Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tussey Moutainback 50, 1st 50 Miler

Big Smiles for Course, Perfect Weather, Gorgeous October Foliage. 

It's Still 50 Miles!!

I had been fantasizing about running a 50 miler for awhile. When my running budding Kevin asked if I would be interested in running a 50 in October, I was charged up. He mentioned Tussey Mountainback (nicknamed Tussey Out N Back) and I looked up the elevation profile. All hills, not flats on gravel mountain roads, with 5500 ft of gain/loss. I was sold. My kind of course!!

So many reasons to smile! :-)
Given my summer training was focused on running a Boston Qual in early September, I didn't really concentrate on the 50 miler until after the marathon. I did a 6 + 12 + 20 mi one weekend and a 12 + 20 the next, my extent of back-to-back runs.

Tussey is also the home of the USATF 50 Mile Road Championship, so it does attract some top talent.
Along with the 50 mi ultra, Tussey offers a relay race, drawing 150 relay teams. The teams start later than the ultra runners and their team vehicles drive the course, going between aid stations/transition zones. Later in the race, these extra runners helped populate some of the lonely miles.

Leading up to the race, I had created a nutrition plan, targeting 250 - 300 cal/hr, with gels and hand held bottles of Hammer Perpetuem. Since the ultra runners could do drop bags at various aid stations, I made up 3 bottles and 3 bags of refills to get me between drops. Arriving at the hotel on Saturday afternoon, I realized the bottles were still in the fridge at home. Oops! Kevin and I scrambled to buy one bottle and find energy drink mix. The nutrition plan would now alternate between Accelerade and Perpetuem.

Race morning brought with it some great weather, 40 degrees and clear. Though chilly, it would be perfect running weather. Kevin and I relinquished our drop bags to the proper aid station deliveries and tried to keep warm.
Kevin ready to rock n roll n climb.
The sun had not come over the mountain when the 7am start rolled around and we started into the receding darkness.
Waiting to start, before the sun.

Most of the course is on gravel packed access roads, offering easy running, with some road pitch challenges, especially when the relay team vehicles drove by.

The first major hill begins about a half mile in, a 3 mile climb with a 6 % grade. Not knowing if my legs would last much past 30 miles, I decided to run by heart rate, picking a less than red-line value for walking hills. The first hill I ran entirely, smiling all the way up.

First climb, waiting for the sun.

Climbing thru October's canvas.

Explosions of color and human kinetics.

First climb in the bag!
The course was in a wooded area and the October canvas was a spectacular burst of yellows, reds and fading greens. So exhilarating to run under. The early miles rolled away easily, enjoying views and lapping up the hills with none a flat spot to be found.

Lake at Whipple Dam Park, mile 11.
At mile 20, changed my shirt, reloaded bottles, refills, gels and consumed a PBJ sandwich. Then set out to concur the largest hill of the race, stage 6, a 3.5 mi climb, with 1300 ft of gain and 6.6 % grade. This time the HR threshold was breached several times and I walked until it dropped 25 ppm. I was able to run the last mile to the top.

John having a good time on stage 6, the big climb!
Relay runner Barb, drops me with fresh legs & big smile
View from the top, mile 24

The next 10 miles or so was mostly down hill and easy cruising took over, while trying not to trash the quads. Miles 32 - 35 brought on another climb and my legs started to grow tired. This was new territory for me, with my longest run until now being 50K.

What goes up must come down.

The gravel road became asphalt, for several miles, at mi 40. Though a flatter grade, the legs protested the loss of softer footing. Nutrition wise I was doing OK, was trying to hold together the mechanics and was still running OK.

Open road and beautiful tapestry at mi 40.

Cheerful Aid Station 10 family of volunteers.
Stage 11, mi 41 - 45, had the last big climb, with a very steep last mile to the top. My GPS watch had warned of low battery at mi 38 and I had to shut down the GPS tracking to save on power. This last hill didn't require a HR threshold to tell me to walk. Just needed to get over it so walked most of mi 45 and said hello to the hill.

The last climb! Almost there.
Coming into AS 11, at mi 46, with just over 4 miles to go, all downhill, I realized I could break 9 hrs (originally was hoping for under 10 hrs) and for the first time I started to worry about splits. 10 min miles on a nice 4 mi downhill, I could do that, right? At mi 48 I had to stop to stretch a cramping left quad, watching the clock, as the growing uncertainty started to creep in. Turned on the engines again and slowly rambled toward the finish, with my left quad and knee singing in soprano, yet still running and maintaining some form. (I probably looked worse than I allowed myself to think.) Surprisingly, I crossed the finish in 8:57, ecstatic to have completed 50 miles!!

More exciting to me than the time was that I was able to run the entire race, no death shuffle here. Really unexpected. Learning I took 3rd in my age group was a plus. I guess going out slow, walking on hills when HR triggered and not running for a time goal helped save the legs.
My buddy Kevin, who has competed at the Iron Man Championship in Hawaii, crushed his first 50 miler, turning in a 7:35 time, good for a top 20 finish. Outstanding!.

Still standing, legs working after 50 miles.
Matt Flaherty blistered the course, setting a new record in 5:28 and took the USATF 50 mi National Championship. Cassie Scallon also shattered the record in the women's race with a 6:24 and easily took the Championship.Joshua Finger captured the men's masters title with 6:33 and Connie Gardner took the women's Masters in 7:42.

A pleasant surprise after finishing, I met elite runner and ultra running blogger Scott Dunlap, who decided to run the race somewhat last minute. Check out Scott's professional race review at

Saying hi to elite runner and blog celeb Scott Dunlap

Scott turned in a PR with a 6:35, 6th overall and 2nd Masters. How does he take such good pics while running so fast? The apres race party included some beer on tap from Elk Creek, a local craft brewery. Their Brookie Brown Ale was delicious, and helped wash down some pizza and pulled pork sandwiches.

The Tussey Mountain Back 50 Miler held the perfect combination of challenging, yet runnable course, beautiful scenery, perfect weather and was staffed by experienced, helpful aid station volunteers. Being the USATF 50 Mile Road Championship is a plus. RD Mike Casper ran a well organized race that makes you want to come back again. The race is a great first 50 miler for those, like me, who get excited about running up and down mountain hills..

The sun sets on a gorgeous day and outstanding race.

See you next year.

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