Written by USATF championship liaison Roy Pirrung.
Boalsburg, Pennsylvania – A USATF-certified, 50-mile single-loop mostly unpaved course through central Pennsylvania’s scenic Rothrock State Forest during peak foliage season. The USATF 50 Mile Road Championships had support vehicle and drop bag options as well as stocked, staffed aid stations available to all participants were provided at predetermined locations every 2.9 to 5.6 miles along the course.
Strong winds and rain kept runners huddled inside of their cars at the Tussey Mountain Ski Area shelter, just prior to the start and then it all stopped, as they made their way to the start line on Bear Meadows Road, leading to Rothrock State Park.
The cars crewing solo runners had gone out 15 minutes prior, in the driving rain, and were followed 5 minutes later by volunteers staffing the course.
A call to race director, Mike Casper, was heard on our walkie talkies, from a volunteer. “Tree down a quarter mile up the road and vehicles unable to proceed.” Quick thinking, a great staff at the Ski Area and chain saws obliterated the tree into pieces, clearing the road for an on time start.
That would not be the last problem the volunteers would need to handle during the next 12 hours. Other trees had also fallen across the road at mile 7 and mile 25. Many of the directional signs had been ripped from trees and utility posts and needed to be put back in place, ahead of the runners.
Returning, after a DNF in 2016, Anthony Kunkel was not going to let anything stop him from winning this year. Last year, in the dark, he passed the first turn off, just 6/10ths of a mile into the race, withdrawing after covering substantial miles.
While most people were dreading and dealing with temperatures already at 70 and high humidity, Masters runner, Elizabeth “Liza” Howard, found the moist air just what she needed for her breathing disorder.
Like the previous year, the 25-year-old, Durango, CO student/professional runner, showed his determination and led several others, including David Roche, Joel Frost-Tift, Dan Berteletti and Brent Martin, leaving them in his wake.
While Danielle Filipek took the lead, Liza held back.
Attrition from the fast start and many hills affected the men, with Martin dropping at 27.8 and Roche shortly before. Kunkel was maintaining the lead and spreading the field. His tactics broke the field and he went on to win by nearly 25 minutes, followed by Frost-Tift and Berteletti.
Somewhere between 32 and 35 miles Danielle took a wrong turn and after realizing it returned to the point she had gone wrong and then back to the previous aid station where she chose to drop out and hand the lead to Liza, who went on to take the win over Justyna Wilson and Anna Piskorska, both Masters, as well, winning both open and Masters titles.
Jean Pommier, 53, of Cupertino, CA was on a business trip to Berlin and stopped in to run in the park. He ran a controlled pace, let some of the younger runners fade away and moved into fourth place to take the Masters title, the tenth of his career and catch a plane at 6 AM the next day.
Kunkel who is studying exercise physiology and raises awareness for the Herren Project through his crowd funding page, and is also coaching middle school athletics, won his first National Championship title, but will run the USATF Marathon Trail Championships in Moab in a few weeks, perhaps with another in his sights.
Liza Howard, the mother of two, two-time champion at the Leadville 100-mile trail race in Colorado, and a past winner of the Bandera 100k, that served as the 100k trail championships, is a wilderness medicine instructor. She hails from the hill country around San Antonio and also has been involved in fundraising, primarily for Team Red White and Blue. She and a few others organized a national trail running camp, hosting it for 5 years at Camp Eagle, Rocksprings, TX, to help veterans learn to cope with civilian life, by teaching them the love of trail running.
Since then, Liza and the core group who organized camps for TRWB has created their own non-profit, The Band of Runners. They will soon host their first camp in Roanoke, VA and then expand to offer more.
Warm temperatures, rain and high humidity took its toll on the field, as did some fast starts! The attrition rate from the weather far outweighed that of fast pace running.
In addition to the solo division of the 50-mile, many teams from 2-person to 12 persons participated, with the teams providing their own aid and transportation. They started one hour later and went off in three separate waves.
Some of the solo runners commented they really appreciated the relay runners being out there and providing encouragement, knowing they had no one but themselves to run from one transition zone to the next.
One of the teams had a 97-year old man, who chose to run from Transition Zone 5 to 6, the steepest portion of the course with 1,301 feet of elevation gain in 4 miles. His team won their respective division too.
Bidding for next year’s national 50-mile road championship will take place at USATFs national meeting, in December and Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK will be hoping to secure another bid and serve as the championship.
TOP 10 USA Track & Field members.
1. Anthony Kunkel, 25, Durango, CO 5:43:48 ($500)
2. Joel Frost-Tift, 29, Huntington Park, CA, 6:09:00 ($400)
3. Dan Berteletti, 34, Golden, CO, 6:30:45 ($300)
4. Jean Pommier, 53, Cupertino, CA, 6:39:10 ($200)
5. Dimitri Kaliakin, 22, Landenberg, PA, 6:45:13 ($150)
6. Brian Polen, 37, Wooster, OH, 6:49:41
7. Mike Ryan, 51, Strongsville, OH, 7:00:38
8. Josh Litofsky, 25, State College, PA, 7:16:04
9. Scott Dunlap, 48, Woodside, CA, 7:36:22
10.Michael Renz, 41, State College, PA, 8:07:04
FEMALE OVERALL (only 7 USATF members ran the race)
1. Elizabeth Howard, 45, San Antonio, TX, 7:07:38 ($500)
2. Justyna Wilson, 42, Fairless Hills, PA, 7:15:01 ($400)
3. Anna Piskorska, 45, Blandon, PA, 8:11:11 ($300)
4. Connie Gardner, 52, Akron, OH, 8:32:43 ($200)
5. Emily Collins, 23, 8:40:52 ($150)
6. Amber Febbraro, 28, 9:56:41, Royal Oak, MI
7. Eva Casale, 52, Glen Cove, NY 11:36:38
TOP 5 USATF MASTERS
1. Jean Pommier, 53, Cupertino, CA, 6:39:10 ($200)
2. Mike Ryan, 51, Strongsville, OH, 7:00:38 ($180)
3. Scott Dunlap, 48, Woodside, CA, 7:36:22 ($160)
4. Michael Renz, 41, State College, PA, 8:07:04 ($140)
5. Ryan Todd, 41, Chester Springs, PA, 8:14:07 ($120)
1. Elizabeth Howard, 45, San Antonio, TX, 7:07:38 ($200)
2. Justyna Wilson, 42, Fairless Hills, PA, 7:15:01 ($180)
3. Anna Piskorska, 45, Blandon, PA 8:11:11 ($160)
4. Connie Gardner, 52, Akron, OH, 8:32:43 ($140)
5. Eva Casale, 52, Glen Cove, NY, 11:36:38 ($120)
Complete results at:
Race day photos by Tim Weight:
Race day photos by Hweikel Photography:
Race report from masters winner Jean Pommier: