“It’s just one hill,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.
Running Mt. Washington was like jumping into the deep waters of the ocean and realizing once I hit the surface that I didn’t actually know how to swim. It probably would have been better to run a less intimidating mountain race as my first – you know, get my feet wet and wade in the shallow end for a bit. Hindsight is 20/20.
On Friday, the Scranton Running Co. crew journeyed 7 hours north to Gorham, NH and headed straight to the base of the beast for an introduction to the mountain. We did an easy 30 minutes run and checked out the first quarter mile of the course, this was precisely when I figured out I was in way over my head.
We picked-up our bibs, ate dinner, and headed to bed early – our heads filled with pre-race thoughts. 7am came quickly and I performed the typical race day shenanigans: obsessively checking my bag to ensure I’ve packed all the essentials, changing my shorts four different times, forcing myself to eat something for breakfast; the usual . We headed to the mountain, woke our legs up with a warm-up, and readied ourselves for suffering.
I was unsure as to where to position myself at the start, so I shuffled in around the middle of the pack and waiting for the gun to sound.
I became aware from the first few strides that the next 100 minutes or so were about to humble me: climbing to the 16,288 ft. summit at an average grade of 12% and an altitude gain of 4,650, while battling the famously severe winds and, well, the sheer force of gravity.
I found miles 2 and 3 to be the toughest – mentally and physically. Not only were some of the steeper parts of the race around this point, but the enormity of what lay ahead was haunting.
I finally found a rhythm around mile 5 and tried to lock into it. By this point, it was simply about arriving at the finish line.
What made Mt. Washington different from other races I’ve run was that the scars of suffering weren’t erased or outweighed by the feelings of finishing. When it was over, i spent 10 minutes in a state of shock over what had just occurred.
Soon, I was greeted by friends and introduced to some of the top finishers.
However, we spent a little too much time reveling at the top and missed our van to the base. We began the trek back down the road on foot and made it about a mile before a kind driver offered us a lift.
Back at the bottom, we enjoyed the post-race turkey dinner and hung around for the award ceremony. Despite a not so strong performance, I placed 3rd in my age group.
The remainder of the day was spent recovering and scheming for next year.