Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tussey 50 Miler...An Uphill Battle!

I had the pleasure of running the Tussey Mountainback 50 miler this weekend. This fell on the weekend following back to back marathons, including a serious effort in Baltimore that resulted in a new marathon PR. I viewed this race as a great training opportunity for my upcoming 100 mile race in 3 weeks, so I didn't have any plan for a strong effort, nor delusions regarding the upcoming challenge. I was just going to have nice, leisurely, 50 mile run through the mountains. Seems simple enough.

But before I get into all of that. I want to take a minute to highlight the accomplishments of two of my fantastic friends (and employees) that ran the Ghouls and Fools night time 10K in Reading this weekend.

Shasta and Aaron have taken to trail running this year and I have had the pleasure of sharing some running time with them both. It's exciting to see people come into the sport and truly get excited about it. I think they both have amazing potential and I take great pride in watching them develop their skills on the trail.

Ghouls and Fools in a great event and I was sorry to have to miss it in favor of my race this weekend, but that's just the way it had to be.

Here is a picture of Shasta and Aaron enjoying a well deserved beer after the race. Definitely a Pretzel City Sports tradition. They both had incredible finishing times and I'm immensely proud of them. They're dear friends and I love them both. I'm sorry I wasn't able to be there with them.

The weather report for Sunday morning suggested temperatures would be in the mid to upper 30's. This was a lie. When we awoke and left for the race, there was ice on my vehicle and the thermometer in my truck was reading 28 degrees. I suited up accordingly.

While waiting for the action to begin, I eagerly gulped down my ultra running staples. Sweets...and a bottle of Ensure!

I reluctantly left the comfort of my truck to join the shivering masses at the start line. It was still very dark, with just a hint of rising sun off to the east. There were about 150 runners lined up and ready to head off for a long day of running.

I was shivering uncontrollably at the start while we listened to what must have been the longest rendition of the national anthem in recorded history. I'm as patriotic as the next guy...but DAMN let's get moving already!

This is me trying to look cool before the start despite the fact that I'm reasonable certain I will die of hypothermia before the first aid station.

We finally got started and I was certain we would warm up immediately due to the 3 mile ascent that starts this race. I was wrong. I froze my Irish ass off the entire way. The ascent was gradual but noticeable and grinding. I was careful to stay on a nice even pace in these early miles.

Eventually, the sun began to slowly rise over the horizon. It was taking an unusually long time to come up today for some reason. But it was a very welcome sight!

To my surprise, it did absolutely nothing to warm me up. I was still freezing, and now irritated that the sun was laying down on the job.

Our first aid station came at the top of our climb at mile 3. I passed right on through without stopping, fearful of "cooling down" from the run. We were now continuing downhill for a while, into the valley floor. We ran another 4 miles to the next aid station, which I also passed up.

Jo was scheduled to meet me at aid station 3, where her crewing duties would begin. This is approximately 11 miles into the race. When I finally reached her, she filled my bottle while I drank an Ensure, and I immediately headed back out.

This entire race is run on fire roads. Most of them are gravel, and there are a few paved sections. The support crews simply follow the same course all day long, which is excellent for crewing.

Jo caught this pic of me in the side view mirror while driving past me during the race. I thought it was kinda cool!

The scenery was beautiful and the fall colors were on full display. I wanted to really take the time to appreciate my surroundings and my good luck in being able to enjoy this first hand, but I had work to do!

At about 19 miles into the run, I began to lose interest quickly. I had fallen into a funk and I just felt terrible. I never considered dropping from the race, but I had definitely hit a low point. This continued for quite a while and I began to complain to Jo at every stop. She did a great job of getting me in and out of the aid stations without letting me whine too long.

I loved the course markings. The race director had mile markers posted for the entire route, and markers 1/2 mile out from each aid station. I was very happy to see each and every one of them.

At aid station 7, about the 50K mark, I was greeted by Jo, and Maria. Maria was a race volunteer and a person I know from the the Runners World Forums. She was kind enough to take the time to give me some insider intel on the upcoming miles while I was fueling up. None of what she had to say was appealing to me. This race has a lot of uphill, and the worst is yet to come.

Me posing with Maria. She's awesome!

When I saw the marker for mile 37, I made a conscious effort to pull myself out of my funk. I had a half marathon distance to cover and I simply decided I was going to make every effort to appreciate a nice run through the woods and enjoy it as much as possible. This mental maneuver worked and my attitude improved drastically! I began to feel better and I was enjoying the run once again.

Except for the hills!

Have you ever become angry at a hill? I do this all the time and can't seem to control myself. I find myself negotiating with the hill at first. Then reasoning with it. And when those tactics don't work, I begin to swear at it and invoke serious threats that usually include references to explosives and bulldozers.

These hills were LONG...brutal...and immune to my threats.

But despite all that, I somehow managed to regain a sense of joy as I continued my run.

Me coming into an aid station late in the race.

My mind was flirting with the possibility of a new PR, but I had lost so much time during my 20 mile funk, that it seemed impossible. But with my new attitude, I began to think there was still a chance.

The last 4.5 miles of this race are downhill, but to get there, I had to tackle the hardest hills on the course first. The worst being a brutal out and back section that lasted 4 miles. It included a long, steep ascent, with a brutal downhill. Then I had to turn around and repeat the process.

Fortunately for me, this was when I was feeling my best and I actually gained several positions during this 4 mile journey. But it was agonizing and disgustingly brutal.

This is me after finishing the out and back. I was feeling great and ready to tackle the final downhill to the finish. Yes...running uphill still...freaking never ending!

I'm now at 45.5 miles into my race and I know exactly what I need to push through that last 4.5 miles. I need a beer. And my faithful wife had one ready for me at the final aid station. I chugged an ice cold bottle of it, and headed out for my last few miles.

The beer evidently did the trick, because I can't explain where the energy came from to be running hard enough to have both feet off the ground. If I didn't have this picture, I wouldn't believe it.

I finished strong and scored a new PR of 9:04:54, shaving 17 minutes off my previous record! I was ecstatic!

I gathered my finishers medal and plopped down in the grass. A perfect end to a beautiful day in the mountains! My smile says it all.

This race is not easy. It has 5500 feet of ascent, and obviously, an equal amount of downhill running. But it can be very fast if a person is well conditioned for it. For me, my legs and my body were pretty used up when I showed up at the start line, so I was lucky to get the result I ended up with. I finished 26th out of 143 runners, and I am happy to take that in this race.

It was a beautiful day and a well run event. I will deifinitely be back again someday!

Happy Trails!!


  1. I've come to expect these excellent journal reads from you Kelly and you have never let me down. I especially enjoy your emotion, honesty and fearless vulnerability in expressing the human condition of mind vs the environment, the geography, and the human psychology of perseverance and commitment. Well done! (Well done on the PR too!!!!!!)

  2. Congratulations on an amazing PR Kelly! That race looks so intense, I'm glad you had fun with it at the end!

    Question- do you wear trail specific running shoes? If you do, which would you recommend? You have piqued my interest with your amazing tales of trail running!

  3. Thanks Jenny. I do NOT wear trail shoes. I randomly decided at the last minute to wear my road shoes for the leadville 100 and they worked out so well that I stopped wearing trail shoes entirely. So now, when my road shoes start getting old, I dedicate them to the trail. The pair I wore at Leadville already had about 500 miles on them. The best part is, this simplifies my life by reducing the number of shoes I need to keep track of. However, when I did wear trail shoes, I wore the Mizuno Wave Ascend. It's a great shoe and is similar to what you're wearing now. I'm currently wearing the brooks Launch most of the time and training in Brooks T7's, which is what I wore for the marathon we ran together (bad choice for me that day).

  4. Great job Kelly! That's interesting about the road shoes. I did fine with road shoes on the trail when I started running on them. At the time I didn't realize there were trail specific shoes. But, now I do wear them. I'm considering this race for my first 50 miler next year!