Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mt. Washington Road Race

Well, it was an experience. It was just as hard as I thought it would be, but I can't really describe how hard it actually was. It was tough. It was really tough. That being said, I can't say it was the hardest thing I've ever done. As a whole. However, the spikes of difficulty were so much higher than anything I can recall. When it hurt, it hurt a lot. When it didn't hurt, it still hurt. I wouldn't recommend it.

As I mentioned, I was completely freaked out before the start. I was an absolute mess. Between the calf issue and the thought of running, you know, all the way up Mt. Washington, I was trying not to throw up...literally. I've never puked before a race, and I didn't want today to be the day. Eventually, I made my way to the start, and then the cannon went off...and I barely moved. After all that nervous energy, it took me about 15 seconds to get to the actual start line, and then when I did I headed out at an impossibly slow shuffle. It was a really weird way to start a race.

I was going to write a mile by mile description, but really they all kind of blend together. They were all uphill. Some variations, but they just keep going up and up. From driving the road, I was well aware that there were no real breaks, but a couple times I caught myself thinking, "It's going to level out just ahead." Um, no it's not. It's going to keep going up, and it's going to continue to suck. Often, a lot.

I felt really good for the first 2.5 miles or so. Just slow and steady. A lot of people that went out too fast came back to me. A lot. There's one infamous section in the second mile, the Raymond Grade, that has a sustained 17% grade. I was worried about this section, but, honestly, I barely noticed it. "Oh, I'm a the top of the Raymond Grade...cool." And on I went.

In the first half of the race, there are 3 water stops. I stopped at each and walked. I thought this was the best strategy. I didn't have to worry about spilling water everywhere, and I got a chance for a brief rest. This was the only times I walked in the first 4.5 miles of the race. I went through the halfway point in 47:40ish, and was feeling pretty good. Tired, but pretty good. But, I knew it was going to get harder, oh and it did.

At 4.5, I decided it was time to walk. This wasn't a big deal for me psychologically. I'd already seen many other runners walking, and I knew that I was going to be walking no matter what. So, I walked. I actually walked for about a quarter of a mile. It was a good break, and I really think it helped me later on. While I was walking a number of people passed me, but not a lot. And, in truth, I didn't care. This is the first race I've ever done, in which I didn't care at all what other runners were doing around me. It just didn't matter to me. Because of my calf, I had really lowered my expectations for this race. Originally, I was hoping to break 1:45:00, but now I was just hoping to finish.

Oh yeah, my calf. It felt fine. A huge amount of credit and thanks has to go out to Shannon for the massages this week. She rocks. It definitely felt tight, but no pain. I was psyched. Once I hit halfway, I knew that no matter what I was going to make it to the top. It started to get tighter around 6.5, but I ignored it and pushed on. The ironic thing is that I think my right calf is going to be more sore tomorrow, and that was the good calf going in! Oh well, I guess you can't expect to not have tight calves after running 7.6 miles uphill.

Along with that quarter mile section that I walked, I also walked the section known as Cragway. It's steep. I didn't like it. I started running again at the top of this section until the water stop just past 5.5. miles. More walking. I was happy to be walking here. I was really starting to feel it here. I was tired. The road just keeps coming at you. It doesn't stop. It just keeps pounding on you. But, like I said, the walking helped, and it didn't slow me down that much. It also didn't really make it stop hurting. It just provided breaks from the really painful parts, which were plentiful.

By the time I hit the 6 mile point, I was done. I had had enough. Time to really push and get this thing over with. I told myself I wasn't going to walk again. Well, then I hit the Hairpin Turn. The Hairpin Turn sucks. It's a sharp left hand, well, hairpin turn. The closer you stay to the inside of the turn, which is any runner's instinct, the steeper it is. I knew this going in, but I still found myself a little to far inside. I walked. It hurt. Then after this turn it took me a while to get running again. The legs just wouldn't allow it. I did manage to get up and running before I got to the Cow Pasture, which is shortly after Hairpin, so I had good momentum going into the Cow Pasture, which is the only sustained flat section after the initial piece at the very beginning. It was a welcome sight. I started moving pretty well through here, also knowing that the 7 mile mark was just around the corner. Time to put the hammer down. Tough to put the hammer down when you're running so slowly and so much uphill, but I wasn't going to back off. After I walked around the Hairpin, I only walked for a couple strides here and there all the way to the finish. I was really pushing it here.

Not only is seeing the 7 mile post a huge relief, but just past that is the 6000 foot post. Only 288 feet to go. You actually get a bit of a break through here as the grade isn't so bad, and I tried to take advantage of it. You can also see the summit buildings here. I tried to be relieved here, but I know what was coming up: the service road. The service road, aka "The Wall", is the final 100 yards of the race, and it's a 22% grade. It really does feel like a wall. I came around the final turn before The Wall, and really started digging. There was no way I was going to walk this thing. I'd run all that way, and there was no way I going to let it beat me. Plus, there was a crowd here. Gotta look good. Well, I'm sure I didn't look good, but I did run it...pretty hard, too. I actually passed a couple people on The Wall. Somehow, I could hear D yelling over the announcer, the music and crowd noise. I pushed through the finish, and it was over.

I was toasted. I got my snazzy silver heet sheet. I got my finisher's medal. And I tried to catch my breath. I was actually having trouble breathing. I think between the effort at the end and the altitude, I almost knocked the wind out of myself. It was a strange feeling...never felt that from running before. D found me, and held me up. All I could say was "I did it."

Final time: 1:42:40. (My watch had 1:42:22, so it took me a total of 18 seconds to get to start line.) I'm thrilled. Between the calf and the uncertainly of running the road, I don't think I could have done any better. But I think I can next year...