Oct 31, 2011 2
A week ago sunday I participated in the Tussey Mountainback 50-mile race outside state college (PA). I had gone to visit a friend who teaches at penn state and who (what a coincidence!) invited me to give a seminar at the business school on that friday. I did actually have a great time meeting folks there, since they have an interesting and diverse mix of topics that they focus on. And my friend (Tony) and his family were kind enough to let me stay with them, which was also a lot of fun.
I say participated in the race rather than ran it, not because I didn’t finish, but because Tony (not an ultrarunner, but a triathlete and slightly faster marathoner than I) and I signed up as a two-man relay team. Team name: “Forward Induction”! The race is divided into 12 segments, ranging from under 3 miles to over 6, and one can either run solo or as a relay of two to six (or more) runners. This was the 50-mile road national championship for the solo ultrarunners, and a new course record was set by the prolific and versatile Michael Wardian; Connie Gardner won for the women.
Wardian’s time of 5:33 is amazing in part because the course is not flat (they estimate 5000′ of gain overall) and in part because the previous weekend he had run not one but two marathons. Warm-up, you ask? Hardly! The first was a 2:22, and the second was 2:32 on a somewhat hilly course. Wow. And yet this is typical for him, week in and week out.
Tony and I had the easier task of alternating six legs each, which was not something I’d ever tried before — and hence was curious about. He took the odds and I took the evens, which left me with slightly more miles overall (27.x to 22.y). It’s essentially a big loop along mostly gravel roads, with some pavement, so we and the other teams drove a vehicle from checkpoint to checkpoint. I and the other drivers for our wave (made up of various team sizes) left a few mins before the runners, and drove the 3.2 uphill miles to the first station. Toward the top we started passing slower runners from the previous wave, which had started 30mins earlier. We parked near the transition zone, made finals preparations, and then got out to wait.
In no time at all he was there: about 25mins elapsed, or just under 8:00 pace (almost all uphill; ~700′ total gain). I took the ‘baton’ (a wrist-snap-bracelet doohicky) and headed out for my first leg: 4 miles downhill. Given the adrenaline, and the fact that I had forgotten to bring my watch (so was a bit nervous about time, although not very), and not knowing how much the format would get to me, I ended up flying down at well under 7:00 pace. Tony passed me in the car a couple of miles in, which was of course the pattern for the rest of the day. One of the strange aspects of doing this as a two-person team is that you basically never see or talk to the other person during the entire event, other than quick questions or a few words of encouragement either during the transition or while passing.
So on we went: Tony did leg 3, just under 4 miles with a lot of downhill, in just over 7:00/mi. Leg 4 was the longest of the race, at 6.2mi or 10k, mostly flat with one big hill of about 500′. I ran it at…