It was another busy running weekend, this time with the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile Relay and Ultramarathon. I was part of a six-person team with the name Bringin’ Sixy Back, a play on the fact there were 6 of us and the song Bringin’ Sexy Back. It just worked haha…or maybe it was just the best we could come up with? Either way it made for a good laugh.
As usual we brought way too much food, but you just never know what you’re going to want to eat during the day. Despite packing some healthy foods, everyone usually gravitates toward baked good and such things. Thankfully we had good weather all day, just the usual October chill. The sun eventually came out in the afternoon.
This year the race boasted 96 ultra runners and 85+ relay teams. The ultras and the “Old Men of the Mountain” (more on them later) began at 7 a.m. and had until 7 p.m. to finish. All other relay teams were assigned a wave. We were placed in Wave 3. Fifteen minutes before the runners for a wave start, they send the transport vehicles to the first transition zone. We left Catrina, our leg 1 runner, at 8:45. She and the other Wave 3 runners began their run at 9 a.m.
This race takes place entirely on fire roads in and around Rothrock State Forest. The roads are a mix of gravel/dirt and pavement. For the relay teams, the race is broken up into 12 legs and relay teams can range from 2 to 8 people. The transition zones for the relay teams are also “Ultra Feed Zones” for the ultra runners.
The legs of the race are all very different and range from easy to very challenging and vary in distance. Since we were a team of 6, everyone got to run two legs. The only stipulation is the order. If you run leg 1, you also run leg 7. If you run leg 2 you also get leg 8 and so on. I had legs 4 and 10 for a total of 11.1 miles. Leg 4 was difficult, but after an initial hill on leg 10, it was almost exclusively downhill.
Anyway, Catrina started us off with leg 1 and did an awesome job on what was a 3.2 mile climb up the mountain. We killed some time by taking photos at the top.
Amber (on the left in the group photo) had leg 2 and Maureen was the runner to bring us in to Whipple Dam State Park where I took off on leg 4. I did leg 4 last year, but apparently forgot what it was like. The first bit wasn’t bad at all and I remember thinking, “Why is this labeled difficult?” The only difficult thing was dealing with the pain in my IT Band. Then I made a turn and remembered the 1 mile climb up the mountain. It’s unrelenting with no points where it levels off. While I made it up that hill last year without walking, this year I eventually resorted to a run/walk.
After finally cresting the hill the rest was rolling to the TZ. I actually got a sudden burst of speed in the last half mile. It felt good to really let it go. Ivy took off on leg 5 and Bill tackled leg 6, another monster of a climb.
The scenery throughout the day was beautiful. The leaves are at peak change in the area so there was a great deal of color on the trees.
There are a number of areas with expansive views of the surrounding mountains. A lot of times you might be running alone, being passed only by the occasional transport vehicle. It’s very peaceful except when they occupants of said vehicle cheer you on, which is very welcome.
Previously I mentioned the “Old Men of the Mountain.” They’re a team of men who are all 69 or older and led by the incredible George Etzweiler who is 95. He is a former Penn State engineering professor who became a runner later in life. He’s been profiled by Runner’s World in case you want to google him. We caught up to their team after leg 8 so I got to see George come in to the transition zone to a round of applause.
We continued through the day and Bill headed out on the final 4 miles some time after 4 p.m. The rest of us moved on to the finish line to cheer for Bill as he came in.
After we finished we grabbed some food at the after party before heading home. It’s a long day, but it’s really fun. If you’re looking for a challenging ultra or want something to do with a group of friends, this race is a great option. You can find more information at Tusseymountainback.com. The site isn’t always the most up-to-date, but it does the job.
Now, I don’t have another race until Nov. 21 with the Annapolis Running Classic. I’m looking forward to it, but in the meantime I’m hoping to get the pain in my IT Band figured out so I can continue training.
How was your weekend? Did you run or race?