Holding Out for a Different Ending (Mt. Washington Road Race Report)


I was hoping Mt. Washington would be a sequel: the happy ending to a story that began a year ago in the White Mountains.  

Hobbled by my Achilles last spring, instead of racing, I headed northeast to cover the 2012 event for Running Times (my article here).  I had a great weekend last year, sharing in the mountain running and Mt. Washington community.  It was great fun riding in the press vehicle, watching Sage Canaday absolutely crush it, interviewing all of the top finishers, and imbibing on a fair share of microbrews post-race and at the Moat Mountain Smokehouse in North Conway (a Mt. Washington tradition).

My hope was that this year it would all come full circle—from watching in the press vehicle to a great debut race on the mountain.  A fitting Part II in the narrative.  Instead, self-handicapped by the previous weekend's 50 miler, and having come down with a cold, I hacked and wheezed my way up the mountain at a pretty dang slow pace.  It would have been a rough day regardless due to those two factors, but I didn't help my case when I went out too hard the first mile.  It was pretty apparent just 5:00 into the race that I was pushing too hard, breathing too hard.  

On a mountain averaging twelve percent grade, there's nowhere to hide and nowhere to recover.  It took me until mid-race to get my breathing halfway under control.  And by then, the muscles are starting to get pretty shot.  You hit a few slightly less steep pitches that feel "flat," but as much as you want to use them and run faster, your legs don't really let you.

Despite my difficulties, I'm glad I went to the race.  I knew this year would be a low-key opportunity to finally run the mountain, learn how it feels, how to race it, and how my preparations allowed me to fare.  Next time I race the 7.6 miles to the summit may well be a future USA Mountain Running Championships, and I'll be glad to have this experience.  In addition to simply having the knowledge of  what it feels like to run uphill for over an hour, I now know how woefully inadequate my treadmill workouts were for preparation.  I think I really just need to live somewhere with hills for daily training, in addition to doing hill workouts.  Living in the flatlands and running a mere treadmill workout every couple of weeks won't cut it.

I was staying with Matt Byrne for the weekend, who finished an impressive fifth this year, and who has had previous success here.  As we enjoyed some brews after the race, I think he put it well: after your first Mt. Washington, you either say, 'it's not for me,' or you say, 'how do I come back here and excel—how do I fix this?'  There's no real in between.  You're either drawn to the challenge and want to return and rise to meet it, or you move back to more comfortable, familiar territory.  I want to excel.  Just like last year, I'll be back again, but armed with more knowledge and experience.

I didn't get my happy-ending sequel this weekend, but I'm healthy and I got to spend a weekend in great company, so I can't be too disappointed.  I'll just have to make this story into a trilogy.

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