Mt. Washington Road Race. 7.6 miles, 4600 foot climb, average grade 11.5%. 2010 was the 50th running of the race. This year the race was also the USATF National Mountain Running Championship and the sole race in which the US National Mountain Running Team would be picked. So it was a deep, deep field.
It was a spectacular day on the mountain...for watching the race at the top. Bluebird skies and highs in mid-high 80s. The predicted weather at the top was 60F and 30MPH winds. Snowman pulled out of the race with a sinus infection and took over DD from Dave Howard. Jim, Ian, Jaime, Dora, and Ann hiked up and cheered at the finish. Lots of familiar faces going to the start line including Dave Roberts, Bob Poirier, Tom Hoag, Kevin Robinson, Lily Childress, Scott Brown, Carry Buterbaugh, Tom Ryan, Chris Dunn, and my son's biology teacher Carry Boudreau. I wore a PR racing jersey for the first time. I promise to only wear it for road races and fall XC.
My goal time was 1:23. Last year I ran 1:25. I thought I had a 1:21 in me if I had the perfect race. I positioned myself close to the front and took off at a relatively easy pace at the canon. The first 100 yards drops in elevation about 20 feet. Then there is maybe several hundred yards of flat. Then the climb begins. The first 1/2 mile of the climb consists mostly of people settling out while they find their race pace. I keyed off the women mostly because I recognized several that would run about my goal time. 25 women were predicted to be sub 1:25 (only 6 were sub 1:25 last year). Probably 25 women were ahead of me.
I ran with no splits marked on my arm or really any goal splits. I was running mostly by feel but paying attention to my HR. My HR was steady at 158. Last year it was a steady 164-165. Should I be running faster? Was last year artificially elevated? Dunno but I was running at about a 1:20 pace so I thought I'd just stay at 158. I also tried a slightly different strategy from last year - I ran the tangents rather than the middle of the road. This meant a shorter run but a steeper climb. At the two mile mark, Kevin Tilton - one of the elite mountain runners trying to make the national team, was walking down and I heard him say "it's too hot". The sun was blazing and there was no relief - the tall trees that provided a little shade at the bottom quickly began dwarfing and by mile 2 or 3 there really wasn't any shade left. At the aid stations, I'd take one quick sip of water and pour the rest on my head. My singlet soaked it up and this kept the core a little cooler.
I hit the half-way mark right at 40 minutes but the top 1/2 is harder than the bottom. At this point I was steadily passing people, including lots of the sub 1:25 women. Somewhere around mile 4 marker I began to feel a side stitch, which I am prone to in races longer than 5K. Was this possible, on a climb, running 11 minute miles? I worked on breathing and then forgot about it. About mile 6 it recrudesced with a vengeance and it was somewhere around there that I slowed to a walk. My diaphragm was in such a spasm that I could hardly breath (remember the diaphragm is the muscle that make you inspire, filling your lungs with fresh air). I could actually breath more easily running but it hurt too much to run. I kept walking and amazingly, wasn't loosing huge time to the other runners. After about a minute I started to run again but that was too painful and I walked again. I walked for about 1/3 mile. One of the photographers snapped a photo of me in my painful struggle. I dug deep and returned to running and was able to keep the stitch from escalating again. I pushed it a little - I had about 1 mile left. Finally I turned into the final 22% wall and ran it the best I could. Ryan, Ian, Jim, Jamie, and Dave were absolutely brilliant. They were screaming their guts out. I heard one of them yell sub 1:23 and I dug deeper and kicked. I have a crap kick but I tried. I crossed the finish in 1:22:58 - right at my goal. I couldn't breath, I could barely stand. When I did finally catch my breath enough to have one of the finish volunteers let me go without falling I went over to the rocks to vomit but couldn't get it out. I finished 90th overall, 80th male and 8th in age group.
Mt. Washington is a painful race. The first 5 miles are great but soon enough the relentless climb begins to eat at you mentally. My mind kept expecting a crest to the hill but that just never happens. The last 2 miles of that race just hurts, mentally and physically. It's also a humbling race. And it's simply stunning that there are guys that run it in one hour. The beauty of Mt. Washington, though, is that the recovery is quick. There is no pounding on the body, just light little footsteps. It's the way running should be.
Big congratulation to all runners, and especially Chris D., Lily C., and Kevin R. on their first runs up the hill.
and the turn to the finish. Can you see the speed in my kick?
Thanks to Carry, Jim, Ian, and Ryan for the wunderbar pics!