Saturday, June 21, 2008

Holy cow, or the Mount Washington Road Race

Today I ran my first Mount Washington Road Race. The best words to describe my feeling about the race: Holy Cow. That was quite a unique race. 7.6 miles and just under 4,650 feet of climbing to reach the 6,288 foot peak. The climb is 12 percent on average, 18 percent at the steepest long grade, and 30 percent at the finish! Not an easy climb.

The morning started early as I arrived at Mount Washington after a two hour drive. I chose the more scenic route for the drive up to enjoy the beautiful morning and to hopefully catch a glimpse of some moose. I did not see any but my buddy Jim saw a mother and her calves on the same road, so I guess I was just a little slow. The first part of the drive was socked in with some low lying clouds and fog but at the half way spot and as the music on my iPod turned more upbeat, the clouds opened up as if on cue. At this point I had hit the more mountainous region of our glorious state and the peaks of some of the hills were still flirting with the clouds, which was a quite spectacular site.

Almost immediately after arriving I spotted Jamie, who was our driver down the mountain, and the rest of crew, including Jim from L.L.Bean and his Topsham running buddies. After handing of our runner's passes to Jamie to allow him to drive up, Jim and I and a few others headed off to run around the trails of Great Glen Trails XC ski area since we had an hour before the race started. All told I got in a 40 minute warm up run before heading back to the start just a few minutes before the cannon roared, sending the runners chasing the peak.

At 10 AM, we started. Cruelly enough, this race starts with a downhill. This could be for humor, or more likely so the race can be run on the entire auto road by starting outside the gate but not right at the gate where a bottleneck would be guaranteed. I started a little bit back in the field and it took me roughly 20 seconds to cross the finish line and them and undetermined amount of energy weaving my way around those those who chose a slower starting speed than me. At about the quarter mile mark the only downhill and flat sections were behind us and the rest of the way pointed straight up!

I kept a pretty good pace until near the end of the second mile when reality hit: this is a steep hill and is only getting steeper. This thought really hit me hard because I have never had to deal with anything like this. Typically in any race, be it a 5K or a 100-miler, every hill ends and you are rewarded with a nice downhill or at least a flat section. This is not the case on Mount Washington. One of Jim's veteran Mount Washington buddies told me before the race, while shaking his head, that mile 2 was a bear. Boy was he right. So after running for 1.85 miles I adopted my run-walk strategy.

After the run-walk strategy I never seemed to go to deeply anaerobic and felt pretty in much in control. Many other runners had also taken this strategy, and even those that didn't were not moving too terribly much faster than my power walk. At the half way mark I had clocked a time of 39:51, well on my way of achieving a sub 1:30. Shortly after the halfway mark, we passed the 4,000 feet marker and were now running above tree line. This is where the race got really cool, because the views were fantastic. It was unbelievable to look down at the start line and realize how high I had climbed. It was also at this point that I started likening this course to a Tour de France stage in the Alps. I felt like I had watched this race many times in July during the Tour. It was also at this point that I felt the alpine chill and noticed the thick clouds at the summit. I was heading for the place that had witnessed the all-time surface wind speed world record of 231 mph in 1934. So the weather in this place is never certain.

The last couple miles were punctuated by bouts of running and walking, worrying about my tired legs, and exhilaration at the views and what I was doing. The last mile found me completely enshrouded in clouds and getting chilly. As I neared the finish line, the thickened crowds motivated me to pick up the pace, despite my tired legs and the 30 percent grade "wall" at the end. I finished in 1:26:19, 123rd out of 646 males (Mount Washington results ). Considering I did not do any hill training in preparation for this race and also the fact that this race was the US Mountain Running Championship and boasted the largest elite field in the race's history, I feel pretty good with a Top 20 percentile finish. And I achieved my goal of a sub 1:30. Looking at the winner's time of just over an hour with a pace just under 8:00 minutes a mile is astounding. Unbelievable.

All in all, this was a great day. I have never been to the top of Mount Washington and I was not disappointed. Thanks a ton to my buddy Jamie for spending like $600 in gas to drive up to the top of the mountain and then cost himself another $1,000 for the future brake work he'll have to do to his car to repair the damage done driving down!!! Also a big thanks to my father-in-law Phil for coming out and volunteering on my behalf (I was granted a race slot through the Maine Track Club and in return I had to provide a volunteer). You guys are great and made this day happen. Will I be back next year? I don't know. I guess I'll probably throw my hat in the bucket again and see what happens. I might even train if I get in again!


Jamie said...

I had fun helping out! Great job man. That's one tough race. Was glad to watch it from the sidelines this time.

Caterpillar sleep in the bathtub...
fairy always wades in the sink...

Anonymous said...

Yowser. That is one heck of a time. Hopefully I will make it through the lottery one of these years.

Rest up.

sn0m8n said...

I agree...Holy Cow. That thing is hard. Great job out there that's a great time!