Two veteran runners captured the Tussey Mountainback ultramarathon for the first time.
Nearly 600 runners took to the trails of Rothrock State Forest for the 16th annual event, with 96 individuals and 86 teams taking part in the 50-mile route.
This year’s winner, Eric Senseman, 26, finished with a time of 5 hours, 55 minutes, 0.11 seconds.
“It’s always tiring, man,” he said to event organizer Mike Casper just after crossing the finish line. Senseman finished second in the race last year in 6:10:28.65, according to the race website.
The first female to cross the finish line was Heather Hoechst, 36, of Philadelphia. She finished with a time of 7:05:53.52. It was an improvement of her fourth-place time of 7:37:57.67 last year.
Defending champion Connie Gardner, 51, registered for the race, but dropped out about halfway through, according to Casper. She was not available for comment after the race.
“You never know,” Casper said when he found out Gardner had dropped out. He said long-distance races, like the Tussey Mountainback, are often unpredictable with the health of runners and adverse weather.
Casper said there was some rain when the race began at 7 a.m. but quickly cleared up. He said the runners didn’t have to worry about the trails becoming too muddy, because the entire trail is gravel.
Hoechst has participated in the Tussey Mountainback, either as an individual runner or as part of a relay team, since 2009. She said she felt “a little bit lonely” throughout the race, because, for the most part, she was running on her own.
Both winners noted the fall colors the race provides. Senseman said the autumn colors are his favorite aspect of the race, because they keep his mind occupied.
He finds the hardest portion of the race to be a 3 1/2-mile climb midway through the race, which Casper said was a new feature added to the course after the route was revamped three years ago.
The winning relay team came in a few minutes after Senseman. The team, Deep Six Racing, has five members: Matt Kisenwether, Greg Lackey, Danielle Cerroni, Brian Beachler and Gianna Guerino. The teammates met while attending college at Penn State, and named their team with a sixth person in mind — their coach Jayson Jackson.
“It’s nice being back in the woods all day,” Kisenwether said.
According to Kisenwether, the team has been running in this ultramarathon since 2008, and one if its members, Lackey, has returned from Colorado the past two years to continue the tradition.
The beneficiary of this year’s race, according to Casper, is the Mid-State Literacy Council, a non-profit organization in Centre and Clearfield counties working to increase literacy, according to its website.
Casper said anyone can apply to be the race’s beneficiary.
“We try to pinpoint people who are doing great work in the community,” he said. The committee tries to help organizations that are not normally recognized for giving back to Centre County.
The race was staffed by about 100 volunteers, who Casper called the “cornerstone” of the operation.
After the race, the organizers treated the runners and supporters to a post-race party with barbecue, sandwiches and massages.