Mt. Washington: Brutal, Yet Delightful

June 21, 2023

On June 17, 2023, Chaski Head Coach and Founder Tyler Andrews ran all the way to the top of the highest peak on the East Coast, finishing the Mt Washington Road Race in 3rd place. Despite being 10-20 times shorter than Ty is used to racing, he finished extremely well, nearly catching 2nd place finisher and American Record holder, Sam Chelanga. Mt Washington is famous for terrible weather, and race day was no exception, with frigid temperatures, driving rain, and high winds. Ty shares this "delightful" recap from his training log.

What a day! Mt Washington has been on my bucket-list for a long time and so great to finally get to run it on a classic New Hampshire spring day.

Starting at the beginning:

I woke up before my alarm around 05:15 as it was already quite light in the hotel room. Puttered around and had a light breakfast, maybe 1 bobo and 1 waffle (wasn’t very hungry).  Drove over to the start and got into a very slow-moving line of cars about 1km from the start. We sat there for maybe 5-10 minutes and moved maybe 50m, so decided to just park at a pull-off there and then walk in. This was nice after sitting in the car for a while and the weather was not bad at this point, about 60F, muggy, but not raining yet.

We found the gear-drop van and then I was about to head off to warm up and ran into Everett Hackett, so ended up jogging with him and catching up. Did about 12’ of jogging and felt good, so stopped, and then was told we’d be starting 10’ late, so took my time with drills and strides. At some point, I’d run by a skinny Kenyan-looking guy in a US Army jacket who I learned was Sam Chelanga. That made things interesting all of a sudden, as I figured he was a bit of a wild-card, could run really well or could blow up hugely after his climbing legs got tired.

Ended up killing time and doing a bunch more short, relaxed strides until the late gun (really around 09:15). I was right on the line next to Joe and Sam.

I figured that best case scenario, I could run right around 1 hour and win the race. This would require a reasonable day weather-wise, and my body would have to cooperate. It did not look like we would have a reasonable weather day. The conditions at the top at the start were reported to be 40F, 20-40mph winds, and rain. I had heard that the tree-line was right after halfway, so figured this meant the second half would be rough. I had packed my blue rain-coat in the back of my little belt and also had a pair of gloves. Joe and Sam were both in singlets/shorts and didn’t appear to be carrying anything. I also carried two coffee (85mg caff) gels and no water bottle.

Finally, we were off. The first 400m is flat on a dirt bike path around a pond before hitting the road and the climbing. I sat right behind Joe and Sam and we were only running like 3’20 pace, so I thought maybe they would go out conservatively. But, as we began the climb, they began to pull away and I could feel their pace was too hot for me. I wanted to be really conservative in the first half and figured my best race would be a negative split where I could chase these guys down in the second half.

At 1K, they were only about 10 seconds ahead of me (I was 4’22), but that lead would gradually grow to about a minute at the DISTANCE half-way. I kept them in my sights, though, as it was just some gentle rain down here and visibility was still decent. These first 5-7km felt pretty good honestly, and I thought I was having a great race and I was sure Sam would come back to me as he was pushing the pace up front.

I hit the distance halfway (6km) in 30’00 exactly, right about 61’00 pace if my math is right. I knew I was having a good run, but surprised to see that I was so far behind 60’ pace, given the good conditions down below.

I tried to really start working at this point but shortly after halfway, we started to lose visibility and hit some really serious weather. It felt like someone just hit a switch and all of a sudden, it was like being up on Rucu on a stormy day in Quito at 4300m. The wind and rain were insane and my arms and hands quickly went numb. I couldn’t see more than a few meters in front of me and was really just relying on my watch to let me know where I was in the race. At 8km, I remember thinking I could push a bit more, and every kilometer after that felt more focused and harder, despite the rain and cold and wind getting worse and worse as we continued upward.

There was one particular turn that stands out as I rounded a switch-back and suddenly was hit directly with the wind and rain and let out an audible squeal. That was brutal. But the race was almost over.

Finally, with literally less than a minute in the race, I see someone in front of me in the fog. I’d had a few of these moments of excitement where I thought I was catching Sam, but they’d all just been race workers/media/randos cheer, but this time I could see he was running and it was definitely Sam. I found another gear and could see him coming back to me, but I was pretty sure I was going to run out of real-estate.

In the end, he had me by 6 seconds, though it felt closer than that. If I’d had another 400m, I think I would have gotten him, but he earned that one.

I crossed the line just over 62’ and was immediately wrapped up like a burrito and taken inside where I shivered uncontrollably until they helped me find my duffle bag and I could dry off and put some warm clothes on. There was no opportunity for a cool-down jog up there! Finally, about 3 hours after finishing, the elite van was able to get us down the mountain where I met my folks and had a lovely post-race meal, caught up with some friends in the running community, and then headed back south.

It was a delightful day, if a challenging one, and a very solid race for me. I had high hopes for this one, but I also need to remember that I really had just 28 days of training for this race. I ran 110km on May 12th on one of the slowest, most technical courses I’ve ever raced on, then took an entire week off of running, and then had exactly 4 weeks to train for a race 10x shorter. It was a great little block, but it really was a short build-up and a very, very different type of fitness I was looking for. I think I did great in that amount of time and still I would love to give this one another go with a slightly longer buildup.

Now, time to recover (after tomorrow’s long run) and get back to some longer stuff!

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