Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mount Washington Road Race

Twice now I have competed in what is perhaps the dumbest race anyone could ever think of; the Mount Washington Road Race. Why anyone would want to run up a mountain is still a complete mystery to me, even though I have completed it twice now. I think it may be one of those cases of "Because it's there". There really is no other reason for this race to exist. The best quote I heard when telling people that I was doing this race came from Zac when he replied "Why would I want to do that? I already know how to run slow." And run slow I did.

Can you blame me for being slow?
The first time I ran this race in 2009 I fell apart real early and ended up only making it about a mile and a half before I started to walk. It was a source of embarrassment being passed by everyone as we made our way up the hill. I just couldn't hold it together and felt like I walked more than I ran.
My final time was 1:49:57 and I was none too happy about that. 2009 was a big year for me running-wise and going into the race I thought I was ready to rock and show that mountain who was boss! Then it bitch slapped me hard and I learned a valuable lesson; confidence is good but you better have the skills to back it up. Apparently I did not have those skills. My goal this year was far more humble; run as far as I can without walking and then do my best.

As we waited in the field for the start it began to rain, nay, it began to pour. Maybe I should put on a long sleeve, it could be cold up there. Oh yeah, I sent all my gear to the summit. Total dumbass move. Luckily it stopped raining about ten minutes before the start. We made our way to the start and settled in about half way into the crowd where I promptly turned to Mel B and mentioned that I was a bit unnerved being so far back from the start. This proved to be very prescient of me as I thought that since they were using the B-Tag system it wouldn't matter where I started but little did I know that it only recorded the finish time, there was no start line mat. Tricia's kids were there at the start to cheer us on and then the cannon went off to herald us up the mountain.

I had decided on a conservative approach this time so I tucked in behind Mel and Tricia and let them set the pace. Since I had recently received my new Garmin 610 one of the goals on the day was to test out the heart rate monitor. I switched over to the hear rate screen so that I wouldn't keep looking at my pace and instead I just ran by feel. The hill got steep real quick but I managed to keep shuffling along until I found myself moving past the girls around the first mile mark. So far so good.

By mile two I was still making my way up the hill. It was certainly no fun but my legs were holding up well. Apparently around this time a girl managed to fall of the mountain. Tricia and Mel were right there when it happened and saw her tumble down the steep road side and possibly break some bones. Tricia sprang into action and asked if she needed CPR but then realized that she did not and continued on with the race. There are no guardrails at all on the road and one wrong step can easily result in this type of tumble. I had thought of this exact scenario as I was running since most of my first few miles were run right up against the side of the pavement.
Nothing here but sky
Half way arrived and I was still chugging along. It was getting harder but my spirits were high. If I could make it 3.8 miles I could make it 4. And if I could make it 4 I could make it 5, etc. Mile four arrived and the legs were starting to feel it. 4.3 and it was getting real steep. At mile 4.4 the road turned to dirt and the legs were really feeling it now. Finally I made the decision to take a break, 4.5 miles I began to walk for the first time. I was happy that I had made it so far, but it still felt like the worst was yet to come.

The last three miles were a series of walk and runs. At first I would walk for no more than 90 seconds and then run for however long I felt I could. Eventually I abandoned any plan and just went with how I felt. Surprisingly I found that my walking time was getting shorter and even thought the time running wasn't really long, in total I was running much more than walking. Once we broke through the tree line there was a cool breeze to help me along and some spectacular views. Unfortunately I could not see large portions of the road where before I could only see about a quarter mile at best. It was a bit demoralizing looking up and just seeing the road stretch on for a couple miles. But at the same time I could look up and plan what sections to run and walk.

Towards the top the road flattens out a bit into long stretches. It was easy to walk the small steep parts and then run the longer bits. I found that I would walk for about 30-60 seconds and then I could run for almost a half mile. The only limiting factor now was the elevation, I was starting to feel it in my lungs. The lingering cold I had was causing me to wheeze and it was clear that it was getting harder to suck in enough oxygen. Passing the 6000 foot marker I knew that the end was near. A couple of young girls were dancing on some rocks cheering us on, they had drawn encouraging slogans in chalk on the road. The observatory was looming overhead at this point.

The last half mile and I was determined to run it all the way in. It wasn't bad, some of the flattest parts of the race, right up until you hit "The Wall". A 22% grade slope which is the last test before the finish. It is short, maybe 30-40 feet long but it hits you like a truck. Even though I was ready for it as soon as I began to climb up it my head got dizzy, I slowed down to nearly nothing, and I wanted ever so badly to throw up. But I kept those feet moving, inspired on by the cheering crowd and as I made the final turn to the finish I saw the clock flashing out a 1:37 and knew that I was going to beat my old time by over ten minutes.

I crossed the finish line gasping for breath. This was the second time I had made it all the way to the summit but this time it was different. In 2009 I was utterly defeated by the hill, there was virtually nothing about that race that was positive (except the weather). This time I ran the race with respect for the course and it made all the difference. I didn't defeat the mountain, but it didn't beat me either. Overall the day was a success; good weather, good pace, the legs held up, and I had redeemed myself from the last time.

As I looked out over the valley from the highest peak in New England I smiled and enjoyed having finished another great run. And then I smiled some more as I realized that I had packed some great beer for the ride down.

And there was much rejoicing

1 comment:

  1. Sorry if I commented twice.

    It was great how you held back for the first mile. I think that paid off hugely. Great pics. Awesome PR!