Hoechst claims national championship at Tussey Mountainback

When Heather Hoechst crossed the finish line of the Tussey Mountainback 50-miler early in the afternoon on Sunday, she got two things she didn’t get when she won the race in 2015: a national title and a sub-7-hour time.

After a two-year stint in Wisconsin, the USA 50 Mile Road National Championships returned to the Mountainback, which has hosted them for USA Track & Field 10 times previously. Hoechst, a Penn State alum now living in Farmington, N.M., won last year’s Mountainback in 7 hours, 5 minutes, 53 seconds. She defended her title this year and took 16 minutes off her time on the mountainous course, finishing in 6:49:45.

In the men’s race, Israel Merkle, of Akron, Ohio, took home the national title in his first ultramarathon, finishing in 5:49:39.

For most of the event, which includes both the ultramarathon and a relay race, runners enjoyed unseasonably warm late October weather, although a few showers came in later in the day. In all, 92 people completed the 50-mile mostly dirt road course through Rothrock State Forest as a solo ultramarathon, and 66 teams comprising two to eight people completed the 12-leg relay.

Nittany Valley Half Marathon

The Nittany Valley Half Marathon will be run for the 33rd time on Dec. 4, and new race director Katrina D’Anca plans to maintain the race’s “low-frills” tradition while offering some new perks for runners.

The biggest change is an optional finisher’s medal. In addition, runners from out of town can use shower facilities at the State College YMCA by presenting their timing chip. Online registration is open via the Nittany Valley Running Club website at through Dec. 1. Participants can also register in person at Anthym Running, 228 E. College Ave., on Dec. 2, at Penn State’s Snider Ag Arena from 1-4 p.m. Dec. 3, or on race day at the Ag Arena from 8 to 9:30 a.m.

The half marathon starts at the Ag Arena at 10 a.m. and finishes at the Centre County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Registration is a modest $35 through Dec. 1. The race keeps fees low by offering only minimal amenities, including chip timing and three water and Gatorade stations, and still manages to make a large enough donation to its beneficiary, Centre Volunteers in Medicine, which D’Anca says it is a significant portion of the medical clinic’s budget.

Local race results

▪  John Johnson, 44, of Ulster, won the inaugural Eagleton Mine Camp Trail Challenge 50K in 4 hours, 59 minutes, 4 seconds. Ruthann Helfrick, 49, of Elysburg, was the first woman in 6:35:51. In the 25K, Tony Korch, 56, of Nanticoke, was first in 2:25:04. Meira Minard, 43, of State College, was just behind him to claim first place in the women’s division and second overall, finishing in 2:25:06.

▪  The YMCA Donut Dash 5K on Oct. 10 in Bellefonte offered runners a new form of competition: run a straight 5K, or stop to eat up to four doughnuts during the run with a two-minute time bonus for each doughnut consumed. Steven Morgan, 22, of State College won with a time of 13 minutes 21 seconds, including an 8-minute doughnut time bonus. Tonya Hampton, 34, of State College, was the first woman in 16:39, also with an 8-minute bonus.

Race calendar

▪  NVRC Give ’Em 5! Run for Veterans 5-miler and 5K, 1 p.m., Nov. 6, Bellefonte Area Middle School. Benefits the Veterans Assistance Fund. Register online at For more information, contact Deloris Brobeck at

▪  Run for Shelter 5K, 9 a.m., Nov. 12, Centre House, 217 E. Nittany Ave., State College. Benefits Housing Transitions. Register online at

▪  Nittany Valley Running Club Boalsburg Turkey Trot 5K, 9 a.m., Nov. 24, Pennsylvania Military Museum. Benefits St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s cross country and track and field programs and the Friends of the Pa. Military Museum. Online registration at

▪  Penns Valley Turkey Trot 5K, 9 a.m., Nov. 24, Old Gregg School, 106 School St., Spring Mills. Benefits the HOPE Fund of Penns Valley. Online registration at

Tara Murray writes a monthly running column for the Centre Daily Times. She can be reached via email at