Kick back and grab some coffee and snacks. This is a LONG one!
I’m usually pretty quick to write a race recap. But this one, I had a hard time sitting down to write it. Maybe because it’s been 14 months since I ran a race. Maybe because I had such a great weekend and was wicked tired from it Sunday night. Maybe because I had caught Ron’s cold and was feeling like do-do.
Maybe because I can’t find the words to describe how much this race meant to me.
When I entered the Mt. Washington Road Race lottery back in late February, it was on a whim. We were headed up to ski/snowboard at Sunday River and Mt. 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.
And then I found out I got in. Holy. Sh!t.
My training was marred with muscle niggles in my quad, back and an angry piriformis. I took a week off from running to figure out what was going on with my quad. And then another week because of my back and piriformis. After that, it was smooth running. I was feeling really, really good. I had let my mind start to think about paces and races that I wouldn’t allow myself to go to in the past 14 months. That is until the week before the race when I rolled my ankle on a training run. I took another 6 days off from running to let it rest in hopes I’d be ready for race day.
Friday arrived and it was time to go. It took me forever to pack. Not only did I need to pick out a race day outfit, I also needed to pack up a bag for the summit. Thankfully, the forecast was looking absolutely amazing (although a little too warm!) – 50s-60s and sunny in the valley for the start and 60, no wind and sunny at the summit. It’s hard to believe that it was snowing and hurricane force winds just one week ago. I still brought my Ugg boots, fleece and winter hat just in case the weather changed it’s mind. It can do that on Mt. Washington!
The family and I arrived at our friend’s condo in Glen, NH late in the evening. The view from the deck did not disappoint. It was hard to believe that I’d be running up that rock pile in the morning.
Saturday morning came and it was an absolutely stunning. Blue skies for days. We left the condo at 6:30 to drive the 30 minutes to the base/starting line. Things got a little hairy after that. Karin and I needed to pick up our bibs. Our bibs had the tickets that Robin’s husband, John, needed to be able to be our driver down from the summit. He couldn’t go up unless he had those. We arrived at the base and of course there we got stuck in line waiting to park. Long story short, Karin and I jumped out of the car while Robin parked it, ran across the field to registration, picked up our bibs, ran back to find John’s car in line for the summit, gave him our tickets and then he took off into the line of cars. It was then we realized that our summit bags were still in Karin’s car. Karin and I then raced back across the field, grabbed our stuff and ran a back towards the road hoping to catch John as he started up the auto road. Thankfully, we made it just in time. Woohoo! Crisis averted.
Side note – I was reassured that my ankle/tendon was good to go for the race because all of this running was done in flip flops with no problem!
We then had an hour to kill before the cannon went off. I tried my best to sip water and relax. It was quickly getting warmer. The sun felt great but I could feel myself sweating already. When I did my easy 10 minute warm up, I knew it was going to be a hot one.
It came time to line up and I immediately got nervous. Where do I line up? Previously, I would line up sort of close to the front. But I didn’t think I belonged there on Saturday. I was doubting my abilities even though I was feeling pretty good. I lined up somewhere in the middle. Immediately I regretted my decision. There was some really stinky people all around me! I moved forward a little bit in hopes of being up wind at least.
The cannon went off and it was go time. Although not really. It took 42 seconds before I crossed the starting line and then it was a slow trot across the first 250 meters that are downhill and then across the flat section until the hill started. I spent way too much time stuck behind people who were walking from the beginning for the first mile. That was the second time I regretted where I lined up at the start.
I was actually shocked at how many people were walking. It was steep but not that steep. After mile 1, things cleared out a bit. I was able to find a little bit of a consistent pace which I trudged along at till the first water stop around mile 2.5 where I walked through to drink a cup of water and dump one on my head. Despite being shaded by trees for the most part, it was hot. I knew we were going to be above the tree line soon where there would be no shade at all.
I started back up again and was able to run until mile 3 where the incline got me. I started my first of many, many, many run/walk intervals. I had read about someone doing a 200:100 run/walk ratio so I followed that as much as I could. It kept my mind busy even though I was skipping numbers here and there. 125, 126, 200 – YAY! Time to walk!
That worked well for me and seemed to be what a lot of the runners around me were doing. There were three runners who I consistently played leap frog with from mile 3 to the finish. It was kind of nice motivation to keep up the ratio as much as possible.
At points, the hill would appear to crest – but it never did. There seemed to be “flatter” sections and I remarked to one of my leap frog buddies that it felt like we were almost going downhill during one such crest. He laughed at me and said I must have altitude sickness because that for sure was not a downhill!
One thing that I noticed for the majority of the race was the scent of pine trees. It was so strong and smelled so wonderful!
Mile 5 was when I started to fade quite a bit. Part of this section is graveled and called the “5 Mile grade” or “Death March”. Looking ahead, for as far as I could see, was a long line of weary runners. No one around me was running. My 200:100 ratio dropped to 100:100 and then 50:50. Although truthfully, I’m not even sure I ran that much from mile 5-6. In fact, I don’t remember much of that other than the views were amazing, my legs were quite content to power hike and I was thirsty. Oh so thirsty. Where was the next water stop? Was there another water stop? It was my slowest mile at 17:06.
Thankfully I snapped out of my haze and realized I was in fact, in a race, and needed to run some more. I resumed my 50:50 run walk ratio. The summit was getting closer. Spectators were along side the road. I also had extra motivation to keep up the pace as I knew Ron and the kids would be at the summit waiting for me but only for a short time. They took the 9:30 a.m. Cog Railway up to the summit and would have to depart by 11:30 to go back down the mountain. I had to be at the summit by 11 a.m. I HAD TO!
The last bit of the race seemed relatively flat compared to what I had just run up. That is until I made a right hand turn and stared at the 22% incline that I knew was coming. My thoughts? “You gotta be f-ing kidding me?!?!” With spectators all around cheering you on to the finish, I attempted to keep running up it. But going up on my toes was not happening as my calves cramped up. I gave up that notion right away and power hiked it – hunched over, hands on knees. If you are wondering what 22% feels like? I compared it to climbing a ladder. It felt like I was climbing straight up.
Once up and over that “hill” it was a small incline (ha ha ha) to the finish line. I started to run again (Or at least I think I was running? I couldn’t feel my legs at that point.) and soon spotted Ron and the kids. There’s nothing better to see my family at the finish line. It always makes me smile.
Finish Time: 1:55:24
Some people say you can expect to finish around your half marathon time. I was quite a bit slower but I’m more than happy with my time. I knew it was going to be hard, but I had no idea what to expect.
So many people have asked me how hard was the race. I wish I could find a better way to describe it other than it was the hardest race I’ve ever done. You can’t even begin to fathom what it will be like until you actually do it. And now that I have, I want to do it again.
It was 14 months since I ran my last race. It was 14 months ago that I got injured in that race. I’ve had to deal with months of rehab, no running, and not to mention the emotional roller coaster that goes along with that. I’ve been so afraid to run a race again for fear of getting injured and not being able to run my pre-injury paces. This race meant a lot to me. It made me remember I’m not fragile and easily broken. I can do hard things.
Now how can I make sure I make it in the lottery for next year? Anyone want to form a team with me to better our odds?
What’s the steepest incline you’ve ever run up?