Annual Tussey Mountainback 50-mile Relay and Ultramarathon set for Sunday

mmorgan@centredaily.comOctober 19, 2013 

Matt Kisenwether, of State College, was the first team runner to cross the finish line last year during the Tussey Mountainback 50-Mile Relay and Ultramarathon.

ERIC SMITH — CDT file photo

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Nearly 200 people will attempt to run 50 miles on Sunday in the 14th annual Tussey Mountainback Ultramarathon, but people don’t have to be serious runners to participate.

More than 100 relay teams of between two and eight people signed up to run the race in sections, breaking it up into manageable chunks.

“We sort of designed this event so you can be a recreational or casual runner, and you can have fun out there,” event director Mike Casper said.

But the full race isn’t for the faint of heart.

Casper said there will be several world-ranked runners, and some will be looking to set the new course record for the 50-mile run through Rothrock State Forest. He added that most marathon runners can make the transition to the ultramarathon format, but some make the jump before even trying a regular 26.2-mile marathon.

Training for a race of that magnitude can also get pretty intense, he added.

He would recommend some back-to-back long runs like 20 miles one day and 10 miles the next day on tired legs to prepare for the full brunt of the race. Casper also said that many people do as much as 30 miles in training on long-run days.

The first race only yielded one competitor, but growth over the years has been solid, Casper said. The more than 180 participants will highlight the largest field in the race’s history, which may be good news for this year’s beneficiary, House of Care.

Casper is hoping that the race is able to raise about $20,000 after expenses to donate to the State College personal care home and make a difference for the low-income residents it serves.

Executive Director Audrey Smith said that charity events like the ultramarathon are critical to helping with program funding.

“We could not provide the essential services to the community members who are our residents without the enthusiastic backing of local individuals and organizations like the Mountainback, so this will make a real difference,” she said in a news release.

When it comes to the relay teams, it’s an eclectic mix of locals, students and people from outside the area.

Casper said that one of the most unique teams is the Old Men of the Mountain.

The eight-person crew is led by 93-year-old George Etzweiler, who usually tries to make the average age as high as possible. But this year they will be joined by a 10-year-old girl, creating one of the most unique mixes in the race’s history, Casper said.

He doesn’t know how big the race can ultimately get, but he’s excited to see it keep growing. He said there isn’t any room for expansion in the relay division, but they will keep letting the ultramarathon, which already is one of the biggest in the state, continue to get bigger for the time being.

“We’ve allowed the ultramarathon to grow, and it’s grown really steadily,” he said.

The race starts at 7 a.m. at the Tussey Mountain Ski and Family Fun Center, and ends in the same location.

Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan.

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