Friday, October 24, 2014

Just keep moving: Tussey Mountainback 50 mile race

Ultramarathon, vegan, run, running, fall, Pennsylvania, Tussey Mountainback

My new theory is that the first step in any great adventure is getting up really early in the morning.  This adventure started with a fitful night of sleep, followed by an alarm at 4:30 in the morning.  Turns out I probably could have gotten up an hour later, but my adrenaline wouldn't let me sleep, and I didn't want to have to worry about getting signed in, dropping off my drop bag and getting all geared up for the start in a crazy rush, forgetting something in your car at the beginning of a 50 mile race could be truly disastrous.

I got to the starting line around 5:30am and sat in my car for a while waiting to sign in.  There was a really ominous feel in the air, it was cold, dark, no one was around, and I swear the rain turned to snow at some point briefly.

Closer to race time I got out of my car and hung around the starting line and met some really cool people, newbies for whom this would be their first ultramarathon, and a guy that had done three 100 mile races (hundos as we call them).  I guess I'm somewhere in between, I have been running ultramarathons now for a year and have run four 50Ks, one 60K, and one previous 50 miler.  I feel pretty comfortable now, and have figured out the basics of what I need to eat, how to pace myself, and what to do when the wheels fall off, which they always do at some point in an ultramarathon.

I had been checking the entrants list all week to see who was going to be at the race, sort of hoping that some of the guys I have been reading about in Ultrarunning magazine would be there, and sure enough I met Mike Wardian at the start line.  Mike Wardian is a really accomplished ultramarathoner from Arlington, VA, he actually went to Oakton high school, which is right near my high school.  The guy has run 42 races this year, everything from 5Ks to 150+ mile multi-day stage races and the previous weekend I saw on Instagram that he won a marathon.  This is what I love about ultras, in no other sport can normal back of the pack guys like me line up next to the pros and run a race with them.

Mike is a really nice guy.  I got a little star struck, I just said Hi! and shook his hand and then didn't say anything else, it was weird, but all my fault.

The gun went off at 7am and I never saw him again.  Apparently he won the race in a time of 5:46:34.

Mike Wardian, ultramarathon, run, running, marathon, Tussey Mountainback, Pennsylvania

For me the day unfolded at a more measured pace.  Sure I had delusions of grandeur, finishing in the top 20 like I did in my last race, or maybe better?!  But it takes a long time to run 50 miles and as the day rolled on those aspirations were put in check and I was forced to settle into a pace that felt comfortable for me and not worry about what others were doing.

It was a beautiful day, cool and cloudy most of the morning, but as the day rolled on the sun came out and it warmed up a little bit.  The first 20 miles, believe it or not, rolled by without much effort or thought, I trained well for this race and my body felt ready to do battle.

ultramarathon, vegan, run, running, 50 miles, marathon, Tussey Mountainback
14 miles in and feeling great!

Around mile 20 I met this guy named Kevin from Lehigh Valley, an alum of Penn State and a really nice guy.  We seemed to be running the same pace most of the morning and so decided to team up for awhile to combat the boredom and loneliness of grinding out these mountain roads by ourselves.  We ran along and talked when we felt like it, and fell quiet when we didn't.  We talked about our lives, our relationships, our jobs, where we were from, what races we were dreaming about doing, food, shoes, cross-training, everything, then at some point after a couple of hours we exchanged names.  I don't know what it is about running ultramarathons but I always end up meeting people and having really personal conversations.  I had read about it in a book once, but I am always blown away when it happens race after race.  The barriers that separate people in our normals lives just fall away in these physically taxing situations.

Taking a little time to enjoy the view around mile 25.

What's also interesting is that as the day wears on you get more and more tired, and all the ego, and swagger, and pretense falls away as well, and you get really raw and vulnerable.  This definitely happened to me in this race and was not always pleseant.

The best strategy to take when you are going to run for 8-12 hours is to not spend the whole time thinking about when it is going to be over, its going to be a long day if you do.  I know this, and I really tried, but I spent alot more time this race counting down miles than I would have liked.  I don't really know why this happened, and honestly I can't remember if I did the same thing in May when I ran the Bear Mountain 50, but it made the race a little bit harder mentally.  I  think it was because this is a faster course than most 50 mile trail races.  There is only 5,300 feet of total climbing and the whole race is on dirt roads instead of technical trails.

At about mile 32 Kevin and I parted ways and I put my headphones in and just did what I had to do to get it done.  My quads were really sore from all the downhill running and the climbing and the last 18 miles were a challenge.  I definitely walked more in the second half of the race than I did in the first.  My quads were so sore every step I took running just hurt, like this burning, aching, muscle fatigue type feeling.  My usual strategy when things get rough is to walk the uphills and run the downhills and the flats, but by mile 38 I was begging for uphills so I would have an excuse not to run.

It was a long slow grind.  The last 4 miles were downhill, and I was determined to run the whole thing.  There was still the possibility of breaking 10 hours so I felt like I should at least give it a shot and also I was thinking that figuring out how to push hard in this physical state would be good training for my upcoming 100 mile race attempt.  My legs were really sore and my resolve was really thin, I was literally running from tree to tree just to sat motivated.  The idea of running 4 miles in a row at that point was just too big to deal with.

Somehow I ran the first 50K (31 miles) in 5:34, which was a personal best.  I ran the last 19 miles in 4:33, for a total time of 10:07:58, three hours faster than my last 50 mile race.  Not a bad days work.

ultramarathon, run, running, marathon, vegan, Tussey Mountainback

So I what do you eat when you run a 50 mile race? 
For breakfast I had a vegan pancake, a banana and two cups of coffee.  During the race I had 16 Vfuel gels (100 calories each), potato chips and pretzels at most of the aid stations, half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a 20 oz. bottle of Perpetuam, two 20 oz. bottles of Heed, and a couple 20 oz. bottles of water.


  1. That was fun to read. Congratulations, Rudy.

  2. Congrats Rudy! That is quite an accomplishment! I have done this race several years ago as a relay and it was alot of fun. Maybe one day I will tackle it all myself. My next goal is to start with a 50k. -L

    1. You can do it! This race is a perfect first time 50 miler.