Mount Washington Road Race Preview

by EJN Comments (0) Articles, Racing

By Paul Kirsch

There was a time when you knew if certain runners showed up at Mount Washington, that the battle on the mountain would be for second or third place because the winner was a given.  This year’s race is as far away from that as one could possibly imagine with a men’s and women’s field that is going to leave us all waiting until late morning on June 21st to know who the winners will be.

Every year, Dave Dunham makes his prediction list of who he thinks has the odds of winning the race.  This article won’t attempt to make any similar predictions. We’ll leave that to Dave. 

On to the preview…

The Men

Last year Eric Blake reminded us what patience, perseverance, and hard work can do for you as a runner.  After a hamstring injury in 2011 that left him with months of rehabilitation, Blake came back in 2012 and had a strong showing at Mt. Washington with his 3rd place finish.  He wasn’t back 100% but just being back in the field and making another US Mountain Running Team (his 6th Team) was quite the accomplishment.  But then, in 2013 he was back firing on all cylinders and it showed.  Blake broke the magical one hour barrier; one few have ever broken at Mt. Washington.  He continued his success, winning the Pikes Peak Ascent, not your typical feat for a runner who lives and trains in Connecticut.

In 2014, Blake will be part of what promises to be quite a showdown, with Sage Canaday and Joe Gray returning to the mountain as well.  Canaday ran last year with tired legs after racing an Ultra just before Washington, which left him a little flat compared to his sub 59 minute win in 2012.

Gray has yet to win Mount Washington but he has been on fire in the last year.  In 2013, he finished 2nd at Washington and had a dominating win at the 2013 US Mountain Champs at Mt. Cranmore.  He followed that with a 7th place finish in Poland at the World Mountain Running Championships, finishing as the top American.  As the year went on, Gray continued to get stronger, winning the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in December, finishing 8th the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country Race, and followed it with a 4th place finish at the USATF Cross Country Champs in February 2014. This doesn’t even include his success on the road.  When the gun goes off for the 2014 Climb to the Clouds, you can be assured Gray is going to be there in that lead pack.

There are a several newcomers taking on the Hill for the first time this year that could also create some waves:

The first is Ryan Bak, whose resume includes competing in the Olympic Trials at both 5000 meters and the Marathon, a 5K PR of 13:35 and a marathon PR of 2:14:17.  Bak has planned on Washington in previous years but had to back out due to injuries.  This year he is competing at both Washington and at the US Mountain Running Champs at Loon Mountain in July.

The second newcomer is Zach Miller, a member of the Nike Trail Elite Team and  winner of the 2013 JFK 50 Miler.  Miller has set several Ultra course records this year and could be a threat at Washington.

Joining them will be Emanuele Manzi of Italy, who has been a longtime member of the Italian Mountain Running Team, helping to win numerous team medals, as well as a silver individual medal in 2001.  Italians have dominated the world of mountain running for many years so it will be interesting to see how Manzi tackles the hill at Mt. Washington.

While Blake, Canaday and Gray are sure to be in the lead pack along with some others, never discount the rest of the field, which includes three time winner Simon Gutierrez, and other former US Mountain Team members Ryan Woods, Matt Byrne, Kevin Tilton and Peter Maksimow.

The Women

Only three US women have ever won individual medals at the World Mountain Running Championships.  This year’s Mt Washington field will include all three of them:  2011 World Champion Kasie Enman, 2012 Bronze Medalist Morgan Arritola, and 2007 Bronze Medalist Laura Haefeli. This alone would be an impressive field but it also includes two-time winner Brandy Erholtz and Valentina Belotti, the 2009 World Mountain Running Champion and 2010 and 2012 runner up at Worlds.

Haefeli won her first Mt. Washington last year at age 45 and is a former Masters Course record holder at the event.

Enman finished 3rd in 2012 and is pretty up front that Mount Washington is not her favorite kind of Mountain Race- it would be more to her racing style if they removed the paved road and added in a few sections of New England rocks and roots on the way to the summit.  But, it’s hard to count out a former World Champion and Olympic Trials Marathoner from any race.

Brandy Erholtz finished second last year as she “took it easy”, being four months pregnant.  She is back to her regular form this year, recently winning America’s Uphill in Vail this Winter and she just finished second at the Black Canyon Ascent in Colorado.  Erholtz has two Mount Washington wins under her belt and knows the course as well as anyone.

Morgan Arritola is a 2010 US Olympic Nordic Skier who competed in her first official mountain race in 2012, where she set the course record at Mont Ventoux in France. Later that Summer she went on to win the US Mountain Running Team selection race at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH and finished in 3rd place in Ponte di Legno, Italy at the 2012 World Mountain Running Championships.  Arritola was also winner of the 2013 Mountain Championships at Mount Cranmore, showing her versatility in up/down races as well.  Arritola has only lost one mountain race she has competed in- that 2012 World Championship.

One of the two runners who beat Arritola in 2012 will be at Mount Washington- Valentina Belotti, from Italy. The 34 year old Belotti has been a dominant force in Europe, where she has been on the podium in 3 out of her last 4 World Mountain Running Championships (she was injured in 2013).  Belotti recently won the Taipei 101 Run Up for the third year in a row.  The Run Up is a stairclimb event that shows Belotti’s strength in an climbing discipline.  With Arritola and Belotti both in the field, it gives you visions of the epic battle of Melissa Moon and Anna Pichrtova from 2005 where Moon finally took the lead on the last ascent before the finish at Washington.

Joining the above competitors will be New England’s own Carolyn Stocker, who holds the under 20 course record at Mt. Washington and has the potential to be in the lead pack at the race. Stocker was injured last year at Washington but is an experienced mountain runner who also competes for the University of Maine in Cross Country and Track.

Late entrant Shannon Payne, of Boulder, CO, could also be a factor in this year’s race.  She just beat Erholtz at the Black Canyon Ascent, missing Mt Washington winner Kim Dobson’s course record by only 6 seconds.  Payne is fairly new to mountain running but has plenty of experience on the roads, trail and in cross country to be part of the contenders.

There’s still some lingering snow up on Mount Washington at the moment with the Auto Road finally open to the summit and the race just a month away.  .

On a side note, I am really excited that this year’s Mt. Washington Hall of Fame Ceremony will take place just before the awards on race day, where we will all get to witness Dunham and Craig Fram getting inducted.  If you will be at the Hill Climb, be sure to be there for the beginning of the awards ceremony to witness New England Mountain Running History.

About the Author

Paul Kirsch is the elite liaison for the Mount Washington Road Race, a member of the Mount Washington Road Race Hall of Fame Committee and a staff member of the US Mountain Running Team.  When he isn’t posting pictures of his dogs on Facebook, he is probably out running with them in the mountains and trails of the Mount Washington Valley. He has run the Mt. Washington Race 13 times and is looking forward to his 14th time this June. Paul also just recently ran up the auto road with his two dogs on Alton Weagle Day. It served as a good preview and so a couple of pics from that adventure were included here.

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