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Zack Ornelas and Keely Henninger 2018 USATF 50 Mile Road National Champions

10/9/2018
 

On a day more reminiscent of a summer sultry day, the 19th annual Tussey Mountainback 50-mile Road USATF national championship was held. At race start, the temperature was a very humid 67 degrees with overcast skies threatening rain. The course ran in reverse from what it had been the previous 18 editions.

 

Zack Ornelas, 27, Plymouth, MI, with a time of 5:55:13 and Keely Henninger, 26, Portland, OR with a time of 6:37:14 are the new 2018 USATF 50 Mile National Champions.

 

Ornelas, a high school English teacher and cross-country coach is a previous 50K USATF national champion and was a member of the 2014 US team that competed at the IAU 50K World Championships in Qatar.

 

Henninger took 2nd overall and 1st female. She was 4th at the prestigious 2017 CCC UTMB and won the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50-mile race. She arrived at the finish line looking refreshed, laughing, and maybe ready to run another 30 miles. Henninger is a 2014 graduate of Penn State, but now resides in Oregon, employed as a biomechanics researcher at Nike. She last competed at Tussey 5 years ago stating, “it was cool to be back”. Ironically, at the last aid station, Keely saw her old biology professor from Penn State volunteering. She credits him for thrusting her into ultra running. As a college senior, she was contemplating grad school or running. He encouraged her to move to Boulder and pursue running which she did with great success.

 

The race is a single loop course on mostly unpaved forest roads through Rothrock State Forest. A very rural area, there was beauty at every turn with great scenery throughout the route. The staging of this race at the Tussey Mountain Ski Area was perfect with plenty of necessary amenities for the runners, their friends and families. Over the course of 50 miles there were 11 aid stations placed between 4-5 miles apart. The course was extremely well marked for runners and their support. The course is not easy as it provides a true test of speed and stamina. Ask any runner and they would say either the terrain goes up or it goes down, with very very few flat portions. Total elevation gain is 5,485 ft.

 

Even though the conditions were very summery, the course had a brilliant start on the fall colors as the trees canopied most of the course protecting the runners from the occasional sun. However nothing could provide relief from the stifling high humidity.

 

The favorites went out quickly as they negotiated the first section of the course, a 4.2-mile mostly uphill section. Coming out of the aid station, Zach Ornelas lead the group followed by Stephen Lobianco (32, York Haven, PA) and Will Brewster (24, Grayslake, IL). On the female side, favorite and hometown runner, Keely Henninger, led Dani Filipek (26, Rochester, MI) and Emily Collins (33, Akron, OH). A light welcome rain ensued, and the runners appreciated the cooling effect, despite its short tenure. About 90 minutes into the race, the ground fog and clouds began to clear in Happy Valley finally making it possible to see the runners in front of you.

 

There was not much change in the order until around 33 miles. Zach and Keely never relinquished their leads that they assumed from the start, each lengthening the gap between themselves and the rest of the field. Thirty miles seemed to be the line of demarcation for many of the runners. With the demanding course, quads and hamstrings were taxed far beyond anything resembling comfort. Winner Ornelas stated, “either you were going uphill or downhill, really stressing the hammys and blowing out the quads”. Hills were rapidly taking their victims. Brewster, more of a shorter distance specialist, suffered difficulty staying on his feet and eventually dropped, putting Iowan and first master’s runner, Mark Thompson (40, Iowa City, IA) into 3rd position. Shortly after Brewster dropped, Lobianco changed positions with Thompson, putting Thompson into the 2nd position just after the Alan Seeger picnic area. The final 10-15 miles were absolutely punishing, as many runners would remark after crossing the finish line.

 

Order of finish for the men was Ornelas in 1st position (5:55:13), followed by Mark Thompson in 6:37:14 and Stephen Lobianco in 6:59:23. For the women it was Henninger in 6:37:14, Emily Collins in 8:16:58, and 3rd position went to Luana Pesco Koplowitz, age 63 from Plainville, NY in 10:22:22.

 

Women’s champion Henninger stated, “I started way too fast. It was so humid; I was sweaty, hot, and wet from mile 2 onwards. I was pretty jazzed and felt good until mile 35, then it was a shuffle toward the finish”. She felt the reverse course was harder as it involved 29 miles of climbing as opposed to 22 miles on the previous version.

 

The final section of the race is described in the guidebook as an easy 3.2 mile section, mostly downhill. The words, “cruise, gentle downward sloping, and gradual” are used in the description. This might be true to someone who is only doing the 3.2-mile section, however this section occurs after a punishing and brutal 47 miles. Legs are totally shot and it is simply a matter of dealing with intense pain in the quads with every slamming foot plant, trying to keep up with legs that just do not want to communicate with the brain. You just want to end it all at the finish and put your feet up. Winner Zack Ornelas simply expressed in exhaustion at the finish line, “the last 10 miles was so hard, all I dreamed about was going to bed....I felt terrible”. “I really enjoyed miles 26-32 and was having a lot of fun, but miles 43-46 were really bad. I ran for 1/2 mile and then would walk for 30 seconds. It was the most pain I had been in for a long time”

 

Zack went onto say, “I did not run that smart, I went out too fast”. Despite this, he had a personal record by almost 30 minutes (previous PR at American River 50 Mile in April 2018, which he won), on a course that was was not as difficult as Tussey. This indicated the fitness level that Zach came into Tussey with. As he reflected on his day, Ornelas pensively stated the 50K is more his liking, that the 50 mile is just too long. His 50K PR is 2:52.

 

Henninger had her thoughts about preferences as well. She prefers the trails and feels among her strengths is climbing the various grades found on the trails. Her next competition will be the North Face 50 mile the end of November.

 

Race director, Mike Casper and his legion of volunteers did another outstanding job with the national championship. Although Mike makes it look easy, I know how hard he works and truly this is his labor of love. Thanks to Mike and his tremendous volunteers for another great championship event.

 

Full results below:
 

Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile Ultra Marathon

Overall Finish List
October 7, 2018

Individual Ultra - USATF

Place Name Hometown/State Age Gender Total Time
1 ZACHARY ORNELAS PLYMOUTH MI 27 M 5:55:13
2 KEELY HENNINGER Portland, OR 26 F 6:37:14
3 MARK THOMPSON IOWA CITY, IA 40 M 6:51:02
4 STEPHEN LOBIANCO YORK HAVEN PA 33 M 6:59:23
5 TONY FILIPEK SAULT SAINTE MARIE MI 30 M 7:28:23
6 JOSH LITOFSKY STATE COLLEGE PA 26 M 7:43:26
7 EMILY COLLINS AKRON, OH 33 F 8:16:58
8 MICHAEL RENZ STATE COLLEGE PA 42 M 8:28:14
9 DARRIN KNEPPER MECANICSBURG, PA 49 M 9:14:38
10 DUKE MOSELEY HOUSTON, TX 49 M 9:33:44
11 DOUG SCHUNK STATE COLLEGE PA 37 M 9:38:41
12 ANDREW TATUSKO BELLEFONTE PA 44 M 10:00:47
13 ROY PIRRUNG PLYMOUTH, WI 70 M 10:15:52
14 LUANA PESCO KOPLOWITZ PLAINVILLE NY 63 F 10:22:23
15 DANIELLE STEMPLE STATE COLLEGE PA 32 F 10:49:52
16 DAVID PHILLIPS VIRGINIA BEACH, VA 45 M 10:57:21
17 ELIZABETH PRINGLE STATE COLLEGE PA 22 F 11:00:27
18 JOHN PRINGLE STATE COLLEGE PA 57 M 11:38:01

 


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