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Ascent of Mount Washington on 2011-06-18

Climber: Jim Johnson

Date:Saturday, June 18, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Washington
    Location:USA-New Hampshire
    Elevation:6288 ft / 1916 m

Ascent Trip Report

This past weekend I ran my 4th straight Mount Washington Road Race (results). It is the highlight of my year and is certainly my favorite race simply because it is an all out grind, both physically and mentally, like nothing I've ever done before. It really does scare the hell out of you both leading up to the race (just thinking about it) and during. There is just something about 'the hill' that makes you come back for more each year... Slogging my butt up 7.6 miles of 11% average grade isn't exactly an enjoyable experience when it is actually happening, but everything else from the planning, training, build up, race weekend, and after-party makes it all well worth the 1+ hour self mutilation / boxing match (as Dave Quintal calls it) that is the Mount Washington Road Race.


Rickey Gates (2009 and 2011 winner and one of only a small group to ever break 1 hour on the hill) has this to say about Mt. Washington in the Aspen Times:

“It's brutal all the way through,” Gates said of the famed course, which gains 4,727 feet in elevation over 7.6 miles. “There's nothing like it in Colorado. It's kind of funny, we're so proud of our mountains here, then you get out on this hill that doesn't look all that impressive on it or at the bottom. It's a road from a different era, though — 12 percent all the way up and never a rest from it.

“It's one solid hour of suffering. … There's no faking it on that mountain.”

Since the weekend consists of much more than just the actual race, I'll cut to the chase and just give the scoop on the race itself. The race started an hour earlier than usual (9am) and it was cloudy, drizzly, and humid out at the base. We arrived in plenty of time to get everything in order, get Kristin in line to get to the top, and get out for a nice warmup over the Great Glen Trails. We had a nice group of folks on the warmup and during the 3 or so miles we ran around the base of the auto road, it started to pour. I wasn't minding it for the race, but for the finish and after party, I wanted it to be nice out (especially for my family who was there). I threw on the Inov-8 Bare X Lite 150s and headed over to the line to join my CMS and Team Inov-8 mates who were ready for action. As a USATF team, CMS was looking pretty strong again (we've won it every year except one) and Team Inov-8 had what looked to be 6 of the top men in the field for sure. I grabbed a spot in the second or third row, next to Justin Freeman, and we were off.

The race went out as I expected, with some guys jetting out quick, and the veterans hanging back a bit (because we know what to expect as the miles and minutes tick by). My goal was to run with or around Dave Dunham for the first mile or so, then start moving up. Kevin Tilton had the same thoughts and sure enough, as the road started to climb up, I looked over to my right and DD was right there, with KT right behind us. We were in prime position to ease into the race and not go crazy. Sure, there were still a few top women and a bunch of others in front of us, but I knew that wouldn't last.

Right after the mile, Kevin made a move, as we had all been passing people left and right up to that point. I went along and we caught up to a few top local guys and a pack that consisted of Dan Princic and Brandon Newbould of Whirlaway, along with Mark Mayall (NBB) and a couple others. As we went by, Dan was the only one who came along and seemed to match Kevin stride for stride. Dan's a very strong runner here and has a 1:06 to his credit in 2008. I knew he'd be tough and he was hanging on. Not too long after we had broken away from the rest of the pack, Kevin started to pull away from me a bit and Dan was going with him. I started to drop back and was running solo for a good deal, but not too far behind a string of runners.

Ticking through 2 and then 3 miles, it was hot, humid, and very cloudy (reminiscent of 2009). When the clouds did break, I could surprisingly still see most everyone up ahead, including the leaders. Through half way, again looking up I could see Kevin, Dan, Justin Freeman, Kris Freeman, Francis Burdett, and a few others not too far ahead, with Eric Blake (2006 and 2008 winner) and a few others still in view. I was actually surprised to see Eric and figured he must have been struggling a bit (he's been injured).

During the middle miles (3-5) I really struggled to keep it together. My splits were good but I felt horrible. I was actually thinking at one point about a DNF, which stinks because that would have put me as a DNF for Boston and Washington...two of my biggest races of the year. I got very nervous and thought the wheels were going to blow off. Looking ahead, I could see Kevin was mowing down people and others were starting to spread out. I wasn't sure if I was going to catch anyone, but I did believe that I was going to be caught myself by Craig Fram and DD, who were both behind me and in view. I looked a few times during this stretch around halfway to 4 miles and could see them together. Soon after that, maybe around the hairpin turn it was just Craig, who had broken away from Dave.

Over the dirt section of the course, it was very cloudy and visibility was so bad that it made it a little easier to deal with because you could not see the roads way up ahead, but it was tough to gauge where you were in relation to others. Not quite as bad as 2009, but almost. I slipped a bunch of times believe it or not, as the traction was bad with the wet dirt/mud road, and the wind picked up a bit. I thought that this was going to start killing me time-wise, but I hung on and pushed forward, as now I was getting closer to Kris Freeman, the first runner who was coming back to me since maybe mile 1.5. Kris is an Olympic XC skier and won the Crossan Cup last year for the top NH runner at the race. He's a very strong runner (as is his brother Justin, who has been killing it on the roads this year and who was way up ahead with Kevin at this point).

From 5-6.5 or so (through the cow pasture), I was slowly reeling in Kris and had dropped Craig and DD back a ways. I definitely felt as though I was picking it up in this section and was thankful that I had run this as a training run a month earlier with Kevin. I remembered vividly, most every turn and knew what I had left in the race. Just after the 7 mile mark, where the clouds broke a bit, you could see some vehicles, more spectators down along the road, and the silhouette of some of the summit buildings started to make an appearance. I finally caught up to Kris Freeman and we were surprisingly pulling up along side Dan Princic as well. Dan had been slowly coming back and I was right behind Kris when I heard him say 'where's the finish' to someone (I thought he was talking to a spectator but he was actually asking Dan). Apparently Dan said back to him 'about a quarter mile'. I heard Kris react as if it was bad news and I found out later that it was. He had thought the race was 7.2 miles when he hit the 7 mile mark. He just had a slight lapse and it cost him because he was hanging on and surging right around 7 to try to catch and pass Dan. I pulled right up along side both of them together and flew right on past. I was hauling at this point, where the course finally levels off a bit, and I could feel my body go upright as the grade lessened. I put one last surge in, threw it into my last gear, and pulled away to some actual shock of spectators standing there who couldn't believe that someone could have that in the tank at the end of this race. I had brief moments of thinking I was going to catch Francis Burdett, but he was too far ahead at the end and I was running out of race quickly. I was in an all out sprint and then for a moment or two thought I may have prematurely started my kick, as I still wasn't at 'the wall' yet. I glanced back a couple times to see that only Dan had tried to challenge my move and Kris was in finish mode at that point. I hit the base of the wall and quickly remembered how cruel that last push is. No video or pictures can truly express how brutal that last grade is. I hit that and almost seized up with the first stride up it. My muscles and legs (what was left of them) wobbled and twinged and I bent straight over again and tried to run up it as best I could. There were a ton of folks leaning right into my grill, shouting things like 'push it', 'don't look back', 'he's comin'', 'you can do it', that type of stuff. I looked up to see Francis crest the top and cruise to the finish as I was heading up the beginning of the slope. Halfway up the wall I thought Dan was going to get me back, but I kept pushing on and glanced at my watch to see that I was going to go under 1:08 and as it flattened out, I finally realized I'd hold them off and cruised across the line in 1:07:22 and a new PR for both placement and time at Mt. Washington. I got 12th place overall, thanks to passing those two right near the end.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike



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