Written by USATF Championship Liaison Lin Gentling. While not considered a trail race by most standards, the Tussey course is on unpaved rural roads and many elite trail runners compete in the event each year. Tussey mOUTnTaiNBACK meets ATRA’s event standards and is an IAU Silver Label race.
The 20th running of the Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK 50 Miler just outside of State College, PA, hosted its 13th USATF 50 Mile Road Championships. The day dawned with a steady soaking rain but definitely not deterring the intentions of the 112 50 mile ultrarunners from embarking on the journey to fulfill their dreams. Tyler Andrews, 29, Cambridge, MA, and Devon Yanko, 37, San Anselmo, CA, both broke course records in the clockwise running for their victories.
The rain continued for 3 hours adding additional challenges to the runners to keep moving and stay warm. However, ultrarunners are a perseverant bunch and the rain did not seem to impede their efforts. Second place runner, Cole Crosby, 30, Princeton, NJ, mentioned that the ambiance of the autumn woods amidst the low clouds and quiet of the surrounding Rothrock State Forest lent a type of “Sleepy Hollow” image to the surroundings. Tussey is a very rolling course marking more the appearance of a ragged saw blade, relentless moderate climbs and descents and very little flat terrain. Once the rain subsided, the absolute beauty of the Pennsylvania fall colors revealed itself in total splendor, even though the sun remained hidden.
View this post on Instagram
Only a few days away from the start of the championships, Devon Yanko and Tyler Andrews entered the race. Both had experienced some disappointment during their fall season with injuries or race results not fitting to their expectations. As a result, both Yanko and Andrews were hungry for success. Not to be denied, Cole Crosby entered his 4th national championship of 2019 setting his sights on a top performance as well. Crosby won the Catskill Mountain 100K, Naked Prussian 50 Miler and Cayuga Trails Marathon in 2018, and placed third in the Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK race in 2016 and 2014.
Twenty-two years ago at age 6, Tyler Andrews almost died from Aplastic Anemia. Today he is a National Champion in the 50 mile, as well as an accomplished marathoner (Olympic Trails qualifier) and 50K national team runner (3 times USA 50K team). The HOKA sponsored elite runner has to his credit a 2:15 marathon and his 2:46 time in the 50K is the 2nd fastest time ever by an American, but it has been a difficult fall season for Andrews. After a DNF due to stomach issues at the IAU 50 km World Championships in Romania in September, he hoped to redeem himself at the Berlin Marathon, a short 4 weeks ago. A less than stellar performance for him, he was searching for a race that would give him the opportunity to take advantage of the fitness level he has worked so hard to achieve. Only a couple weeks ago, he did a training run where it all clicked together and he knew he was ready to “pop” a good one. All the stars were aligned. He sought advice on Tussey from his 50K teammate and prior year’s winner, Zack Ornelas, did a test run up and down a ski mountain near his home for 3 hours, and entered Tussey. This would be his longest competitive event, but he was excited to give the longer events a try that would also mean running at a slower pace. In the back of his mind was to achieve a time that would qualify him for consideration for the 2020 USA 100K team. The rest is history as they say.
View this post on Instagram
In the men’s race, it quickly became defined as a 2-person race between Crosby and Andrews in the early miles. Both seemed to be running relaxed and the company of one another was appreciated, as it is always better to run with competition rather than against the clock. Early on, Crosby was not able to monitor his pace as his watch suffered a meltdown. As a result, he kept up with Andrews, but was not certain of his pace, rather running according to how he felt. That fast pace proved to eventually be his nemesis as he started losing contact with Andrews around the half way point. Andrews was running very well at this point, very fluid and relaxed. He increased his lead over Crosby, who also was experiencing cramping conditions, and ended up running a negative split over the difficult course, a testament to his strength. Crosby called Andrews, “one fit dude. I was blown away by how strong he was.”
Meanwhile behind this duo were Graham Peet (22, Philadelphia, PA) who seemed to be running a very focused and even race, and Sam Lapp (24) and Daniel Goldstein (24), childhood friends from the Pittsburgh area running in 4th and 5th position for much of the race. Lapp would take 3rd in 6:27:32, Goldstein fell off pace to 6th position, and Peet 4th in 6:41:40. Rounding out the top 5 was Todd Wiley of Pipersville, PA, age 49, and first master’s runner, in 6:47:14.
View this post on Instagram
It was a different situation for Devon Yanko, 37 from San Anselmo, CA, who led from the start. She is a 3 time member of the USATF 100k National Team and was a member of the 2019 50K US team. Devon has been a prolific runner since 2010 and is a prior 50-mile and 100K national champion. She will again set her sights on the Olympic Trials marathon in February 2020 and has a marathon PR of 2:38:55. Living in CA and owning a bakery, she and her husband were experiencing the horrid conditions caused by the blackouts from the fires. Lack of electricity does not bode well in the bakery business, so Devon made lemons out of lemonade, and jumped a flight to Philadelphia to run Tussey. Only a short week ago, she was hoping to run a fast 50K at Chicago Lakefront, but has been wrestling with an injury issue this fall and did not feel a shorter faster race would be in her best interest. While the 50K was all about speed, Tussey, was all about strength and Yanko proved the strongest female competitor. Yanko’s nearest competitor was, Nicole Yokum, 36, a PhD student at Penn State in State College, PA, studying philosophy and women’s studies. Nicole is more of a trail runner and this was her first crack at a long distance ultra-race. Her specialty is in the 25K and half marathon distance on trails. Despite going into uncharted territory, Yokum was able to hold her pace for 30 miles, and then it was one mile at a time. Her race philosophy was it was better to “be brave and go for it, then to wish I did.”
Yanko ran a very even, smart, and relaxed race. She was a teammate of Andrews on the US 50K team this September, and like Andrews, was anxious to prove her strength and to get back into the racing scene again. Nine years ago at age 28, she won Tussey in 6:25 in the counterclockwise course. This year on the more difficult clockwise course she pulled off a 6:24:19 time, proving that maturity and strength are really assets in ultrarunning. Yanko’s time was 35 minutes ahead of 2nd place winner, Yokum. Third place and first masters was Justyna Wilson, 44, of Fairless Hills, PA in 7:05:54. Rounding out the top 5 were Heather Hoechst, 40, Durango, CO in 7:14:31 in 4th position, 5th woman, and Connie Gardner, 55, Akron, OH in 8:06:55.
A very special thank you to Mike Casper, who is an amazing race director and host for this national championship event, and his incredible army of volunteers. His meticulous orchestration permits so many ultra and relay runners to become totally immersed in the celebration of running, testing their bodies and mind beyond self-perceived limitations.