Tussey MountainBack 50-mile relay

State College, PA

Sunday October 23, 2011


I was impossibly nice to the cashier at Trader Joes in Bethesda last night.  I gave my mom an unusually long hug last night after our Monday night Old Lady Aerobics + dinner tradition.  I spent all morning cleaning my apartment, scrubbing parts of my toilet and under furniture that have never been cleaned since I moved in, because I knew sitting at a computer and trying to do phylogenetic analysis simply wouldn’t work today.  I’ve had a somewhat delayed reaction to Ed’s tragic death on Leg 8 of the Tussey MountainBack 50-mile relay.  Maybe it’s because our van was ahead of the event and really didn’t grasp the severity of the situation until Marty broke the news just as I was saying my last goodbyes before driving back to DC.  So I never had a chance to share my grief with other NVRC runners, departing for DC before the sadness really set in.  For the few minutes between learning the news from Marty and departing I was caught in a bizarre state of shock combined with lingering post-race high (I must confess, with a tinge of guilt, that our team had a great time, as we were largely spared from the terrible shadows of the day until the very end when we were departing).

I may have to return to State College for the memorial run in two weeks.  I can’t think of any way to cope with the sadness other than to be with my Nittany Valley Running Club (NVRC)  family as we collectively grieve along the trail of Ed’s last steps.

It may seem inappropriate to speak of this year’s MountainBack experience in light of Ed’s tragedy, given that up until the very end my experience was so overwhelmingly positive, while it was so traumatic for others.  But MountainBack is something sacred for me, and even this darkest cloud does not diminish its standing as the most exceptional race there is — the only race where when my friend Tany asked me to be a bridesmaid in the wedding she held two weeks ago, I told her (to a bit of her chagrin) that I had to check my calendar first to make sure it didn’t conflict with Tussey (I’m sorry, MtBk comes first!).  It meant so much to be able to give Aaron a taste of why this little relay is so special.

Maybe next year I’ll write more details about what Tussey MountainBack is all about — how the Draft Relay Challenge (DCR) works with its captains and bios and picks and such.  How our dear Commish John Sheakoski thwarts my plans every year to bend the rules so that I can have the people I want on my team (poor Aaron had to chug up Legs 4 and 10 with me since John deemed him too fast to replace Selena).  Or to explain why the race is the greatest running party in the world, a simultaneous celebration of gut-busting effort and the social bonds that seem to naturally germinate within and among the teams as the race goes on.

For now you’re just going to have to take my word that there is no running group as tight-knit as the NVRC, no relay scheme as ingenious as the DCR, and no race that so captures the spirit of running as the Tussey MountainBack.  Ed’s tragedy — and the way our group has responded to it — has only intensified these convictions.



2 Responses to Tragedy Strikes the MountainBack

  1. Neal Gorman says:

    Martha, so sorry for the loss of your dear friend. I trust in Ed’s last breath he felt the same conviction for life, family, friends and running that you describe in your recollection of him and the Tussey MtnB. WUS grieves with you.

  2. Kate says:

    Martha, this is so beautifully said. I felt the same way when I heard of Ed’s death while waiting at TZ 10/11. Though I didn’t know him, I felt guilty admitting what a wonderful time I had on Sunday (as I have had my past four years at the Mountainback) in light of his death. I also knew what a shattering experience it would be the NVRC who, in my opinion, are unlike any other running group in terms of closeness. Their response to this tragedy has reaffirmed for me how special they are.

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