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Legs 3 and 4 of the Mountainback!

December 30, 2008 - Erik Brown
October 11, 2008 – Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile Ultramarathon, continued
Leg 3 – Leg 3 of the Mountainback provided a nice break from the tough up and down of the first seven miles. Mike Casper describes the 3.8 mile jaunt to Whipple Dam as follows: “this section of Laurel Run Road is slightly winding and mostly flat. It passes by coniferous groves on both sides of the road, the Manor Hunting Club, and various cabins while following a meandering brook”.
I really enjoyed Leg 3. I had shaken off my early jitters and, depending on the curves in the road, I could see no more than three or four runners ahead of me. I was running alone now, and that suited me fine. By then, the sun was high enough that there were occasional patches of sunshine filtering through the trees. We were running through the heart of the Rothrock State Forest on a beautiful fall day with 40+ miles of sightseeing still ahead. It was exhilarating!
The Mountainback course is easy to follow. The turns are well-marked, and there are signs as you approach the T.Z.’s. Also, as you might expect, there are mile markers as you pass each mile. I deliberately did not watch for the mile markers though because I wanted to avoid thinking about how much further I had to go. It worked. I lost track of how far I had gone and was pleasantly surprised when I looked up and saw Coach Shuta waiting for me near the entrance to Whipple Dam as we had planned. As I approached he said: “what are you doing here?” in his typical sarcastic tone.
The Mountainback course makes a loop around the parking area at Whipple Dam. While I was running the loop, Joe headed for his car, which was parked just beyond T.Z. 3. He was there to help by serving up some of the provisions I had packed and given to him in advance. As I approached the T.Z., a young, female race volunteer yelled “Happy Birthday, Erik!” Well, since it wasn’t my birthday, and I didn’t know her, that threw me a bit. It turns out Joe had been talking to her while he was waiting for me to arrive, and had explained that I was motivated to run the ultra because I had turned 50 a few months before. So, that was a nice touch.
When I reached Joe, he had my “fuel” sitting on the back of his car. I quickly took 600 mg of Ibuprofen then, kept moving ahead while he walked along beside me carrying my brunch. I ate a vanilla Power Bar gel, and most of two, single-sliced PB&J sandwiches. I washed everything down with water as I went. When I was finished with the PBJ’s, Joe handed me a full bottle of water, and a small ziplock bag containing a dozen or so Gummy Bears. It was time to start running again. I had now covered 11 miles - just 39 more to go. Joe headed back to his car to meet me 9 miles down the road at T.Z. 5 - the Alan Seeger Picnic Area.
Leg 4 – Leg 4 is a tough 6.2 miles of rolling hills on dirt and gravel roads. Fortunately, I was pretty familiar with this section of the Mountainback, having run the Beidelheimer Sidewinder 10K (Leg 4 in reverse) in 2007, and a Leg 4 out-and-back 20K training run with Coach Shuta in September. At the 3.8 mile point of this leg (14.8 miles into the race) the course veers to the right onto Beidelheimer Road and ascends a mile-long hill.
You know you’re having a good day when you get a confidence boost on a mile-long hill. That’s what happened for me. I was able to pick off 3 ultra runners and close the gap on 2 more as I ran the entire length of Leg 4 at a comfortable, but steady pace. As I finally crested that hill, I was thankful for the training I had done and the excellent advice I had received. From there it was an easy 1.4 miles to T.Z. 4.

Also noteworthy: during Leg 4, the first group of relay runners caught me. I wasn’t counting, but I’d say that maybe 10 of them zipped by before I made it to the T.Z. All together, there were 94 relay teams in various categories this year. Their starting times were staggered to keep the somewhat inevitable congestion of runners and support vehicles on the course as manageable as possible. When I arrived at T.Z. 4, the scene was almost like a Penn State tailgate party. There were quite a few folks milling around. Some had just finished their relay leg, some were preparing to run, and, of course, there were plenty of friendly volunteers on-hand to record my bib number, hand me something to eat and drink, and send me on my way with a word of encouragement. 17 miles down, just 33 more to go!

Thanks for reading Against The Wind.

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