We’ve all had those races or seasons where, after they’re said and done, you KNOW that you’re gonna remember them for a loooong time. Maybe even not necessarily PR’s, but breakthroughs or milestones or whatnot that make your mindset kind of shift and it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t know I could actually do that.” I think racing Mt. Washington last weekend was one of mine.
Mountain races aren’t really your traditional, balls-to-the-wall-from-the-gun type races, and the race doesn’t seem to always end up going to the fleet-footed little gazelles with the flawless running form. Heck, some people probably look at the times from some of those races and write them off as not even being real “races” (however, I would encourage said people to actually try one before making that call). They present a lot more unique challenges and a hugely different atmosphere than what I’m used to, and I can see why people who give the MUT scene a try don’t always go back to the roads and track. It’s just so different, not only do you have the excitement of the race, but you also get to see things you would never see on the roads, and you meet a whole lot more quirky people who love the same things about it. I have had more fun training in the last couple of months than I have in the last few years. Don’t get me wrong, I love training and competing and running in general, but if I was really honest with myself–and I would not admit to myself till recently–I didn’t really realize that I was actually kind of mentally fried doing the same types of workouts in the same places and running the same sorts of races, and getting basically the same results season after season. But I get so freaking excited now over all the different workouts and training routes and trails in Colorado Springs that I never even knew existed till fairly recently, and in a way I feel like someone hit the “reset” button on running, in a REALLY good way. Rather than getting nervous and jittery over the fact that I’m pretty sure the earth will spontaneously burst into flame and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth if I don’t hit my 800 meter splits on the track, instead I’m like a fat kid in a candy shop wanting to see how fast I can fartleck my way up Columbine Trail without rupturing my aorta. Or whatever else Taskmaster Cody comes up with. It’s pretty rad.
But anyway, I haven’t talked about Mt. Washington yet.
First, I have to start with my long and obligatory list of Thank You’s, leading the list should be the elite coordinator Paul Kirsch, who even let me into the race late. I should start by saying that the hardest part about the race (aside from the race itself) is getting to it. It’s out in the boondocks (spectacularly beautiful boondocks I might add), so it took some serious organization to get all of the elite field out there. Transportation to and from Boston, which was no joke, was all set up for us (thanks John), as was housing. And somehow Paul miraculously accomplishes all of this via 8 million emails. On top of that, housing is all squared away too. Sage Canaday and myself stayed with Sharon Morrison, who kindly adopted us for a couple of nights in her awesome house in the middle of the woods. I crashed at Beth Merica’s house en route back to Boston the day following the race, and I guarantee that Beth is cooler than the coolest grandma EVER.
Okay now on to Mt. Washington.
<“Only one hill”…. Let’s just say when Sage (a previous Mt. Washington victor) took Ryan Bak and myself on a course tour (as in, he drove us up the mountain) the day before, I had a bit of an “Oh S**t” Moment. I mean, crap, this thing is steep. And it just keeps going. And treeline is at like, 3,000 feet and it looks like you’re on top of a 14-er at that point. I thought maybe I was seriously about to embarrass myself tomorrow, because who RUNS UP THIS?! I was thinking at that moment that should have stuck with the Portland Track Festival.
The view from about mile 4, the white tents down below that you can barely see is the starting area.
But somehow I made it to the start line the next day. After Simon taped up my plantar and I warmed up, I mentally went through all the zillion of tips that people had given me who had run the race before. Scott Elliott, who ran the race a few times not to mention won Pikes Peak half a dozen more times, had given me some advice a few weeks prior. Don’t start out too fast. Got it. Don’t bother with a watch. Check. When you see the dirt parking lot on your right up near the summit, start going for it. Cool, sounds great, hope I get that far. Heading to the start, I reassured myself with the comforting statistic that in 120 years, Mt. Washington has only seen 120 deaths, and none have been in this race. Hooray.
Sounds about right.
After the gun went off, we ran the only flat section in the entire race for a whole 200 meters before the road abruptly changes to a 15-ish percent grade, which will be unrelenting for the next almost-8 miles. I don’t actually remember a whole lot save for wondering how and when I got ahead of Brandy and Valentina, because they’re no joke on ascents. It made me awfully nervous, but after a while I just thought what the heck, just give it a try and see what happens. The rest of the race passed in a haze of just grinding up to the summit, which you actually run into the clouds to get to, and to be honest I don’t even remember the “Wall,” which is the 23% grade of a hill that marks the final push of the race, maybe 100 meters out from the finish. I had heard horror stories of The Wall. All I could think of was, “Sweet! I get to break tape!” I’ve won some races, but there’s never been tape to break. Not even like a strip of toilet paper strung out across the finish line. So I was really excited to break tape. The time was 70:12, which was apparently a solid time but knowing what constituted a good Mt. Washington time was another thing I was blissfully ignorant of going into the race.
The Wall that I don’t remember.
So anyway, that was that. I got my first big girl mountain win and even better, I qualified for my first USA Team for the WMRA Long Distance Challenge on Pikes Peak this year! It was a great day.
Speaking of Team USA, next up is another trip back to New Hampshire, which is seriously growing on me, for the Loon Mountain Race, aka the USA Mountain Running Champs! I’m pumped.
Winning our fancy salad bowls, Brandy’s came with a baby!