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History of The Tussey Mountainback


The Tussey Mountainback started as an idea in the minds of two local runners, Mike Casper and Steve Bodner. Both had run marathons and distance relays, but more importantly, both had run in Rothrock State Forest and were struck by the forest’s amazing landscapes and its miles and miles of scenic roads and vistas. They drove and mapped a 50-mile loop that encompassed both popular venues such as Whipple Dam State Park and Colyer Lake as well as several lesser-known parks and natural areas, with the start and finish at Tussey Mountain. The event was initially thought of primarily as a relay, given the active regional running community, with the 50-mile ultramarathon as an option, but there was no clear sense that the event would even fly. In its first year, 2000, there were 16 relay teams and a single ultramarathoner, Joe Shuta, of nearby Duncansville. The second year, 21 teams and 4 ultramarathoners took part. And a progressive build began.

The race first hosted the USA 50 Mile Road Championships in 2004. Chad Ricklefs and Laura Nelson won the men’s and women’s titles, respectively. Ricklefs, who posted a 5:53:37, called the course “relentless.” The Tussey Mountainback has hosted the 50-mile championships many more times since, and the open and masters course records have continued to fall.

In 2013, several new miles were added in the middle of the course and some later miles were cut to enable the 50-mile loop course to be 100% on internal forest roads. The primarily gravel surface has considerable appeal among both relay and ultramarathon runners – this course is 84% unpaved.

The current open course records are held by Matt Flaherty (2013, 5:28:11) and Cassie Scallon (2013, 6:24:02). The masters records are held by Michael Wardian (2014, 5:46:34) and Justyna Wilson (2019, 7:05:53).

Numerous participating relay teams and individual runners have continued to return to the race. In 2007, an all-seniors team, The Old Men of the Mountains, made their debut, and they have run the race annually since. In those 17 years, the only runner who has been part of every year’s team is their captain, George Etzweiler, who turned 103 in 2023. In the long game, ultramarathoner Donald Halke has taken part in 17 of the ultramarathons.
In 2020, in the thick of the pandemic, when many races across the country were canceled, the Tussey Mountainback worked with the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages the forest, to implement a modified event. In addition to masking and other health precautions, the ultramarathoners started in waves, and the relay was limited to single-household family teams, which on race day meant three husband-wife teams. A special exemption from the shared-vehicle rule was also made to enable The Old Men of the Mountains to safely participate.


In 2022, the Tussey Mountainback introduced a 50-kilometer ultramarathon option. In 2024, the Tussey Mountainback is introducing three new events: a 100-mile ultramarathon (two loops of the 50-mile course), a half-marathon, and a kids’ 1-mile run on the grounds of Tussey Mountain.

From the beginning, the event was conceived not just to provide an amazing experience for runners, but also to give back to the local community. To date, the Tussey Mountainback has financially supported the vital missions of 20 Centre County nonprofits.

None of this would ever have been possible without the generous financial support of area individuals and businesses and the gifts of time, energy and dedication of thousands of volunteers.

This all leads back to the “why” of it all, to which we answer: Just for the hill of it!

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