What a great weekend! All three of my teams won, including Penn State volleyball, Penn State football and the Steelers! Some years that’s a guarantee. That’s not necessarily true this year, so when it does happen it’s a great feeling. Oh wait, actually four of my teams won! On Sunday, I had the privilege of being a member of team Eight Is Enough for the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile Relay and Ultramarathon. It’s actually the USA Ultramarathon Championship. We won our category (Mega women’s … meaning eight women not large women, like someone asked me!).
Laura had the first leg, which was 3.2 miles straight up the mountain. We headed out shortly before 10 a.m. with the Wave 5 cars, cheering Laura on as we passed her on our way. We parked at Transition Zone (TZ) 1 and waited for Laura’s bright yellow shirt to appear coming up the hill. She powered up the hill like a champ and handed off the baton (aka slap band bracelet) to Chrissy who had a nice 4 mile leg downhill.
I had leg 3, which was 3.8 miles of mostly flat forest road until I reached Whipple Dam State Park where I had a slight incline before heading back down to TZ3. I felt great on my run. I had eaten my normal Ezekial english muffin with peanut butter and skim milk for breakfast and had a little bit of honey for some natural sugar right before taking off. For much of it I was alone out on the forestry road until a group of four people came into view. I made it my goal to pass them, which I did, and flew into Whipple to send Missy off on her 6.2 mile uphill climb. Our group hung out at Whipple for a bit eating some healthy energy snacks, including some organic pretzels (it’s very important to note they were organic, right Jen?), homemade Lara bars courtesy of Chrissy, a number of other snacks we had all packed in our vehicle and of course hydrating with some water and gatorade. We headed up the road, slowing down when we spied Missy to play some pump-up music and cheer her on her way. We waited at TZ 4 for a short bit before Missy came into view. She ran her leg in just over an hour, an impressive feat!
Rozlyn had the next leg, a nice 3.4 miles downhill. Her family came to cheer her on and her father-in-law joined her on the run. After Roz, Heidi was next with leg 6. a 5.3 mile run of rolling hills and a moderate climb. The rest of us continued to pile into our vehicle, slowing when passing one of our teammates to shoot video, cheer and play some music (as ipods and other listening devices were against the rules).
Jen had leg 7, a 4.9 mile run with an uphill, a flat section and then gently rolling terrain. Somewhere around this leg, we saw our first Ultra runner who looked like she was still doing great after already running a marathon and at least another 20 miles to go.
Following Jen, Robin had leg 9. Robin was actually assigned number 666 so she decided to wear her number upside down for the day. Who wouldn’t?
Robin’s leg took us to civilization, as she actually ran onto Rt. 322 before turning back onto forestry road. We got to cheer her on two or three times as traffic held us up. Robin was running so fast, we started to get worried she would beat us to the next TZ because we had a tough time turning left onto 322 with the traffic. Luckily our awesome Sherpa used his fine driving skills to get us to the TZ in a timely manner. We had a good laugh as Robin dropped the baton right before she went to hand it off to Laura. Laura began her second leg, a 2.9 mile run to Colyer Lake, that brought her past some farms and a few homes before she met us at a parking lot on the edge of the lake. Chrissy was next and had leg 10, a 5.3 miler which began flat, but soon changed to include some intense inclines. While she was running, we took a few minutes to enjoy the beautiful weather and take a group picture.
I had leg 11, my second of the day. It was supposed to be a difficult 4 miles with two steep climbs. This TZ was in what’s called the Bear Meadows Natural Area and parking there was a cluster. We parked 1/4 mile from the TZ and headed over to use the bathroom (pretty sure I have never used a porta-potty as many times in all my 25 years as I did on Sunday) and then I took some time to stretch and warm up. I had been warned by a teammate that this leg (an out and back run) was brutal, so I was a bit more nervous. I felt good physically, with no shin splint pain, and had another little bit of honey shortly before Chrissy rounded the corner to the TZ. I pocketed another honeystick for the trek back. Chrissy soon came flying in and I took off up the mountain. It was .8 to the crest and I passed a woman from another team of eight. We chatted while running side-by-side where she mentioned we’d run a 13 minute pace up (man that sounds slow!), but were maintaining a seven minute pace down the other side. We both agreed that meant we were averaging 10 minutes a mile. Right before the turnaround, I came out into this overlook. It was amazingly beautiful with an endless mountain view, no civilization in sight and the fall colors abounding.
After the turnaround I knew I had another .8 uphill. It was tough and this was where the other honeystick came in handy. There were a few Ultras on this leg and it was great to cheer them on, and tell them to keep it up as they were less than six miles from the finish. Once I reached the crest, I knew I was golden. It was all downhill for me from there. I let my legs go and was even able to speed up more as I rounded the bend to the TZ where there were tons of teams, support members and volunteers cheering on all the runners. I handed the baton off to Missy, who would run the final 4.2 miles to the finish line back at Tussey Mountain. We let Missy run for a bit before Bill went to get the car and picked us up to head to the end.
We parked at Tussey’s ski lodge and headed to the finish line to wait for Missy. We started checking the results and found out the men’s ultra winner had finished in a blazing five hours and 33 minutes, a course record! We were then informed none of the groups in the Mega Women’s category had finished yet, meaning we had a chance to earn a medal. Our hopes were high, but started to fall as we saw the final members of two other eight-member womens teams arrive. However, I knew there was still a chance for us as those two groups had started a wave ahead of us.
Missy finally came into view a few short minutes after and based on time, we won! If you had seen our reaction, you would’ve thought we had won the entire race. It was so exciting. We bolted to the “After Party” to pick up our medals and team plaque.
What a great day! I’m so proud to have been a part of this team. We had such a fun time laughing, cheering and running. I hope we can do it again together next year. I have to send out a big thank you to Jen and Bill Hessert. Jen, who organized our team, and Bill, our sherpa and team sponsor. You guys rock! I also must thank the team as a whole. What a special and memorable day we had together. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive group. You are all true athletes!
Photos from throughout the day (minus ones from the legs immediately before both of mine and my leg) can be found here. More photos from our Sherpa will follow soon!
I decided to take my race shirt and my medal and hang it in my office today. It’s mounted on the wall alongside my Warrior Dash horns and my Tough Mudder shirt. Our plaque will hang at The Fitness Circuit (TFC), the gym where most of us met.
I managed to make it to TFC this evening in the hopes of helping prevent any further soreness. The workout was tough, yet great, as usual. I felt a bit more tired than normal, but I think having gone will help my recovery time. I came home and prepared a delicious dinner of lemon pepper tilapia and asparagus.
I hope you all had wonderful weekends. Did anyone do anything special?
Quote for the Day: “The strength of a team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” ~Phil Jackson, Chicago Bulls