Connie Gardner will defend her USA 50-Mile Road Championship on Sunday at the Tussey Mountainback 50-Mile Relay and Ultramarathon in Boalsburg.
Gardner, 48, of Medina, Ohio, won last year’s Mountainback in 7 hours, 4 minutes, 28 seconds.
In September, Gardner set a new American record for the 24-hour run. She ran 149.368 miles at the 24-Hour World Championships in Poland, finishing second and leading the American women to a first-place team finish.
Gardner doesn’t come into the Mountainback with too much confidence, though. “I’m never overly confident going into any race under 100 miles. I’m always concerned about my leg speed,” Gardner said.
To train for an ultramarathon, Gardner runs about 100 to 120 miles a week. Though it can be difficult to fit in around family and work, she said, “It’s easier for me than most because my running is usually the best part of my day.”
The top challengers to Gardner will probably be Riva Johnson, who finished third at JFK 50 in 2010, and Kathleen Cusick, who has been top five at the Mountainback the past two years, and this summer won the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run in 18:51.
Mike Wardian, who won the Mountainback with a course record 5:33:47 last year, won’t be defending his title due to injury. He will speak, along with Gardner, at the pre-race dinner and will serve as the official starter.
Mike Arnstein, who finished third behind Wardian and previous winner Todd Braje last year, returns to headline the contenders for the men’s title. Arnstein was one of only three American finishers at the 152-mile Spartathlon in Greece in September.
Challengers will include Zach Bitter, who had the top 50 mile time in the U.S. last year, but finished behind Arnstein at the JFK 50, Mario Mendoza, USATF trail runner of the year in 2010, and Mike Carriglitto, a 2:28 marathoner making his 50-mile debut.
The Tussey Mountainback got its start in 2000 as a relay race, and became an ultramarathon when Joe Shuta of Altoona decided to run the entire 50-mile course. Today, both the relay and ultramarathon races are going strong. The relay race is full with 120 teams for the third year in a row, with a record 13 all-female teams, and the USATF championship and International Association of Ultrarunners Silver Label designation have helped bolster the ultra field to more than 150.
“Hosting the USA 50-Mile Road Championships for USA Track & Field puts a national spotlight on this gem of a place to run that so many area people enjoy, Rothrock State Forest,” said race director Mike Casper.
The Mountainback proceeds benefit a different local non-profit each year. This year’s beneficiary is Tides, a charity that provides support for grieving children and teens. “I’m moved and humbled by the work that Tides does for families in our community, and it’s truly an honor to be helping them out as our beneficiary,” said Casper.