7.6 miles up. 4650 vertical feet. 11.5% average grade. Daunting statistics. Best to not even think about it, but I can’t believe I really did it. Back in the day, back when there was no BTT, or WWTT, or even CRP, back when we were just a wild bunch of runners getting injured, doing these crazy things called “triathlons” to pass the time, there was the Boston Marathon and The Mt Washington Road Race. Then of course someone did an Ironman and all that changed, but that’s another story. Mt Washington was the crazies’ race, thee race to say, “yeah I’m tough, I did the hardest hill climb around”. Although times have changed and the bar is being raised every day, I never did do this race, until last month that is.|
It was a beautiful morning, so unlike many approaching this weekend, there was sun and warmth, and on June 21, 2003, summer had arrived in the White Mountains. Sczupak and I drove the night before to Franconia, about an hour from the race and crashed for the night. That morning we drove an hour to the auto road and began the vigorous task of handling all the logistics. This is a hard race to do without help. Unless you plan on running down – NOT – you need a ride, which means getting a car up to the summit. When you register for the race you get a “car pass”. If your driver collects three of these, the car goes up free and you bring three people down. If not you pay. It was easy to find two other people, as a long line formed of people looking for ride. So Rob gathered his passes, got in my trusty little car, got in line and joined a procession of over 300 cars to the summit.
The race started about a half-hour later with a cannon blast so loud I think my heart stopped, which was a good thing because very shortly it was racing out of control and probably benefited from the momentary pause. This race is so evil. The start is actually downhill for the first 100 yards, so everyone is flying. Until you hit the gate at which point the road very quickly climbs to 12 %. The first couple of miles went well. The temp was warm, about 70 degrees, but we were in tree cover for most of it, so it felt cool. I ran well and consistently – no walking – for those two miles, at about a ten-minute pace. This point in the race is hard to describe because I think I was delirious, but after 2 miles it really felt like an impossible task. I guess because the entire time your staring at the road right up against your face and if you dare to look up all you see is the road going up and up and up, but you’re an athlete and your mind and body adjusts. With my heart rate racing out of control, I decided at this point to opt for a run walk strategy. I would run up until my heart rate hit 95% of my max (165), then start walking until it hit 85%(153), then start running again. I kept with this formula the entire way. Was it effective? I really don’t know, but as a mental strategy it was crucial to have a plan. Everyone is walking/running at this point – mile 4. It’s a funny experience because you’ll run by someone while their walking, then a few minutes later, they run by you as you’re walking. Mile 4-5 was the worse in terms of steepness, but this is too where you climb above the tree line and the views are spectacular. 80 miles of visibility that day. Simply awesome. Well I just went blank for a while and the next thing I remember happening around mile six is seeing a 10-dollar bill on the ground! Well, I snatched that up! Weird. Were people ahead of me so delirious they didn’t notice 10 bucks? Or maybe at that point it’s not worth it to bend down and get it. But I did! With the finish not far off, I gather my composure for the photo, hit mile 7 and actually feel like it’s a downhill. That’s a funny thing about this race. Hit a 10% grade and you feel like you’re going downhill. Finally, I can see the finish. It’s still about two hundred yards away and several turns. After taking the final turn, you hit a wall. Literally. 125 feet at 22 % grade. I sprinted. Well, sort of, but I did run all of it. I finished in 1:36. I decide to race Clydesdale since in road races it’s 190+ and ended up 2nd in my division. All in all a great day. Thanks to Rob for driving up and then down. He claims he’ll do the race next year and run down afterwards. We’ll see. Personally, I’m looking forward to the bike race in August. I wonder if I can beat my run time?