My story begins two weeks prior to Tussey. I began two weeks out having an odd hamstring tightness that was holding me back from training at my normal pace. What I found was that life had stressed me out.
After a great massage from one of my roommates who is a massage therapist, the hamstring felt great to lead into race week and I was back to a Sunday run that was right at my goal 50 mile race pace (7min) flat. I felt really good. Then something horrible happened, I ended up on Monday, catching some form of chest cold. I kept coughing and coughing up gross projectiles. Overall not feeling my best. I began to worry that this cold may not be gone in time for the Tussey Mountainback which was one of my major races of the year. I do not know what has been going on this year with bad luck yet I did what any person would do, I took it easy, rested and dosed myself up on Vitamin C and all kinds of medicine. I had it bad. The flem was all way deep down in my lungs. So to cough anything up would mean two to three powerful coughs to dislodge a q-tip sized wad of icky flem. The patterned continued all week: one day wet coughs , the next day a drier cough, the next day back to wet coughs, gagging on the muscus and so on.
I was not getting better he way I had hoped. I lost a lot of sleep in the prep week with hacking all night and as we loaded up our car for the 4 hour trip to State College, PA, I was just living on a prayer that I would wake-up Sunday morning with no sign of bronchitis. The drive down was wonderful minus my coughing and Ashlee and myself jammed out to 80's pop songs.
Once we made it to town, we ate lunch at Chick Fila and toured the Penn State University campus, football stadium and the downtown. After an hour of walking around, we linked up with my father who had made the drive from NJ also to celebrate my birthday. We met at thenToftrees Resort and Golf Course and have a lovely room awaiting us thank you to our race director, Mike Casper.
We settled into the room and I began to dose myself up still feeling sick, optimistic for tomorrow's race.
I spent all night hacking away only getting about an hour or two of solid sleep.
Race morning began with cold drizzle and temps in the mid 30's. It was chilly but I always find myself thriving in such conditions when others struggle.
I was sick but man I just hoped I could get through 50 miles unscaved though I knew that to do so would probably be a miracle. I had all of my warm gear on: mammut fleece beanie, warm gloves, mammut MTR 141 Air jacket over my mammut zip shirt and a singlet underneath the shirt. Being bundled up was going to be a lifesaver for a day which the high temp was 45.
At 7am , the race was off into the darkness with a simple yell of the word "Go!" There from the starting line, I settled in with Eric Senseman, Michael Wardian, and another kid. We remained relaxed as we made the firs three mile climb to begin the race. We all knew that Wardian was going to be the man to beat. I spent the early morning hours remaining relaxed on the climb trying to keep a smile as we remained somewhat quiet. I would interject every now and then to try and lighten the spirits. Breathing was a challenge for me with my lungs full of flem but I knew that I was going to need a zen-like level of relaxation to survive this race. We hit the switchbacks all together and with a half of a mile before the crest of the climb, Wardian assumed the lead.
From a Trailrunnersblog.com: This view is what you are graced with for 50 miles. Does not get any better than this!
After the three mile climb which was long and gradual, we hit a solid 6 mile downhill.
I was running with this one kid with wardian up ahead in sight as we chatted and had fun with the race. It was his second ultra so I knew he might have issues challenging this fast pace going 7:20 uphill to follow up with 5:40-5:50 on this downhill section.
With all things considered, I felt very relaxed. I soon opened it up a little and as my buddy I had just made went for a bathroom break, I was alone off to catch Wardian.
The next aid station of significance would come at Whipple Dam around 11 miles in. We did a little out and back and I was maybe 45 seconds behind Michael Wardian as I made the turn-around and headed back out. I felt very good with one gel in my system and drinking some Gatorade from my bottle. I did not need to refill just yet as the cold and proper fueling pre-race had me feeling pretty darn good.
I put in a little surge to see if I could close on the leader yet Wardian's pace was matching my surges.
Mile 20-26 was at a point where we had a solid climb and this was the first time where my lungs struggled. What normally would be a easy uphill for me, I struggled. I had many moments of hacking and dry-heaving which stopped me in my tracks. Even so, my 1-minute deficiet only grew to about 3 minutes after this section. I was averaging close to 5:30 for the race at this point and truly I could not believe actually how comfortable it felt at this point in the race. Once I had made the climb I began to regain my legs as I headed into the aid station.
I was going well and now had more downhill, where I opened up my gait. The coughing did take some wind out of my sails but I kept on. I continued to remain relaxed as if Wardian would falter, I might be able to catch him and make a move. A few more Carboom Orange Vanilla gels gave my my boost I needed.
The Tussey Course is incredible, with great hills, a smooth yet gravel surface gives you the best in footing and man the scenery was magnificent. At the marsthon point, the view at above 2,000 feet was insane. Seeing the mist from the early morning give way to sunshine was a sight to see. It rejuvenated me in my sick state. And so I kept pushing on.
I entered the 50k at 3:25 a pr for me and I began to get a little calorie-deprived at this point I took 4 Carboom gels at once which gave me the strength to push up a slight hill from the last check point.
I was told I had second place locked up unless I would unravel. It was at the aid station at mile 35 where I noted to my family in a lead vehicle that I was hurting. I had spent miles 32-35 coughing so bad that I thought I would pass out from the lack of oxygen. I attempted to fuel up at 35 and then it was at this point that I began to run out of steam. From running an incredible pace early on I still was optimistic I could finish sub 6 hours even with me struggling.
I fought hard ever uphill, mixing in power hiking and forceful running as my quads began to seize up on me. My body was giving up on me and I felt because of a sinus infection and bronchitis, I could not get any more air to my ailing body in time. The flats soon became like steep up hills, as I cringed at struggling at terrain I easily thrive on. It was mentally draining.
I thought back to third and fourth place knowing this could be the time they might catch me. I was weak but still trying my best to push through. It was by mile 40 that what was once 7 minute miles now became 9-10. I was using every ounce of my will to get me through. At 40, I felt defeated and could only pray for those last 10 miles to come and go quickly. I still felt lucky I had second place still but Eric Senseman who was running strong from mile 35 to the finish ate up my near 20 minute lead to mere moments.
I finally hit the last hill at mile 45 and it was steep like a Upstate NY hill. By this last hill, my whole body seized up on me, running was still a struggle as I virtually had no more power left. I hiked up the hill and glanced back to see a person wearing red, that was Eric. I knew here was nothing I could do to hold him off, he ran smarter than me. He came up to me and we chatted for a little bit as he mentioned to me that he was ready to drop at 20-35 then he caught a second wind. I told him go up ahead and that he ran smart. I got up the hill and saw my family there I felt bad I had lost 2nd place which was in my grasp all day. With 4 miles to go and all downhill, I pushed my body which felt like planks of wood down the hill, a little sad and dejected that I had suffered so much.
After what felt like an eternity, I finished in 6:16 for third place.
Michael Wardian ran 5:46 my initial goal pace
Eric Senseman in second at 6:10
What I learned from everything was that after a hard year of racing, this race was by far my greatest run to date. Later I went to the doctor and found I had bronchitis and a severe sinus infection simultaneously. For myself to run so relaxed and fast for 32 miles and to run at close to course record time, that was incredible. And for all things considered, to hang on for third in a very competitive race is also a great accomplishment. I have never felt so bad in a race yet run with so much composure. I really have no idea how everything worked out the way it did! Getting sick a week before a big "A" race is never anything I would wish upon anyone. What I learned from the race is that you should always believe in yourself, even when things look grim. I was sick, really sick, but somehow held it together until I ran out of oxygen. I am so blessed to have so much support that held me together in this race and truly this race was for you. My advice is not to try what I did at home in your own race practices. But if you have spent the time and money for a big race and do find yourself sick, do not panic. You have put in the time and effort to perform well and even with being sick, approach the race as such:
1. Start more conservatively: that was my big mistake.
2. Take in double calories and hydrate like a fire hydrant: I also did not do this as much as needed.
3. Do not panic: I did manage to stay relaxed.
4. Enjoy the experience and know that you can still perform well and be hungry for what a run is like at 100%: There is no point to be mopey because you do not feel 100%.
5. There is always another race!
I would love to run Tussey again, for redemption so that I can prove to myself that I can handle this course and run to the best of my ability.
Thank you to everyone who has helped me in this journey:
My father, my family, my love Ashlee Prewitt,
Mammut North America, Acidotic Racing, Fits Socks, Boom Nutrition, Redfeather Snowshoes, OK Runner, Confluence/Finger Lakes Running, Karhu/Craft North America. Thank you all! Thank you to the volunteers, Mike Capser the race director and to the whole Central PA area for being so hospitable. It was an incredible weekend.
I now have a few weeks to get healthy for the JFK 50 mile. I have been taking antibiotics and an inhaler to rid myself of this sickness. I am hopeful that I will be ready come November 22!
Fits socks and Mammut MTR Pro Low 201