Reader, I know I have been silent for a while, so I worry that you may have looked at the title of this post and wondered if things have fundamentally shifted in my running world. Let me assure you that I am still as much a Hill Baby as I ever was. I did attend the 2012 Mount Washington Road Race, but as a spectator. Runner Mum and my crazy brother-in-law T were the ones running the race this weekend and the rest of us went to cheer them on.
Now, for those not familiar with this particular road race, or mountain, here is a bit of history. Mount Washington is the highest peak in New England at 6,288 feet. There is a 7.6 mile auto road that heads up to the summit, which (I learned this weekend) has been open since 1861. It is said to be America’s oldest man-made tourist attraction. The first person to decide it might be fun to run up the road was George Foster in 1904. He made it from start to finish in 1:42. The first race, which had just twelve participants, was held in 1937. The race was held off and on for several years after that and has been run annually since 1966. Now, far more than twelve people want to run this race, so a lottery is held every year for the 1200 spots available. As every runner who runs UP the mountain needs to get back DOWN, the race has no choice but to limit the number of entrants due to sheer logistics.
The Mount Washington Road Race is Runner Mum’s favorite race. I can’t explain it, except to say that she is one tough cookie and the challenge of it appeals to something in her runner’s psyche. Now, brother-in-law T? He is just crazy. He entered the lottery on a whim, as in “I’ll never get in but wouldn’t it be cool to do this race”. So, the good news was he got in. The bad news was this meant he now had to run 7.6 miles straight uphill. Because, Reader, make no mistake about it – this race is completely uphill. There are no downhill reprieves and there are no flat areas. The most a runner can hope for are stretches where the uphill slope is at a slightly less wicked grade. Oh, the insanity!
Race Day dawned bright and clear, complete with blue skies and wispy clouds. It was a beautiful day for a run. And a hike, it turned out. See, being a spectator at this event is a tad problematic. You can stay at the bottom and watch everyone take-off up the road. Or you can volunteer to drive to the summit, which entails agreeing to bring runners back down with you. Either way means quite a bit of waiting around with nothing to do. So, Hubby, sister-in-law C and I decided that we would hike up the road and wait for the runners at some point along the course. We made it to the Mile 2 marker before we ran out of time and steam. Let me tell you, just walking up those first two miles gave me a whole new level of appreciation for the runners in this race. The only word to describe it? Unrelenting.
We heard the starting gun go off at 9:00 and just a short 15 minutes later, the lead runners rounded the corner below us. These guys were unbelievable, running up the road like it was flat, most of them not even breathing heavy yet. But all of them completely focused on the road ahead. Gradually, over the next half hour, the field passed us. At first, everyone was running, then it was a mix of runners/walkers and then followed by the folks who were mostly walking. And then, and I am not making this up, came a 92-year-old runner, making his steady way up the road.
To say we were impressed and amazed at all of these runners would be an understatement. We were able to cheer on Runner Mum, who was making good time, and then brother-in-law T who was doing a run/walk combination at that point. After he left us behind, he said that this became mostly walk, but he still made it to the top in 2:32:52. Runner Mum was a bit disappointed in her time, but she came in at 2:12:33, good enough to win her age group (again!) and get her an automatic invitation to next year’s race. In case you are curious, George (the 92-year-old runner) came in at 2:52:35. I am not sure I could even walk it in under three hours. When asked at the podium how he kept in shape at his age, he said “When I wake up in the morning, if I am still breathing, I go out for a run”. He got a standing ovation.
Congrats to Runner Mum, crazy brother-in-law T, George and all of the other runners this weekend. Our hats off to you! Bravo!
UPDATE: A photo from crazy brother-in-law T, who somehow still had the strength to take photos at the top of the mountain. It is a fabulous vista, but man, did he have to earn it!