on his part, but certainly a disappointing turn of events nonetheless.

Things held pretty constant through mile 40. As I came through the aid station, Matt was still clipping along and had a solid nine minutes on me. I felt mentally strong for a portion of the race, which can really play with your mind, so I continued to push onward. Miles 40 to 45 had some slight uphill portions that culminated with the last big climb at the 45th mile. It was a bruiser! A very humbling experience pushing up at what felt like a snail's pace. As I reached the top, I was certain I had probably given even more time to Matt. However, as I came through the aid station I was told that I had cut the lead to only four-and-a-half minutes. All the morale that climb took out of me immediately reappeared—I had just closed four-and-a-half minutes in five miles!

My mind ran wild. I hadn't blistered miles 40-45 but still managed to gain on Matt, so I knew he must have been struggling from his speedy start. If I could get close to 6:00/mi on the final descent, I thought, I could just maybe edge out Matt before the finish. I was able to hit this pace during the final miles—and even eke out one final sub-six-minute mile for the 48th mile of the day—but apparently Matt had been struggling only on the ascents. Here, withno climbs in sight, he was able to cruise along at a similar pace as me.

When all was said and done, Matt set a new course record with a time of 5:28:12. I came through (also just under the old course record) with a 5:32:22. It was fun to discuss the final miles and Matt’s mentality through the mile 45 climb, as well as throughout the race.

On the women’s side of the race, Cassie Scallon ran an incredible 6 hours, 24 minutes and 2 seconds, also setting a new course record for the women. Cassie now lays claim to course records at Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, Ice Age 50 Mile, and Tussey 50 Mile—all in 2013! A pretty impressive feat.

The post-race festivities carried on for the remainder of the day as runners trickled in towards the finish line. With the usual post-ultra atmosphere that can drive people into the sport, both top finishers and newcomers to the sport mingled and told stories of how their days played out.

A really big thanks to my parents and sister, Beth, for coming down to watch the event, and to my friends Gary and Jakob Twoey for keeping me well fueled throughout the day. Thanks to Mike Casper for directing the weekend activities, and being very present throughout the weekend. Also, a big thanks to Vespa Power Products for helping me get to and from the event.

Reflection

Joshua, Cassie, Me (post race)

Thinking about my efforts and where I could improve, it's still all about the hills and simply growing as a runner. It was noticeable by my time and power on the final miles that moving to Madison had greatly improved my ability to run up and down substantial hills. However, I also recognize that I've only been in Madison for two months; given another year of this improved training environment, I should be able to continue to improve on hills. Overall, I am very happy with my efforts, and know I had about as good of a race as I could have expected on that day. I told race director Mike Casper before the race that I wouldn't be surprised to see three guys under the old course record. I strongly believe—and I know Matt does as well—that this course holds even faster times to be had, given a perfect training block and everything clicking. I look forward to coming back to Tussey in the future.

      
Dad, Me, and Mom Beth and Me Jakob, Me, and Gary

Products Used

Race Coverage