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USATF 50 Mile Road Championship to be held Sunday in Boalsburg, Pa.

Boalsburg, Pa. - Zach Bitter will be back to defend his national title Sunday in Boalsburg, Pa., where nearly 200 ultramarathon runners will toe the line for the 14th annual Tussey Mountainback 50 Miler, which once again will serve as the USA Track & Field 50 Mile Road Championship.

Bitter (Madison, Wis.) won last year’s race in 5 hours, 35 minutes and 51 seconds, just missing the course-record time of 5:33:47, set in 2011 by Michael Wardian.

Course-record bonuses are guaranteed this year, as part of the $9,000 championship prize purse, due to course changes which have resulted in 11 of the miles being new on the scenic, rolling loop through Rothrock State Forest.

Bitter’s attempt to repeat as champion won’t be easy, as a handful of first-time Mountainback competitors seem poised for title runs, maybe none more so than David Riddle.

Riddle (Cincinnati, Ohio) placed seventh at the IAU World Trail Championships in Wales over the summer and last year placed fifth at the IAU World 100K Championships in Italy. Riddle, who was the top U.S. finisher at both of those races, burst onto the national scene in 2011, when he set a then-course-record time of 5:40:45 at the prestigious JFK 50 Mile in Maryland, which earned him UltraRunning magazine’s performance of the year.

Matt Flaherty (Bloomington, Ind.) also should be in the mix up front. Flaherty, who won the American River 50 Miler earlier this year, has an impressive 50-mile personal best of 5:32:25 from his win at Chicago Lakefront in 2011.

Interestingly, Bitter, Riddle and Flaherty all duked it out at the Ice Age Trail 50 Miler in Wisconsin this past May. Riddle won, Bitter was third and Flaherty was fourth.

Other top contenders Sunday include Scott Hilditch (Stow, Ohio), a former 4:07 high school miler who won his ultramarathon debut at the Moebius Green Monster Trail 50K in August, and Dave James (of Flagstaff, Ariz.) who placed second at the 2010 Tussey Mountainback before winning back-to-back titles at the USATF 100 Mile Trail Championships in 2011-12.

The women’s field is highlighted by Cassie Scallon (Boulder, Colo.), who also will be making her Mountainback debut.  Scallon has won several major races, including this year's Lake Sonoma and Ice Age Trail 50 milers, the 2012 USATF 100K Trail Championships and the 2011 JFK 50 Mile.

The top returning woman from last year’s race is Kathleen Cusick (Indian Harbour Beach, Fla.) who placed fourth.

Anna Piskorska (Blandon, Pa.) also is a podium contender. She finished 10th at the 2010 IAU 24 Hour World Championships in France, where she was the top American finisher.

Contributed by Joe Jurczyk

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