Recap of Mount Washington Road Race (7.6 M), Pinkham Notch, near Gorham, NH, June 16, 2012
Randy Miller … 1:43:26
Chris Jaworski … 1:50:17
I don’t know if it was the good company, the altitude, the fresh air, the scent of pine trees, or the magnificent vistas, but I am still giddy about climbing Mount Washington. —Chris
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Don’t Take Your Friends for Granite
Randy didn’t know I’d entered the lottery for this event, and I didn’t know he’d done so either—until the March day we learned we’d both won a spot in the race. In May, we did a training session together: three repeats up and down a steep 1.6-mile incline on Skyline Drive in Ringwood. That was tough. Randy went back for a solo five-repeat session. That was a bit nutty.
Peter Kashulines, Randy’s friend and fellow ERC member, did not enter the lottery but very kindly offered to help us in big ways. After finishing a business trip with a flight to Boston (Thursday), he met us at his father’s house in Windham, New Hampshire (Friday). In the Granite State, Peter did most of the driving, which included taking Randy’s car up and back down Mount Washington the day of the race (Saturday). He’d also arranged for us to stay with him at his father’s place Saturday night. On Sunday, he drove us back to New Jersey. Many thanks to Peter for shouldering all that motoring, and to him and his father and family members for the wonderful hospitality!
It took eight hours to get to the race—five hours to Windham, and then three hours north to Mount Washington. After meeting Peter on Friday afternoon, we drove to the race site for bib/chip pickup and orientation. Then we traveled 30 minutes south, to North Conway, and checked in at the quaint Cranmore Mountain Lodge. We ate a prerace meal in the nearby village of Kearsarge—its main drag was hopping!—and then hit the hay for the night.
Runners please note: The Cranmore lodge is conveniently located near the site of another athletic competition, the Cranmore Hill Climb (http://www.whitemountainmilers.com/cranmore), which this year took place on June 24. Baseball fans will enjoy this lodge as well, as it has a strong connection with Babe Ruth and is filled with photographs and memorabilia. Guests can even request the Babe Ruth Room.
While tooling around New Hampshire on Saturday and Sunday, we found ourselves in the midst of “America’s Original Riding Rally.” The 89th annual Laconia Motorcycle Week was in its final two days. Bikers were cruising all over the state, at Mount Washington too. We passed quite a few on the drive down after our run.
This one-hill race was unique, the weekend an adventure. Traveling and hanging out with Randy and Peter made the experience all the more interesting and fun. Great talks and lots of laughs. Thanks to Randy for driving to Windham, for being a good guy and a good friend, and for holding up his end of our almost nonstop rapid-fire pun-athon!
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The Run to the Clouds
The Mount Washington Road Race began in 1904 and has been held every year since 1966. In 2012, the race was staged for the 52nd time. Details about the history of this “Run to the Clouds” are available at http://www.mountwashingtonroadrace.com/about/race-history/.
This year’s event doubled as the 2012 Men’s USA Mountain Running Championship, with each of the top six male finishers earning a spot on the USA Mountain Running Team. The team will compete in the world championships in Italy in September. Running Times has published a story on the USA championship results: http://runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=26381. The Women’s USA Mountain Running Team selection race is scheduled for July 8 and will take place in New Hampshire as well—at Loon Mountain in Lincoln. More information at http://www.acidoticracing.com/LMR.html.
More than 2000 people entered the Mount Washington lottery, 1200 were accepted, fewer than 1000 started, and 953 finished.
For $80, runners got a race entry, a tech shirt, and a postrace turkey dinner with all the fixin’s. In addition, at the summit, finishers received a Polartec fleece blanket and a medal. The prerace pasta dinner cost another $15. Race registration, orientation, Hall of Fame induction, the dinners, the start, and the awards ceremony all took place in one location at the base of the mountain.
After we picked up our bibs/chips and shirts, I joked that there should be a bumper sticker that reads, “The driver of this car ran up Mount Washington.” Lo and behold, very similar bumper stickers were being sold on race day.
At the orientation, we watched a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BZh-7hkNe4) of a very fast (6 minute 20 second) race to the top of Mount Washington. That didn’t scare us one bit.
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Course, Weather, Logistics
At 6288 feet, Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern United States. The 7.6-mile race from base to summit takes place entirely on the Mount Washington Auto Road and has a net elevation gain of 4650 feet. Average grade is 12%, but there’s an extended stretch at 18%, and the final 100 yards jut up at 22%. The very few sections that feel flat are short. Less than a mile of the road surface is dirt or packed gravel; the rest is paved. There are some sharp dropoffs (no guardrails), but you simply stay away from those! (And that is easy to do.) There is shade early on but then increasingly less, and finally none at all above the treeline. Four water stations were set up, at 1.25, 2.75, 3.75, and 6 miles.
The weather was darned near perfect. Moderate temps (~70 at the base, ~50 at the summit), low humidity, no wind, and blue skies with 120-mile visibility. Very good race conditions, plus there would be those beautiful vistas, and no snow at the summit. As Mount Washington is noted for its weather extremes, we really lucked out.
Parking at the summit is limited, so the organizers asked that drivers and racers coordinate their rides down—that there be a driver and at least two racers in each car. In May, I used the event’s message board to offer a ride to another racer, Rick Paine from Florida. Driving down with a full car allowed us to get by without paying the Auto Road fee. At the orientation on Friday, we met up with Rick to get acquainted and to discuss where to look for one another once we reached the top of the mountain.
At 6:30 on Saturday morning, the Auto Road was opened to summit-bound cars, and at 8:30 it was closed for the race, which would start at 9:00. Peter dropped Randy and me off around 8:00 and drove up. We two mountain men wandered off in different directions to get ready for the race. After warming up a bit, and talking with a few Sneaker Factory runners, I rejoined Randy, and we staked out a spot to wait for the gun (cannon!). Rick was in the crowd; we just didn’t know where.
Peter parked the car at the summit. Then, not wanting to miss an opportunity to get in a workout, he ran halfway down the mountain and back up! After that, he somehow had enough energy left to take photos of Rick, Randy, and me as each of us crawled up to the finish.
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At one end of the Auto Road is the summit of the mountain. At the other end is a T intersection with Route 16, a.k.a. White Mountain Road. Almost 1000 runners were comfortably packed into a small area between Route 16 and the starting line on the Auto Road. Only after the downhill out of the gates and then the first mile or two upward did the field start to spread out. Given our early “uphill battle” and pace, however, no one seemed to mind the congestion.
I had worked a lot of hills into my training and done that Skyline session with Randy. Ha! Very early in the race, as he began moving ahead, I began feeling I may as well have trained on a molehill. My Achilles tendons quickly began tightening up. After running the first mile and a quarter, I rested them by slowing to a fast hike. Miraculously, they loosened up and didn’t bother me the rest of the race.
I ran again, hiked again, ran again … and then there was a long stretch of only walking. When I finally started running again, my legs felt awkward, foreign, as though they were someone else’s. They’d become too conditioned to walking. But on I went.
Around the 4- and 5-mile marks, the hill steepened, and both times I wondered if I’d have to stop for a break. I’m glad that I didn’t give in to that temptation, and that I was able to keep moving the entire race.
The early walking may have helped me later, particularly on the sections that seemed flat. I began running more and more. The transitions from uphill to a more level surface brought another odd sensation—that my upper body was stuck in its leaning-forward position.
I think my trail and ultra experience helped in this race. When I was walking, I was power-walking. Relentless forward motion.
It was a long grind, but I felt better the higher I went. Although I was gulping air much of the time, I came to appreciate its taste more and more—it became purer and cleaner. Also, to a degree (pun!), the dropping of the air temperature helped keep my body heat in check. (Maybe all race directors should turn down the thermostat in the latter stages of their events!) With altitude, too, came increasingly stunning panoramas of the New Hampshire landscape, far below and out to the horizon. I made sure to cast my gaze in all directions, to soak up these views, and in doing so I repeatedly forgot, for a short while each time, just how tough the climbing was. One other happy distraction began when I struck up a conversation with a young guy who, we discovered, knows one of my Boston-area cousins and is dating a woman in the extended family!
Finally, I was buoyed by the thought of what an ambitious but absurd endeavor this was—what a uniquely and wonderfully human thing it was for all of us to be racing to the top of this mountain. Because it’s here. Because we can. A thousand of us nuts were in this. Another thousand hadn’t gotten into the race or hadn’t started. And who knows how many more had participated the previous 51 times the Mount Washington Road Race had been contested. It was rewarding to realize I was part of something grand here—a large family of curious runners, present and past, and this everlasting mountain. It was interesting to ponder what draws us to do these things when we could be home reading a good book instead.
And it was fun to crack myself up. I can see my house from here! Or, on seeing a bulldozer parked at an outlook: Is that for pushing off the mountainside anyone who can’t make it all the way up?
With 2 miles left, the finish started pulling, and I started pushing. I lengthened my runs on the “flat” sections and then used my momentum to continue running where the road shot up again. The desire to run became infectious. When with a quarter of a mile to go I finally saw Randy—he had finished in excellent time and come back to cheer me in—he yelled I should go catch the guy in the bright shirt. I kicked it into another gear—my best pace here was 6:48 per mile—and caught and passed that guy and several other people. Then I hit the steepest section of the course, and my sprint almost instantly deteriorated into a hands-on-thighs hike. Several yards later, the grade let up enough that I was able to surge into the finish!
Was that my hardest 2-hour running effort ever?
Next time I’ll do what our Sneaker Factory friends did: run down after the race!
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Rick finished in 1:35:16. He said he’d walked only about two tenths of a mile!
Complete results: http://coolrunning.com/results/12/nh/Jun16_52ndNo_set1.shtml.
I’m happy with my 1:50:17, as different sources had us expecting to run our half-marathon times, or those times plus 5 to 15 minutes, and I came in within 2 minutes of my best (1:48:31, Brooklyn, 2008). Here are my splits:
1 … 12:02 … 9:14
2 … 14:20 … 10:00
3 … 15:46 … 10:01
4 … 15:12 … 10:28
5 … 16:34 … 9:39
6 … 15:27 … 8:53
7 … 14:39 … 8:45
7.6 … 11:39 … 6:48