Now that I’m staring at my third go around with the Mount Washington Road Race in June, I feel like I can offer some tips and tricks for those who have never done it. I’m by no means a pro but I’ve learned some things last year that I didn’t know in 2016.
Mount Washington is a truly unique race. It’s “only one hill” but that’s a 7.6 mile long hill, with a gain of 4,727 feet in elevation. The average elevation is 12%, multiple sections with 18%, and the last portion at the summit is 22% called “The Wall”. It’s called that for a reason – As soon as you start running up it, you feel like you are literally, hitting a wall. I describe it as climbing a ladder without a ladder.
My first year of training for Mount Washington, I really had no idea what to do. I knew I needed lots of hill climbing so I started there. As someone who really didn’t like running hills, I had a lot to learn. The funny thing is that during training, I found I really, really liked hills. They made me feel so strong and confident! So if you were like me 4 years ago, here’s some uphill running tips as you kick off Mount Washington training (or any hilly race you have planned):
Shorten your stride – You cover a lot more ground running uphill with a shorter stride. Try not to run on your toes but have your whole foot on the ground. Running too much on your toes puts a ton of strain on your calves. A shorter stride will also keep you leaning forward.
Lean into the hill – Try not to lean backwards or too far up. You don’t want to collapse at the chest. The lean should come from your ankles and the amount depends on the grade. The steeper the hill, the more forward the lean. It should almost feel like you are falling into the hill.
Swing your arms – Amazingly enough, your arms follow your legs. So if you swing your arms more, your legs will follow. Plus, it gives you a little extra push up the hill.
Relax – It’s hard to relax when you are sucking wind but remember to relax the areas that aren’t needed. Relax the shoulders down, arms loose, foot steps as quiet as possible.
Now that you’ve got the hill tips down, let chat about Mount Washington Road Race specific tips:
Book lodging now – Any place close to the mountain will sell out early. There’s one hotel at the base (Glen House). Other lodging options are in the towns of Gorham, Jackson, Glen, Bartlett and North Conway. Just remember that the farther away from the base of Mt. W, the earlier you’ll have to wake up and drive. The road to the summit opens at 6:30 a.m. and promptly closes at 8:00 a.m. There will be a long line of traffic so don’t assume you can get there 20 minutes before 8.
Secure a ride down/pack a summit bag – No vehicle will be allowed to the summit without at least 2 runners tickets. If the vehicle has 3 or more and has an empty car, they don’t even have to pay the toll. That means there will be lots of people looking for runners to fill their cars. In addition, you’ll want to have a bag at the summit waiting for you once you finish. Your support vehicle should have that bag. In the bag, include warm clothing and food/something to drink. Depending on when you finish, you could be waiting for a really long time for the road to open back up to head down for the post race feast. Even though it’s “only” a 7.6 mile race, you are going to need something to refuel.
Pay attention to the MWO/Higher Summit Forecast – That’s the most accurate weather forecast for what to expect when you get above treeline. It can be sunny, calm and warm at the base but cloudy, high winds and wind chills at the summit.
Get comfortable with your heart rate being high – Uphill running taxes your cardiovascular system a lot more than regular running. Your leg muscles may will probably feel fine. It’s your high heart rate and breathing that will make you feel like you are working overtime.
Practice a run/walk method – The majority of people will be doing this. In fact, I think it’s more efficient than running the whole time because my power hike speed can sometimes be equivalent to my run speed. Power hiking gave my heart rate a chance to slow down and I’d catch my breath.
Just because it’s an all uphill race, don’t forget speed work! If all you run is slower hills, your overall speed is going to get slower. You can still run hills but make sure you are throwing Fartlek intervals in on the flats or smaller hills.
Use the treadmill and the stepmill – I know it’s not everyone’s favorite but these two pieces of equipment are excellent for building up leg strength for sustained climbing. I highly recommend you do at least one run a week on sustained climbing on the treadmill (working your way up to at least 12-15%) and one session per week on the stepmill.
Strength train – You should most definitely be strength training. Squats, box step ups, and lunges, and calf raises should be in your regular routine. I really like the 5 Minute Mountain Legs routine. In addition, don’t forget about your core and upper body strength.
Lastly, enjoy this amazing, one of a kind race! Don’t spend the whole time looking down at your feet. Savor the sweet smell of fresh pine trees below tree line. Look out at the beautiful mountains surrounding you. Be grateful for a body that allows you to run up mountains. And cross your fingers we get a gorgeous bluebird day with no wind this year. 🙂
If you are looking for a running coach for your Mount Washington Road Race training, I have a few spots open and would love to help you reach your goal. Shoot me an email (happyfitmama @ gmail.com) and we’ll chat!
Mount Washington Road Race – did you get in this year?
If you’ve done it before, what tips do you have?