Faster Than Your Couch!
The Tussey Teaser Series is a series of 6 races (most of them free or charge), each 6 to 13.1 miles long, the sum of them covering almost all legs of the Tussey Mountainback 50M Ultramarathon and Relay in Boalsburg, PA. The Tussey to Whipple is a classic for me, as this route was my first long distance run (before I discovered it is also run as a race) in America. This year, it was my third time doing the Teaser race.
The course is point-to-point and leads over a "mountain", gaining 800 feet in less than 3 miles, then three miles of more or less gentle downhill, and the remaining 5 miles flat, leading to Whipple Lake in Whipple Dam State Park. It is run on packed gravel roads, and some short paved stretches.
In the previous years, I have always improved my time: 1:55 for my first time, as a self-supported run, 1:42 in my first race, and 1:37 last year. So just after finishing last year, I set my goal to run sub-1:35 this year.
However, while I was well trained last year, having run hard all through winter, my training had not been so tough this year. After the OC100 in fall, I had cut down my mileage, and my efforts to ramp it up again in January and Feburary were a bit half-hearted, using snow, ice and bad weather as excuses, and busying myself with work and family matters. So when March arrived, I realized I might not be in my best shape, although the runs I did were strong, and I set several personal bests on my usual trails even when it felt I was just jogging along. This did not make any sense to me, and I really did not know what to expect, or where to set a realistic goal for this Teaser race.
The day before the race, our DD had her sweet-16 party, thrown as a surprise party by her friends. I should have known that spicy tacos are not the best pre-race dinner, and then the cake on top of that did me in.
I woke up on race day morning with a solid knot in my stomach, cramping and twisting. I knew I would bail out, letting my running buddy know he'd have to do it on his own. But, as I could not find my phone first, and then was hesitant to call this early in the morning, I decided to give it a shot. Couldn't get much worse, after all.
My right knee decided to fill in, too, and hurt all throughout the morning. I have never had knee pain (except maybe for a few days, years ago), so I tried to ignore it. If you don't acknowledge it, it does not exist, period.
It was cold in the morning, 26 degrees. But the sun was shining brightly already, not a single cloud in the sky, and it was supposed to warm up to the upper 50's during the day. My buddy Stephen and I had planned to run back from Whipple Lake to our cars at Tussey Mountain, using a different, steeper and longer road, to make it 25 miles total.
I decided to go with tights, a long-sleeve shirt, and a light fleece. For food and drink, I decided on using two handhelds, with HEED and Sustained Energy, and a few gels packed in the pockets. We'd get sandwiches at the race finish, as a nice snack in between our runs.
At the start, I met Stephen, and Barb, a running friend who is usually just a bit faster than me, and who I often rely on (unbeknownst to her) to pace me in a race for as long as I can keep up with her. However, Barb has done some awesome training over the winter, and she's in very good shape now, so I knew she'd be gone today and leave me in the dust.
After a few instructions, we took off.
Soon, my hands got cold in the freezing temperatures (I had been smart enough to leave the mittens in my car), and the handhelds, each 22 oz. plus 3 or 4 gels, started to weigh heavy (obviously this was the reward for not having carried any water bottles all winter long). Dealing with the pain of my frozen fingers while running up the mountain was - painful. It did not help to see that almost everyone else was wearing gloves or mittens. Barb was ahead of me, but I kept track of her all the way up the mountain. I was in third place of females, and I had every intention to not let anyone get ahead of me. However, about two miles in, I felt weak, and in order to avoid getting lightheaded, I knew I had to slow down a bit. This is when another woman wearing an orange jacket passed me. I tried to stay close to her, thinking maybe I could catch her on the last few miles.
The downhill was strange. Usually, I am fast on downhills, and I pass several runners. But today, my running felt "choppy" and slow. I did not get passed, but I could pass only two or three runners, all male, so this did not help me in my quest to place in the top three of females. It felt as if I could run faster, but somehow it did not happen. Something in my head urged me to save some energy for later on - in hindsight, this was just a lack of confidence, maybe due to my irregular training schedule in the past few weeks.
The handhelds got heavier and heavier. I was just about to hurl them into the bushes, but my car keys were in them somewhere, and maybe I'd need the drink later on, on my way back? I scolded myself for being so stupid as to make this a loop run, and for not asking Mike, the RD, to maybe take my bottles to the finish in his car. I did not need any drink for the first 11 miles, and there were two self-serve water stops along the way, just in case.
I still could see Barb, about 2 minutes ahead of me, and the orange-jacket lady maybe a minute ahead. I heard someone panting behind me, and I could keep the lady in the purple jacket at bay for a while, but around mile 7, I had a rough patch, and she passed me. I stayed right behind her, and sometimes she would speed up, and I would stick with her, and then she would slow down, and I'd stay behind, following a strategy to conserve energy, and secretly planning to pass her on the last half mile or so.
At times, I would feel nauseous, and sometimes my knee would hurt a little, but overall, everything held up just fine.
We caught up to a group of guys, and strangely enough, all throughout the race, nobody would chat and talk. All by ourselves within the group, we kept cruising along. I was fighting some tiredness, but kept up with them.
With just about one more mile to go, I ditched my handhelds in the bushes, and instantly felt relief. How much easier to run hands-free!
Everybody sped up now, Barb was out of sight somewhere ahead, and the purple lady still had a lot of strength in her and took off. On a better day, I would have kept up, but today, I was just happy to finish. The orange lady was only seconds ahead of me, but just out of reach. I crossed the finish line behind her, unhappy with my performance, knowing I had not done well on the mental part of the race, and I did not even want to check on my time.
I congratulated Barb, who was already there, nibbling on a sandwich, when I heard the the guy taking records at the finish line say to the RD that he had not gotten my time, but I was the last to cross the line for now, and that we were "not even 1:34 in by now". What the heck?
I checked the records and saw that the group just ahead of me had finished in 1:33:05, and I knew I had been just 5 seconds or so behind them. So my time was recorded at 1:33:10, and I was very surprised to learn that I had beaten my last year's time by more than 4 minutes.
So now I'm left in confusion. While my running feels slow, tedious and choppy, and I feel like I could certainly run faster, but something in my head is holding me back, I keep setting personal bests, despite a more than sloppy training regimen. I guess I'll have to figure that out and set some new goals for the future.
While I waited for Stephen to finish, I jogged/walked back the extra mile to retrieve my handhelds, and luckily found them still there.
After a sandwich or two, and some chatting, and receiving my door prize (a small flashlight, quite useable for a night run), Stephen and I took off to run back. The road we took was much steeper, twisting and winding up another mountain, and on top, we chose to take the harder route down, which includes another long uphill before heading back to the start area, where our cars were parked.
I almost ran out of water because the temperatures had risen to 54 degrees meanwhile, but fortunately there are springs along the way, and with the snow melting, and some spring rain, they were full and provided the much needed refill for my bottles.
We finished in the afternoon, and I'm happy to see that my legs are not sore - just my arms and shoulders: I'll need many more runs with two handhelds to bring me back to being able to run an ultra with them. But I'm sure summer will take care of that.
Run for fun.
Nice job Couch,especially for not feeling well in the morning. Taking 4 minutes off your time, that's huge, congratulations!
Follower of Forrest
PR'ing 11 miles then following it up with a 14 mile run home? That's pretty darn impressive. I think you've reached a new level couch...can't wait to see what you do on an "on" day. Congrats.
6/21 - Manitou's Revenge 54mi
A man may never run the same trail twice for it is not the same trail and he is not the same man
Le professeur de trail
Wow. I am impressed. By your description I was sure you did not have a good finishing time. But that is impressive. You most difficult time might be to address the mental aspect of all this. But the good thing to take out of this is that physically your body is responding to the running by getting faster. And I agree with Jamezilla - adding the mileage after the effort back to your car is awesome. Good things ahead for you. Speaking of which - are you running Hyner this year?
The incarnation of peacefulness and patience
Wow, so this is what a tacos-and-cake dinner can do for you? Congrats on a great race (and then easy run back to the car....).
Great job FTYC. Can't believe that you took 4 minutes off your time and then ran back. I can imagine the way you went back too, it was no gimmie.
Are you going to do the full 50 mile Mountainback this year?
Arkansas Traveler - Oct 7
Thank you all!
Jamie: I'm not sure about the Hyner, I think I can't take off work that weekend. Probably a no.
Sandy: If the Eastern States goes well, and I recover in a fair amount of time, I'll do the Mountainback 50M again. It's going to be on the new course, so I won't have a direct comparison to my 2012 time, but I'm just curious how the new course will feel.
Stephen and I ran back from Whipple to Tussey on Greenlee Road, the one that gets progressively steeper. Always a great challenge!
This series is very aptly named!! For me it's a big teaser. Close enough that I could easily get to the races and in an area that I really enjoy. But, I'm always, always, always working or have something that conflicts with running them . Maybe some time it'll work out for me to run them.
Glad to hear that you set a PR. That's always a nice feeling when you've struggled.