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Ascent of Mount Washington on 2010-06-19

Climber: Jim Johnson

Date:Saturday, June 19, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Washington
    Location:USA-New Hampshire
    Elevation:6288 ft / 1916 m

Ascent Trip Report

On Saturday we were once again up in the White Mountains of NH for the 2010 edition of the Mount Washington Road Race (results). This year was the 50th running of the race and it once again (for the 4th time in 7 years...2004, 2006, 2008, 2010) served as the US National Mountain Running Championship.

Kris and I headed up on Friday morning
and arrived at Attitash shortly before 11am. We met up w/ a large CMS contingent who was staying there, including DD, Tim VanOrden, Mike Woodman, Jim Pawlicki, Mike and Dave Quintal, and Francis Burdett, along with Ken Tripp. Kevin Tilton also joined us and we all went out for a run in the trails behind Attitash. After the shakeout run, and some wiffleball (which included us being interrupted by a small black bear running right through our game), we all headed up to the Eagle Mountain House for the pre-race festivities which included bib/packet pickup and the pre-race talk which focused this year on the first ever Mount Washington Road Race Hall of Fame induction. Then we all went out to the Spaghetti Shed for some pre-race grub.

In the morning, Kris and I headed up Rt. 16 to the Auto Road to meet up with my Dad, my sister, and her family. My sister Kristin was once again running the race, and her family and my Dad would be taking my lovely and talented Kristin to the top. I arrived right around 8am and got a prime parking spot, right next to the main tent. I gave my gear to my Dad and my sister and I headed over to hang out near my car, while the rest of the crew went up the mountain.

It was beginning to get VERY hot and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. A very different story this year as opposed to last year, where it was a little cool at the base, rainy, and very cloudy for most of the run up the hill. This year, the temps were in the 80s, soaring up near 90 and the sun was blazing. Staying hydrated and cool was going to be the key to the day, but I still don't recall drinking all that much before the race. I think I stuck to my usual routine of a couple water bottles worth of liquid (water and heed) before the race, and may not have even had the entire second bottles's worth. At around 9:15, I met up w/ a large CMS group which included some Inov-8 folks as well and we all headed out on the Great Glen Trail system for a nice easy warmup. It was really cool being back in there, after a few months removed from an exciting Granite State Snowshoe race in there in March. Kevin and I were reliving the moments as we ran over the exact course before the race.

After the warmup, it was back over to the car to get my singlet on, and then hit the first part of the hill to check it out and use mother nature's bathroom before heading down to the start to line up. Even though we didn't have a few of our key players (who certainly would have scored for CMS) including Paul Low (former US Champ), Eric Morse (no resume necessary), and Justin Fyffe (2:22 marathon at VT city one month ago), we still had a strong, deep team hitting the hill. I had 2 main goals in this race: 1) Try to be top 5 for CMS and help the team score / win the Gold medal for the USATF National title. 2) Try to break 1:10. One was team oriented, and one was personal. The funny thing was that I knew once the race went off, my #2 goal would probably change slightly from trying to break 1:10 to just trying to finish, especially in the hot conditions. I lined up about 4-5 rows back, not worried in the slightest about getting a fast start or even running a fast opening mile. I knew that the last couple years, I went out too fast and paid the price later in the race. I also knew that my last few races were the same story. I go out too fast and really tail off later in the race. There is probably no other time that going out conservatively will benefit you more, than at Mount Washington. As the canon fired, and the field was headed up the hill, I settled in and kept my focus on an easy-does-it approach to the first part of the climb and pushed up the hill once again, with that same 'why the hell am I back here again this year' thought in my head as soon as the climb started...

As the first part of the course passed beneath my feet, I was very much aware that the field was deep, talented, and hungry for top spots on the US Mountain Running Team for 2010. This race was the only selection race for the 2010 US team that will be running at the World Mountain Running Trophy in Slovenia. The top 6 men would be going to Worlds, and there were fantastic mountain, trail, and road runners from all over the country in this race. As I looked up, I could see that I was probably trailing 40 or so runners easy, only a quarter mile or so into the race. This included a few top women as well. Even though it made me a little nervous, I still stuck to the race plan and held back, kept my rhythm and breathing as easy as I could (which is very hard to do on the first mile of this course), and tried to relax as much as possible.

By 1 mile, I was starting to pass quite a few people, including some top names I thought would surely be ripping it up on the hill this year. I passed through 1 mile (which is really .9) in 6:46, which was actually a few ticks faster than last year. This made me think that if I was holding back, and I still was a bit faster than last year's opening mile (in which I thought I went out too hard), that I was in pretty good shape. Somewhere around here, I was now ahead of a few of the GBTC guys that had gone out pretty hard, as well as some Whirlaway runners including one of the better runners on the hill the past few years, in Dan Princic, as well as Baystate Marathon winner Brandon Newbould (who was coming back from a bad injury). At this point, I was out in front of all the top women, and steadily passing other runners the entire time. Going out slow was definitely paying off, as instead of being constantly passed the whole race, I was constantly passing others who went out too hard and too aggressive for their own good.

Somewhere between miles 1 and 2, I pulled up past Francis Burdett (CMS) who was tenth last year in a crazy 1:06. He's really strong and knows how to run the hill as well as anyone. He seemed to be breathing pretty hard and definitely wasn't having the race he had last year. Not too long after that, I pulled up on Scott Rowe (RR) who I thought was going to have a fantastic race, seeing what he did at Boston this year (2:24), but it appeared as though he too had gone out too hard and seeing as it was his first time on the hill, he may not have known what to expect. I found out later on that he had back problems early on and was really struggling to keep his spasms in check.

As mile 2 passed, I started to see more and more runners spread out and coming back to me, up ahead. This included some very good runners who had already made the US team in the past, including Shiloh Mielke and Tim Parr. I also noticed the Freemans (Justin and Kris, both US Olympians) as well as, to my shock, Kevin Tilton (CMS) who I was really hoping was going to make the team this year (it would be his 3rd time on the US team). He has been running great lately in some track, mountain, and road races and was really ready to go and make a run at not only his 3rd mountain team, but also a PR on the hill. It was obviously not meant to be this year, as he was slowly coming back to me. With him, in view, was also a slew of other top runners including a bunch of runners from Colorado like Peter Maksimow (CMS/Inov-8), Alex Nichols (Inov-8), and Andy Ames, as well as probably the most talented road guy in the field, in Jeffrey Eggleston. As I caught up to Andy Ames, he latched on to me and we went back and forth for most of the rest of the way. I pushed on and found that no matter how slow I thought I was getting, I still seemed to be catching and passing people consistently the whole way.


Somewhere around 3 miles (maybe even before the halfway mark), I had caught up to Kevin Tilton, who was struggling with the heat and an early tough pace. He was going for it from the beginning, and it was just not going to be his day. It was heartbreaking for me to see, but at the same time, knowing his character and determination, I knew he'd shake it off quickly and be back for more. Right as I caught up to him, he pulled off to the side. I patted him on the back as I went around and I looked up and pushed on, now knowing that after I had passed Ben Nephew (somewhere between miles 1 and 2) that I was now in 3rd place for CMS, behind Matt Russell (whom I never saw from the get go), and Peter Maksimow, who was in only a stones throw away, but seemingly maintaining just enough of a lead on me that I couldn't catch up to him. Matt was going for it and up with the leaders, as he had done last year when he had a strong top 10 finish.

Through halfway, I was 32:29. I started to try to do the math here, and thought that if I could just run 37:30 or better, I'd break that infamous 1:10 barrier for me...but it was easier said than done. I started to really hurt here. Going through halfway is really a mentally tough thing to swallow in this race I find. Typically you'd think that it would mean that you're half done and all you have to do now is do what you did over the first half, one more time...also, you think that every step you now take, is bringing you one step closer to the finish, but all that kind of goes out the window in this race. Coming through half way and just thinking about doing what you just did, one more time is enough to make you think about stopping and just sitting down on the side of the road. As I came through halfway, a couple of runners I was right behind (cannot remember who they were because at this point, we would start this back and forth passing that would last until the end of the race) started to stop and walk/stretch, then run again. I heard one runner let out almost a laugh/gasp as we passed half way, clearly indicating that 'damn, we're only half done'...

Once above the treeline, there was a very slight breeze in your face that was enough to cool you down just a bit, but the sun was still blazing and there wasn't a cloud to be seen. Water became a big issue with me, as I took multiple cups of water and one cup of Heed (by accident) through each water stop. No matter how much I took however, it didn't seem to be enough. After halfway, I started the back and forth with many runners including Justin Freeman (who I had caught up to and passed), Peter Maksimow, Jeff Eggleston, and a couple others. One of the runners, Martin Cox (top Masters finisher from CO) was sprinting ahead, stopping, stretching out, and then sprinting ahead again. He did this numerous times and eventually put over 2 minutes on me by the end. This type of back and forth continued from halfway until about mile 6. During this stretch, I also became aware of the lead woman, Shewarge Amare from Ethiopia, closing the gap on me.

Around the hairpin turn and up through the cow pasture, I was right with Justin Freeman, Peter Maksimow, and a few other folks. Ben Nephew was also starting to run me down, and as I made my way around the hairpin turn, he went by me. I told him to go for it and just tried to hold on. Somewhere around here, Shewarge went by me and I watched as she made her charge up past Justin Freeman, who seemed to do a double-take as she went past. In retrospect, I should have tried to go with her, but at that point, I had finishing on my mind and really didn't want to do anything foolish like make a move too early and not be able to run up the wall at the end. I stuck to Ben up through the cow pasture and around past the 7 mile mark. When I was at 7 miles, I looked at my watch and figured that if I was around what I ran last year for the last .6, I'd be under 1:09. That was the first time in the race that I knew I would actually run faster than I had before.... At that point, I went around Ben and started driving for the line, as the finish area was now in view (you can see the weather station and summit buildings from this point). Pete was still in striking distance, but seemed to increase his pace each time I made a push and I couldn't close any more ground. As we wound up past the spectators and hit the base of the last 'wall' to the finish, I was holding off a charging Ben Nephew and trying to run down Pete with one last surge, but my place would remain the same as I attacked the last climb and peeked at my watch to make sure I was going to be under 1:09 for one last time before making it up to the last 'flat' section to the finish.

In the end, I came through in a surprising 1:08:49 and in 21st place for males and 22nd place OA (including now new course record holder Shewarge Amare). That was a 1:17 PR for me and a 1 place PR for me (23rd last year) in a much deeper field of runners and during a much hotter day weather-wise. I'll take it!

After a brief stint on the mountain, taking photos and talking to other finishers, I waited for my sister Kristin to finish (she also ran a big PR on the hill today) and then gathered my things to run back down the hill. This would be my first run down. I missed the CMS crew because they need to be the first ones back down for whatever reason. So I ran down solo and really did enjoy myself as I was doing it (although I knew I'd pay the price later on). The weather was picture perfect. No clouds at all in the valley, and the sun was shining bright and hot. I shuffled down pretty much solo the entire way, with the occasional passing of a runner or two on the way up and on the way down. A couple miles in, cars started passing me on the way down (most asking me if I wanted a ride and some just telling me that I was crazy), and by a mile or so from the finish, cars and motorcycles were on the way up. As I neared the end, my legs and feet were screaming and I was really getting dehydrated. I waddled over to the stream and sat in there for about 30 minutes, icing my legs, and throwing back a cup of Tuckerman's Ale, while the rest of the brave souls made their way back down the hill (mostly in cars).


Splits:

Mile 1) 6:46
Mile 2) 8:26 (15:12)
Mile 3) 8:59 (24:11)
Mile 4) 9:12 (33:25)
Mile 5) 9:52 (43:17)
Mile 6) 9:38 (52:56)
Mile 7) 9:48 (1:02:44)
Mile 7.6) 6:04 (1:08:49)

Half Splits: 32:29 / 36:20

Looking at my splits from all 3 runs up the mountain, I was quicker through every mile except the last .6. I was 4 seconds slower up the last .6 than last year. It could have been the heat, it could have been the fact that I was tired from running faster over all the other miles, or it could have been the fact that I was really trying to hold off Brandy Erholtz last year over the last .6, and this year, the lead woman was way ahead of me at this point :)...
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike



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