JFK 50 Miler

June 19th, 2010 - Race - Mt. Washington - 4,727 FT

Day 170 - Mt. Washington didn't stand a chance as over one-thousand competitors, organizers, and volunteers descended, and ascended, on the area for the 50th "Power-Walking" of the Mt. Washington Road Race.

(Only way down is to go up)

Standing at 6,288 ft (probably a little flatter now), Mt. Washington is the highest point in New England and the home to an annual crazy ass mountain race.

My journey (along with a number of other 2009 Mountain Goats) to this race has been over one year in the making. It all started with the 2009 race to the almost top of Mt Wachusett, and concluded with the scramble to the summit of Mt Ascutney in Vermont.

The USATF-NE sanctioned Mountain Series (founded by Double-D) has got to be one of the toughest, and coolest, series in the region. Along with the two mountains mentioned above, the entire series also includes Northfield Mtn, Pack Monadnock, the Cranmore (double) Hill Climb, and the appropriately named, Loon Mtn.

My favorites: Cranmore/Ascutney. My most dreaded: Loon-ey Mtn.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to make it to any of the mountain races this year, and miss torturing myself on their slopes dearly.

So, to make up for my lack of suffering so far this racing season, I entered myself into the Mt Washington race as a mountain goat. This guaranteed myself entry into the highly sought after race.

Demand was even higher as this was the 50th Anniversary, and the second year that this race would serve as host of the US National Mountain Championships, where the top runners here would be chosen to represent the US at the World Championships!

My race goal was to just not fall off of the mountain, and maybe try to come in under 1 hr and 30 minutes.

The very early race day started with a carpool with Masssoles teammate, Dane, from Lowell. It would be a three hour drive from Lowell to base camp at Mt Washington.

We spent the drive catching up on our training, racing, and coming up with even crazier ideas for running. Dane had just completed his 4th ultra a few weeks prior at Pineland Farms (50 miler). I was still dreaming about my first ultra, coming up in November at the JFK 50.

(Photo courtesy of Mike Stanwyck - Dane and I - Pre or Post Race?)

Somewhere between Lowell and Mt Washington, Dane and I came up with the brilliant idea to run the Reach the Beach Relay (210 miles) as a four-person team, which is the minimum allowed. Both Dane and I have competed in the relay for at least the past three years under the Masssoles branding. We've both run on 12-person teams and 6-person ultra teams, but never a 4-person ultra team! Brilliant! A 4-person team would basically require each member to run 50+ miles each. Good luck to the team that has an injury during the race!

The plan now is to find a fourth person crazy enough to join Dane, myself, and Ranger Dave at the 2011 RTB Relay. We're starting our search at Arkum Asylum in Gotham.

We got to the Mt Washington base camp (sitting at about 1500 ft above sea level), and race registration at 7:30AM. The race was scheduled to go off at 10AM. This was probably the earliest that I've ever arrived at a race not named Boston or NYC.

Right away I came across a couple of familiar faces. Joe Donnelly was a volunteer assisting with the parking situation (he would later go on to run a 1:14 race!). Next up was good ole' Bob Randall with Winner's Circle out of Maine. He was setting up his club's tent to provide some shade from the already blazing sun.

The temps were close to 70 at this point and it was only 8AM!

Both Dane and I made a dash for for the port-a-john as the Dunkins from an hour earlier was starting to work its magic. My stomach was running, and churning, on Dunkins at this point. A mistake that I would regret later in the race.

We eventually met up with another Masssoles teammate, Denis, and his fearless wife Diane to hand off our auto-pass, and bag of dirty laundry, with their destination being the top of the summit. Diane would be the one making the treacherous drive up the mountain in order to drive our lazy asses back down it at the conclusion of the race. Thanks Denis and Diane!

Dane and I registered, got our BIBS, and then hung around for the next hour chatting it up with the other runners, including Gary, another Masssoles teammate. There was really nothing else to do, but to stay cool and relaxed.

Both Dane and I were wearing our Five Fingers, so that was basically the talking point of most of our conversations with the other runners. I wasn't yet ready to wear my VFF's for the race, but Dane was determined to wear them...once he got a course report from others that had done this race.

By 9AM, Dane was sticking with his plan to wear the VFF's, while I switched into my Newtons to begin our "warm-up". We were doing a one mile loop on the surrounding trails when we came across a baby bear. Fortunately, mama bear was not around to molest us:

(I think I can see a pair of "crappy" gloves on his hands)

(Mama Bear...or is that Papa Bear?)

The only other familiar face that I ran into, pre-race, was Reno. Reno was going for the master's category win and age-group record. He would need to run somewhere around a sub 1:18 race for the age group record.

All 950+ runners got into position at the starting line by 10AM, and we waited eagerly for the starting canon to go off...and we waited some more. It eventually went off with an anti-climatic thud, but that got everyone moving...barely.

I was about six rows back from the start, thinking that that should be sufficient enough to keep myself out of the way of the faster runners, but it actually placed me behind a whole lot of other runners that were planning on running a lot slower than what I had in mind. I had no idea what pace I was going to run, but it felt like a really slow start, considering we weren't even on the Hill yet!

It wasn't until I got onto the portion of the first climb that I was able to maneuver at a speed more to my liking, which was slow and steady.

Like I said, I had no idea what pace to go for over the next 7+ miles since I had never climbed a 7+ mile mountain before. I had been told that your Mt. Washington time should be close to your half-marathon time. For me that would have been around 1:23. That would mean that I would need to "run" the next 7.6 miles at roughly a 10:55 pace to be anywhere near that time.

Mile 1: 10:22 - Looking and feeling great! This isn't so hard!

The heat was pretty bad even under the shade of the first mile. I actually don't mind running in heat (insert sex joke here) as it seems to help me focus. I like to know that my effort is actually making me sweat, even if it's partly due to the temps.

One of the few strategies I implemented on this run was deciding whether to cut the tangents or to go for shade. It was usually one or the other on this road. I ended up opting for the tangents.

I leaned forward and continued my steady and workman-like push up the mountain. I just couldn't believe that it was going to be like this (and worse) over the next 6 miles!

Mile 2: 11:52 - OK. A little slower than what I wanted, but it's still early.

Out of curiosity, I remember checking my Garmin to see what the grade was at certain points on the course, and every time I did, it just said 22%! Not fair! I couldn't even train for this type of terrain on my treadmill unless I flipped the damn thing upside down!

(Note: we are not running backwards)

Some of the runners around me started to power walk around 2.85, but I continued to run. I was determined to keep on running until those walking around me were making more progress than my running.

Mile 3: 12:41 - Forget my half-marathon time, I don't think I'll even break 1:30 at this point!

The Dunkins of earlier was starting to wreak havoc on my insides. I felt bloated and very gassy. I would like to apologize to all of the runners behind me today!

It was this stretch after mile 3 that made me see the futility of trying to race up this beast of a mountain. I remember looking up and seeing about a half mile of just uphill road, meandering its way along the side of Mt Washington's waist.

I hit the halfway mark in about 44 minutes and change. There was no way I was going to do a negative or even split on the second half to get under 1:30, so my goal now was to just keep "running" for as long as possible.

Mile 4: 12:28 - I think there was a downhill somewhere in here.

Mile 4 on my Garmin was right about where the 4K elevation marker was by the roadside. We were quickly approaching the timberline at 4400 ft. A timberline is defined as:

The edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing. Beyond the tree line, they are unable to grow because of inappropriate environmental conditions (usually cold temperatures, insufficient air pressure, or lack of moisture).

Sounds like a wonderful place to take the family for a run!

(Is this Heaven?)

Mile 5: 13:31 - I blame the elevation for wreaking havoc on my Garmin. There was no way I was going this fast!

One of the interesting aspects of this run was that even though you are constantly climbing, there were parts of the course that felt like you were running downhill. This was due to the change in the severity of the uphill grade. Going from a 25% grade to a 10% grade makes a world of difference. One minute you're clawing up a wall, the next, you're flying over a mole hill.

I can't remember exactly, but I think there was a stretch of semi-dirt road around this part. I did everything I could to keep moving in a running motion. I was starting to reach the point where walkers were going just as fast as I was running.

Mile 6: 13:47 - This is more like it. A pace that I could handle.

The turn, infamously known as Hairpin, that did me in was around 6.2. Right as I came around this sharp turn, my legs just completely shut down on me. I was basically the title character from Weekend at Bernie's. I was a walking carcass, but not as sharply-dressed.

(Gotta love the 80's)

At least I can say that I completed a 10K on Mt Washington before I was forced to beg for mercy. Total elapsed time for me at this point was 1:16 with more than a mile to go.

I knew I didn't have a shot at finishing below 1:30 and I had started walking, so goals A & B were out the window. The only other goal that I could muster on the fly was to beat Frank Georges' time of 1:36. Sorry, buddy, I needed something to keep myself going.

Mile 7: 13:49 - Elapsed time of 1:28. Even fresh roadkill was passing me now.

I remember looking up and seeing the Wall near the finish. There's no way we're going up there! Alas, we were. The grade here is about 30%. Damn you dirty mountain!

I always make it a point to have a strong finish and kick at the end of all my races, no matter how I felt. Mt Washington made it a point to not let me do that here. I began my all-out-sprint and BAM! I ran smack right into the Wall and was forced to power walk the last stretch before the finish. How humbling.

(Hitting the Wall)

I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:34.

My hats (shirts, shoes, underwear) off to all of those that ran Mt Washington. This is one f'n crazy race!

Speaking of taking it all off. I think the most amazing story from this year's Mt Washington race goes to the overall female winner, Shewarge Amare. She went on to break the female course record...in someone else's running outfit, sneakers included!

From what I heard, Shewarge had locked her belongings in her car when she got to the race. I remember hearing Andy S. make an unusual request/announcement before the race started, asking runners for an extra pair of sneakers and running clothes. So much for trying something new on race day!

(Masssoles on Top of the World...well, New England)

I definitely want another shot at Mt. Washington next year, but it'll be up to the lottery and running god(s).

Interesting fact: I finished my Mt Washington run about 4 seconds ahead of David Lapierre. He was the same CMS runner that I dueled with at the finish of Mt Ascutney to conclude the 2009 Mountain Series (11 months prior)! 

(Looking for the right moment to pounce)

(Mt Washington Finish - History Repeating Itself)
(Ascutney Duel with David)

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