Ascent of Mount Washington on 2009-06-20

Climber: Jim Johnson

Date:Saturday, June 20, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Washington
    Location:USA-New Hampshire
    Elevation:6288 ft / 1916 m

Ascent Trip Report

This past weekend was my 2nd go at the Mount Washington Road Race (results) up in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire. The weekend was chock full of highs and lows... interesting and unpredictable New England weather... and good times with teammates and friends... The latter being why I do all this in the first place...

Kristin and I (pictured to the left at the finish line, post-race on Saturday) along with Dave Quintal (CMS) and Jon Healey (Adidas NE) headed up to Jackson, NH on Friday afternoon to attend the pre-race info-session and packet pickup at the Eagle Mountain House. There we met up with dd & Cath, Kevin Tilton, Paul Kirsch, and some of the usual suspects for a pre-race discussion around the USATF- NE mountain series, history of the Mt. Washington Road Race, the upcoming Mt. Washington Road Race hall of fame, and presentations by dd (race advice & Q&A) and two other female who was running this year's race with only one leg and the other who was here doing research for her book on various interesting races around the world. It was nice to be up there ahead of time, relax, meet up with teammates, and get mentally prepared for the race. I also got to meet and quickly talk to GZ who had just gotten in from Colorado. Very cool to finally put a physical presence with the name and get him back over to the East for some 'hill running' :)... The weather before the talk was ominous and bleak...when we left the Carriage House to walk to the cars, the sun had broken through the clouds and it looked as though we may have some nice weather... but being New England, and in the Mount Washington Valley more specifically, anything was possible...

We all went from the Eagle Mountain House over to the Spaghetti Shed for dinner, where we met up with Francis Burdett, Al Bernier, Ben Nephew, Tim & Abby Mahoney, and others for some carbo-loading before heading over to Attitash for the night. That night, we checked into the Seasons at Attitash, off of Rt. 302 and only about 20 minutes from the base of the Auto Road. My sister Kristin, who was running Washington for the first time, stayed with us along with her husband and 2 of her 4 boys.

In the morning, we all headed over and up Rt. 16 to the base of the Auto Road where we met up with my Father who would be driving up with the lovely and talented Kristin. Along the way, the clouds seemed to be rolling in the closer we got to the base of the mountain. Just before we passed Wildcat Ski Area, the drizzle started to fall. We knew at that point, it was going to be interesting.

As we arrived , parked, and met up with Dad, the Goon Squad was in full effect, as Sarah Prescott, Scott Masse, and Hank Wilder all made their way over to give their auto passes to my brother-in-law so he could also drive up the mountain. As we waited for the cars to get the go-ahead to start driving up, I chatted with GZ, Eric Morse, and a few others as we waited for the CMS contingent to arrive. I also tried to offer some words of encouragement and advice to my sister (pictured here with me after the race) who was really nervous about what was to come. I even went as far as to walk her over to the hill to show her what she was going to get into in about an hour's time...I'm not sure that helped :).

At approximately 9:15, Jon Healey and I met up with dd, Dave Quintal, Justin Fyffe, Kevin Tilton, Andy McCarron, Matt Clark, Brad Klinedinst, Max Thomas, and some others for a warm up around the Great Glen trails at the base of the mountain...The weather seemed like it may cooperate, but I knew that most of the run was going to be in the clouds and had the potential of being pretty wet on the way up.

At 10:00am all 1000 brave souls had made their way up to the starting area where I said my last goodbyes and good luck to my sister and made my way right up to the front and mixed in with the CMS and Whirlaway guys. It was go time... After a brief talk by race director Bob Teschek, the cannon went off and we were on our way up 7.6 miles to the summit of the Northeast's highest peek (6288 feet).

As we hit the hill, about 200 or so meters into the race, I was mixed in behind 20 or so guys and was very aware that I wanted to stay w/ dd as a race strategy for this year...but he was about 10-20 yards behind me and I couldn't slow down. I continuously looked over my shoulder during the first mile to make sure I wasn't pulling away too much and trying to pace off of him while being in front...easier said than done. In the back of my mind I kept thinking of a couple key points he was giving the night before... relax, relax, relax, and don't worry about what anyone else was doing... At just after the 1 mile mark, Eric Morse and Francis Burdett (both CMS) made their way by me and looked very strong and steady. From there until mile 3 I tried to keep Kevin Tilton (CMS), Justin Fyffe (CMS), and another La Sportiva runner in sight and maintain my stride and pace. The higher we got, the thicker the clouds became and pretty soon, visibility was very poor. We were now in the clouds and you could see maybe 20 yards in front and behind and that was it. This made it impossible to see the runners in front or behind you, but I think it also helped keep me mentally in the game, as I was unable to see the tops of long stretches of incline....this made the hills slightly more manageable I think. At around 3 miles, I had been run down by Sean Livingston (WHIRL) and Dave Dunham (CMS) who had caught me at about the 2 Mile mark last I was able to hold him off for an additional mile this year. I didn't worry about either of those two and kept pushing on at my own pace and actually felt pretty good (or as good as you can possibly feel as you chug up 7.6 miles at a 12% avg. grade in thick cloud cover)... After they went by, I caught up with Brendan Callahan (BAA) who was coming off some very good Grand Prix races and a win at Pack Monadnock in May. He was in the hurt box and slowing with each step. I caught up to him and he was able to react and push ahead of me again. This happened twice, as I once again caught up and maybe got a stride ahead before he pushed up and got out front again. The second time he reacted he actually put some good distance on me as we hit a steep climb and he actually got out of sight and disappeared into the clouds... I put my head down and pressed on and maybe about mile 4.5 or 5 I looked up and he had come back into view and had stopped to walk with hands on his side... It looked like he had gotten a cramp and I just kept pushing on by with the goal in mind at that point of not stopping at all to walk. I was able to do this last year and ran the entire race without walking....this year it seemed easier to maintain the pace and I wasn't tempted to walk at all, although I was hurting just as bad. Fortunately, this year, like the last, I didn't get a cramp...had I gotten a side-stitch or something similar, there would have been no way I could have kept going...

Just before the 7 mile mark, I had been hearing moans and groans and was eventually caught by Glen Guillemette and Andy McCarron (CMS) who were working together. I had beaten Glen by two spots last year and by about 10 seconds. They went by and I did try to hang on for a bit, but was basically in survival mode at that point and was just looking for the finish line. Right around 7 miles, I could still see Glen and Andy up front but now could hear breathing behind me...I occasionally turned to look but couldn't make anyone out... the breathing had a different sort of sound to it...for a few seconds I wasn't sure what it was...then I was the sound of a woman breathing heavily in the cloud cover directly behind me... then, as clouds opened up and I hit a switchback, I saw who it was...Brandy Erholtz of Colorado...the woman's leader and last years winner. I was 4 spots ahead of her last year and this year, at the 7 mile mark, she was the only one near me now and she was running me down... I pushed on but thought for sure she'd get me somewhere over the last .6 miles... As I began to make out the summit buildings and heard the crowd, I had probably a quarter mile to go and glanced back to make sure I had enough room on her to salvage the last finishing spot before the first elite helped push me over the last half mile as I hit the base of the wall and knew I'd be over my goal time of 1:10. The wind was taken out of my sails when I saw my watch tick over the 70 minute mark, but I was so focused on holding off Brandy that I continued on up and across the line to finish in 1:10:22 and 23rd place overall. This was 16 seconds slower than last year, but I felt better as a whole. I think because I had done this once before and knew what to expect, it didn't seem as bad although mentally it is one of the toughest races out there...

Splits from watch:

23rd Place Overall: 1:10:22

Mile 1) 6:49
Mile 2) 8:39 (15:29)
Mile 3) 9:07 (24:36)

Mile 4) 9:20 (33:56)
Mile 5) 10:16 (44:13)
Mile 6) 9:58 (54:11)
Mile 7) 10:08 (1:04:20)
last .6) 6:00 (1:10:21)

Looking at my splits from last year it looks like I went out essentially the same over the first mile, slowed a bit over the 2nd mile and 3rd mile, was just a few ticks over where I was through halfway last year, had a better 4th mile than last year, slowed again over miles 5, 6, and 7, and then (because of Brandy breathing down my neck) had a faster last .6 to the finish... Essentially my 2nd half of the race was where I fell off pace and that really is no surprise to me at all... I think the goal for next time will be to try to not hit any 10 minute miles and keep the last .6 around 6 minutes or less...that will be the key to a PR. Seems simple enough... ;)

Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike

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