Four years ago, I had absolutely zero intention on ever running the Mount Washington Road Race. I had heard others talk about it but this non-hill lover said a big NO THANKS.
But then I entered the lottery in 2016 on a whim. We were headed up to ski/snowboard at Sunday River and Mount Washington was staring right at me through the windshield in all it’s snowy glory when I got a text from a friend asking me if I wanted to enter the lottery with her “team”. It seemed like fate. Why not? The odds of me getting in were slim to none. Or at least in my head it seemed like they were.
Apparently, the odds were in my favor.
Getting the Mount Washington Road Race confirmation email is without a doubt, a mix of emotions. On one hand it’s elation – I GOT IN! And then a moment later it’s – F*ck. I got in.
Training this time around was a lot different than three years ago. Hills were a major focus of course, but my coach did not have me run nearly as much mileage as previously. I didn’t do one run over 9 miles. It was all about time on feet, elevation gain and effort. No worry about pace or distance. Strength training was also a big component. Even though I was strength training three years ago, this time around I lifted heavier and had more options thanks to having a gym membership this time around.
I went into the race feeling confident, strong and ready.
But then the weather forecasts started coming out.
Two days before the race, there was 3 inches of ice at the summit. A hiker also died from hypothermia trying to make a summit bid. The race directors sent out numerous forms of communication about the weather potential – rain, 20 degree wind chills, temps in the 30s and wind gusts of up to 70 mph. Mount Washington is known for having the worst weather in the world after all.
On Friday, there was rumblings about possibly only allowing runners to go to treeline and then run back down because of the weather.
As my coach said, you can’t control the weather but you can control your reaction to the weather. There was no need to freak out.
Packing for this race is always interesting. I essentially pack almost all of my running clothes for those just in case moments. I knew the forecast could change at any minute so I didn’t want to be without anything.
Friday night, we arrived at bib pick up. It was sunny and warm in the valley but chilly, foggy and drizzling at the base of Mount Washington. Race officials were telling runners to ‘dress for winter’ for the run up the rock pile in the morning. The forecast had improved slightly – no rain – so it looked like we were headed to the summit. Yay!
Saturday morning arrived and it was an absolutely gorgeous day. I checked the summit forecast and it looked much better. Lower winds, no rain and possibly clearing for a short time but still temps in the 30s. Race officials were still warning to cover all exposed areas for frostbite fear.
I decided on wearing compression socks, shorts, singlet and tying a shell around my waist with a beanie and gloves in the pockets. It turned out to be the perfect combo.
While lined up behind the start, I found my friend Maureen. We were chatting when she mentioned that the last aid station might not be available due to the winds. Oh crap. I had 10 minutes to spare before the cannon went off so I booked it back to the tent to grab my handheld. Thank God I did because I needed it so badly!
I made it back to the start with time to spare and soon we were off.
The first 5 miles were pretty uneventful. I found a rhythm of run/hike intervals and stuck with it. It helped that Maureen was up ahead of me. She’s Miss Ultra Runner Extraordinaire who was running up the mountain “easy” and running back down hard to trash her quads in prep for the Vermont 100.
Just when the dirt road section ends, I came around the bend and saw a group of my run club friends who had hiked up. It gave me a surge of energy to see friendly faces. I yelled to Kevin to take my bib to finish the race for me. He was all in but then he fell back and let me continue on. Thanks for nothing, Kevin.
I started to bonk. My stomach started to growl. The wind was picking up. The temps were dropping. My hamstrings were cramping. I pulled on my shell, beanie and soon realized that I only had one glove. I must have dropped the other one somewhere in the previous miles. I tucked my hand as best I could up my sleeve to keep it warm.
The last 1.6 miles saw a lot more power hiking than running. My run/hike intervals were more like 30:100. I repeated countless mantras. I tried bumming a Gu off a girl but she couldn’t get it out of her pocket.
I kept trudging along and soon I could hear the crowds at the summit. I was close!
Before I knew it, The Wall of 22% was there. My legs weren’t having any running so I power hiked as best I could before making the hair pin turn for the final stretch when I could run again.
I crossed the finish line and saw that I beat my time from 2016 by 7 minutes.
My goal was to take off 10 minutes but I’m still very happy with what I did.
After that, it’s kind of fuzzy. I tried texting my friends to get my drop bag for food and warm clothes. Service was spotty and I had made the mistake of not asking where they’d be. Also, they had no idea I had crossed the finish line because my jacket was covering my bib number so the announcer didn’t say my name.
I spent the next 30 minutes wandering around, freezing and hungry. Thankfully, you are wrapped in a fleece blanket as soon as you cross the finish line. The wonderful volunteers had my wrapped up like a burrito. My hands weren’t functioning and I don’t think my mind was either. I thought about asking someone to take my picture with my medal but I didn’t think I could get my phone out or the words out. I spent some time in the observatory so at least I was protected from the wind.
Finally, I heard my friend Heather’s name announced as she crossed the finish line. I made a beeline for the area to find her since she her drop bag was in the same car as mine.
Once we connected, we got changed into warm clothes, I grabbed a Clif Bar from my bag and we devoured the salty, fake cheesiness of Cheetos. I started to come back to life slightly but decided to head back into the observatory to run my hands under warm water. They were ghostly white and painful. That did the trick and soon I was feeling more human.
Human enough to drink a Hard Cider and enjoy the ride down with views of the beautiful White Mountains.
I told Ron later that day that I think this was going to be my last Mount Washington Road Race. The logistics of it make it kind of a pain.
He laughed at me and said, yeah right.
But then the next day, I was thinking of what I can improve on for next year. We’ll see how I feel in February 2020. It is the 60th running of the race so I should probably try the lottery again…right? 😉
If you stuck around to read all of this, congrats. I think this may have been my longest EVER post.
What’s the hilliest race you’ve ever run?
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