Monday, June 22, 2015

"Because It's There": Mount Washington Road Race (6/20/15)

Jon, Kieran, me, Susannah, Bill, Scot and Dana on the top
photo by Christine Sweeney
Why are you climbing Mt. Everest?
Because it's there. ~George Mallory

BIG 20
Race: Mt Washington Road Race
Distance: 7.6 miles (12.2 km)
Elevation Gain: 4700 feet (1432 m)
Goal Time: 1:30:00
Actual Time: 1:33:45

Mile: 6.12 (6.85 km)
Elevation: 5423 ft  (1653 m)
"Wow, what the $%&@ is this?" I asked rhetorically.  From mile 6.12 to mile about 6.15 there was a downhill.  I hadn't seen one of those in well over an hour.

Mt. Washington is unrelenting.  For 7.6 miles the Auto Road climbs 4500 ft (1372m), averaging about 12% grade through most of it. Some long sections even average 18%.

Mt Washington elevation profile
Notice, just one hill

Mile: 0 (0 km)
Elevation: 1577 ft (480 m)
An hour and 15 minutes earlier, I'd been standing at the bottom of the mountain and start line.  Scot, Kieran, Bill and I talked with the runners around us.  After some spurious and questionable (which we only found out later) advice, the four of us were about as ready as we could be.

People ask why I would want to do this race.  I would point to the famous George Mallory quote: "Why would you want to climb Mt. Everest?" Mallory answered: "Because it's there."  Of course no one ever mentions that after he said that, in 1924 Mallory died trying to climb Mt. Everest and his body wasn't found until 1999.

The first person ascended Mt. Washington in 1642.  Since then, apparently hundreds have died on Mt. Washington.  Fortunately none of them have done so running the Road Race.

The race started with a bang - a cannon bang.  The 1200 or so of us were off and running.  Bill, Scot and Kieran were quickly out ahead of me.  I decided to take it as easy as I could.

Mile: 0.89 (1.43 km)
Elevation: 2000 ft (610 m)
At the 2000 foot mark, I looked down at my watch.  I had taken it easy, but not easy enough.  I was still on pace to break 11 minutes for the first mile.  WOW, gotta slow down, I thought.  I found it difficult to find that pace for the start of the race.  Maybe it's something that comes with experience from mountain races; but since I have NO experience with such, I wouldn't know.

Mile: 3.8 (6.11 km)
Elevation: 3911 ft (1192 m)
I hit the halfway clock at 45:01 - exactly on pace to do 1:30.  I also knew that I had been slowing down.  Most distance races you don't go through series of personal crises throughout the race.  I've always noticed one goal of the marathon is to deal with the mental challenge. As tired as my legs were at mile 3.8, I knew I would have to do the same with this race.  It wasn't going to get any easier. In fact, it was going to get harder.

The race was so far out of the comfort zone of most people I was running with.  So much so, that in the next mile I actually passed Jim Norcott and Scot, who I would never pass in a non-mountain race. 

Mile: 4.5 (7.24 km)
Elevation: 4355 ft (1327 m)
By mile 4 and a half, the trees are getting stumpier and the road turns from asphalt to dirt.  And all I could think was, "Oh, now it's dirt; that will make it easier."  Within seconds I realized I had no data or even logical theory with which to defend such an outlandish hypothesis.  Within the next mile, where the dirt portion ends, I had walked twice.

The first time I walked, I had convinced myself that it was good "strategy."  But the second time, I was reasonably distraught.  Could I run again?  Would I be walking for the next three miles?  Like mini-crises in marathons, I had learned not to give into them. I didn't give in and eventually started running again, but that was definitely the slowest part of the race.

Mile: 0 (0 km)
Elevation: 1577 ft (480 m)
Meanwhile at the base of the mountain....
Urvi and TM were directing the kids race.  The kids ran only about 200 yards but they still ran up and down a reasonable steep part of the Auto Road

The last 1/2 mile or so stretching stretching along the ridge
photo by Christine Sweeney
Mile: 5.5 (8.8 km)
Elevation: 5026 ft (1532 m)
The dirt ended at mile 5.5.  This time I was not silly enough to think that somehow this would make it "easier."  We were now full above the treeline and exposed to the wind.  It was more a breeze than wind.  Kieran and I had agreed that if we were only going to do this race once, this was the year.  The weather had been perfect.  It was 59°F (15°C) at the bottom and 52°F (11°C) at the top with no clouds and full visibility.  It was the perfect day to run up a mountain.  Especially one that claims to have the worst weather in the world (including winds of 231 mph - 372 km/h once).

Mile: 6.0 (9.7 km)
Elevation: 5352 ft (1631 m)
At mile 6, I don't know how clearly I was really thinking.  I had walked one more time after the road went back to asphalt.  But, for some reason at the mile 6 mark, I decided: "I'm not going to walk again."  And I didn't but there were definitely places where people were walking faster than I was "running."

At about mile 7.4; Jim Norcott (in gold/orange) closed that whole gap
photo by Christine Sweeney

Mile: 7.35 (11.8 km)
Elevation: 6133 ft (1869 m)
After running for an hour and a half nearly alone, suddenly near the top there are spectators and you can see the buildings on top and hear the Cog Railway as it steams to the top.  Only a quarter mile left, I decided to drop the proverbial hammer.  For the next 1/8 of a mile, I was running a blazing speed of 8:00/min mile as the road still wound it's way up to the top.

Mile: 7.47 (12 km)
Elevation: 6179 ft (1883 m)
You make a right at the parking lots and then you see the brutal last little bit.  It's a 22% grade!

I'd seen all the pictures from this last horrid section.  The grade forced even great runners to walk and hold their quads as they climbed.  I think this is where 6 weeks of the Harvard Stadium Stairs came in useful.  So I charged up what was about 50 feet of elevation over about .1 miles and then oddly didn't have much left in me to sprint at the end.

Jim Norcott caught me and yelled at me to go. So I found some last bit somewhere.

Mile: 7.6 (12.2 km)
Elevation: 6276 ft (1912 m)
Jim and I sprinted and finished within a second.  There was an awesome fleece blanket and medal waiting for me.  We gathered the finishers from the club as they came in.  Eventually we got about half of us at the summit itself for the obligatory stand-by-the-sign picture.

In the parking lot we celebrated with champagne and a Newburyport Pale Ale.

Shoes and medal

Mile: 0 (0 km)
Elevation: 1577 ft (480 m)
After getting a ride down the mountain with Dana's family (including a stop en route when the brakes started smoking), there was an awesome turkey dinner from Hart's Turkey Farm and the awards.

While I was the third fastest Clydesdale, they give the awards in age-graded percentage.  So, I took 5th in the Clydesdales instead.  I probably would have made third if I had run the 1:30 that my goal was - but I didn't.
SRR Men finished at the 8th Place Team.
My friend Denise Sandahl won the Crossan Cup - as the first New Hampshire woman up the mountain.

Why are you running up Mt. Washington?
Because it's there. ~Me

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