News

Chris Rosenblum: Duo prepare to take on challenge of Tussey Mountainback

Natasha Tirko, left, and Sherry Tirko pause after the Rumspringa Half Marathon in Adamstown last April.
Natasha Tirko, left, and Sherry Tirko pause after the Rumspringa Half Marathon in Adamstown last April. Photo provided

It’s a mouthful, the lengthy name Sherry and Natasha Tirko chose for their running team. You almost run out of breath saying it.

But given what they’re planning to do, maybe that’s appropriate.

They call themselves “Itseemedlikeagoodideaatthetime” — a wry take on tackling the Tussey Mountainback 50-Mile Relay and Ultramarathon on Oct. 25 as a duo.

To put their endeavor into perspective, teams are allowed up to eight runners to cover the hilly course’s 12 stages through Rothrock State Forest. Several can be grueling — as I know firsthand.

While training for a triathlon some years back, I joined a group of seasoned local runners for several miles along the course that included steep inclines. I remember grinding up one, willing myself to the top, only to discover in disbelief a switchback turn.

My fellow runners set a mean pace, and by the time we stopped, my legs felt numb and my mental state was somewhere between zombie and comatose. Only a bear hot on my heels could have spurred me to run more that day.

Which is why I’m in awe of Sherry and her stepdaughter. They’re splitting the check, meaning one will log 22.3 miles and the other 27.7.

“We flipped a coin, and I, as the older one, got the longer part,” said Sherry, a Penn State information technology manager.

She has nobody to blame but herself. They’re just running with her idea.

It all goes back to last December.

Over the winter holidays, Natasha, a 2007 Penn State graduate now pursuing a neuroscience doctoral degree at New York University, asked a favor. She wanted to get in shape for her wedding in May, and she needed motivation. Turning to her stepmother, she asked if they could enter a race together.

They would up doing an Adamstown half-marathon in April. That set the stage for the next request.

This summer, Natasha talked about finding a marathon to train for so she would start running consistently. Half-jokingly, Sherry suggested the hardest one she could imagine — a two-person Tussey team.

Neither one was a stranger to the race. Sherry has run in the past 11 and 12 times overall on teams of three to eight people, including once before with Natasha and four others. Natasha has two other times to her credit.

But a duo, officially called a “Supra” in race terms? That would be new ground for both. They would face a constant seesaw between punishing stages and shorter rest periods, more times trying to keep cooling legs loose before pushing them to perform again.

Natasha decided to go for it. When it came time to pick a partner, she didn’t have too far to look.

Her stepmom was game.

Growing up in Mendham, N.J., Sherry ran the mile and 2-mile in high school. In her late twenties, she ran the New York and Philadelphia marathons, qualifying for the Boston Marathon but declining to enter it. She was a runner at her core, but she had put it aside, save for Tussey, to raise two small children, now 9 and 11.

Here was a chance to push herself. It would mean squeezing tough training into her busy life. It would mean fatiguing days.

She couldn’t resist.

“I didn’t think I would be doing this right now,” she said. “But when Tasha asked, I thought, ‘What the heck, let’s try it.’ ”

To prepare, they’ve clocked similar training days — moderate runs with rests in between to simulate the stop-and-start race awaiting them. Natasha, for example, recently ran six miles, rested for 30 minutes, hit the road for six more miles, took another half-hour break and then finished with four miles.

Sherry hasn’t grouped her interval runs that closely yet, but she’s been trimming her rest periods as she alternates between those days and ones devoted to single long runs.

“I had never done that in the past,” she said. “I had always just trained for the distance I was ultimately going to run. This is the first time I felt like I had better do (the shorter runs and rests) because this is going to be a challenge.”

Still, she’s had to build up her stamina through sheer distance. Sunday, she’s planning to get in 20 miles straight on the Mountainback course. After a 16-mile run three weeks ago, an illness shut her down for a while, and she needs to get back on track.

“I did eight miles this morning, and I felt very good,” she said Friday. “We’ll see how Sunday goes, but I’m feeling good.”

She hopes to say the same on a Sunday three weeks ahead, just the two of them tag-teaming Tussey, Kevin Tirko driving the support vehicle for his wife and daughter.

Each will have two difficult legs, two moderate ones and two considered “easy” — as though any stretch will be a walk in the park. Natasha will start; Sherry will finish. Afterward, they’ll have tales to tell, a shared experience to savor for years.

And then just one challenge will be left. Sherry has nine years to ponder it.

“I’ve kept talking about 50 and 50,” she said. “People have done that: do all 50 (miles) at (age) 50.”

She paused for a second.

“We’ll see how this one goes.”

  Comments