By Paul Kirsch
This was my first year as Press Liaison for the Mount Washington Road Race so besides my usual role of Elite Athlete Liaison and running in the race I wanted to make sure I got a chance to interview some of the top runners for a lengthier article than what can fit in a smaller press release. This is the recap of those interviews that I did down at the base of the mountain after the race. Always such a fun event to be involved with and I will always be struck by how humble and nice the top athletes are. I asked them all about how their races went and then also how the weather might have effected them. It was a blue sky perfect day for spectating at the race but definitely the inverse of the legendary bad weather of Mt. Washington (and the race has not seen any bad weather in the 8 or 9 years). A bit warm in spots, cooled off by mile 6 for most.
JOE GRAY – 1ST PLACE OVERALL
Joe Gray won the race in 58:17, two seconds off his American record. Another incredible day for him as he wins his third straight MWRR.
PK: So tell me how win number three feels.
Joe: I was pretty close to my time from last year which was the American record. I definitely am happy with that. I came in a little bit tired this year from training for some races in the later part of the season so I was definitely hurting.
PK: Did the weather affect you at all?
Joe: I felt a little warm in the middle of the course. Usually you don’t. That definitely made it harder. You could feel the heat a lot more than some years.
PK: When did you break away and run the race solo?
Joe: It was about 800 meters into the race. I was then trying to focus on my own pace.
PK: What’s next for you?
Joe: The Loon Mountain Race is the US Champs in two weeks. That’s next for me. It’s here in New Hampshire. I’ll still be training until then as I want to do some skyracing later in the season as well.
ERIC BLAKE – 2ND PLACE
Eric Blake missed last year’s race with an injury but came back to get his personal best at the mountain with a strong 59:49 finish which got him second place behind Gray. He has run the race multiple times and also has defeated Gray in the past as well.
PK: So what were you shooting for today?
Eric: I was definitely going for the win today but really pleased with my performance with the PR. I didn’t think I was in 58-minute shape but if Joe ran 59:30 I knew I could be in the mix. My training has been going really well. So, my number one goal was to win but my second was to get a personal best. It’s been a few years since I ran my best times. Last time I ran I was 60:01 which is always a tough time so anything under an hour I would consider good. (Editor’s note: breaking an hour has both prestige and prize bonus incentives for a runner at Mt. Washington). But also, just missing last year, it was so good to be back and be healthy. It is such a huge event for me. A year ago my primary goal was just to get healthy and be back here after watching it as a spectator last year.
PK: Did the weather impact you at all?
Eric: It was a little on the warm side but I will always take that over high winds or super cold.
PK: What is next for you?
Eric: Going to Loon in 2 weeks, looking to make the US Team. I have made it every even year (uphill years) since 2004 along with 2005 in the up/down year so I would love to make another team this time around.
TOMASSO VACCINA – 3RD PLACE AND FRANCESCO PUPPI – 4TH PLACE.
Since 2012, the race has worked with the Italian Mountain Running Federation to try and bring elite Italian runners over to race at Washington. This year, two runners, Francesco Puppi and Tomasso Vaccina came to Washington. Vaccina finished 3rd in a time of 1:01:47. Puppi finished 4th in a time of 1:03:59.
PK: How did you like the course and the race?
Francesco: It is a very nice course. It is not easy to run it for the first time. I had some troubles in the second part. I want to come back another year and try to improve my time.
Tomasso: It is a very difficult race. You start out with some of the most difficult miles in the first few miles. When I got to the 7 mile mark I was first thinking it was finished. But then the last part (The Wall which is a 22 percent grade) was very, very hard.
PK: Do you think you will come back?
Both of them: Yes, it might not be next year but we would love to come back.
JIM JOHNSON – TOP NH FINISHER, WINNER OF THE CROSSAN CUP. 5TH PLACE OVERALL
Jim Johnson won the Crossan Cup for men as top New Hampshire finisher and in 5th place overall. He finished just seconds off his PR after a running season that he has described as having some ups and downs.
PK: Going into today, did you expect to do the time you did?
Jim: Not at all. I thought I would be many minutes back of where I finished.
PK: Yeah, obviously, so did the guy writing the pre-race press release… (laughing) (Editor’s Note: Paul wrote that press release)
Jim: (laughing) It’s been kind of a weird year for me. I have been running okay but have had some motivation issues. I haven’t been doing a lot of workouts, kind of been going through the motions. Last weekend I ran a personal worst 10k and pretty much thought that was going to sum up today. I didn’t expect to be within 2 seconds of a PR.
PK: Any strategy going out today? Any other runners you try and run with?
Jim: I don’t really pay attention to specific times for splits. I know approximately where I should be at the first mile, halfway and then the end. I always heed Dave (Dunham’s) advice and always go out very easy. I was fifteen seconds or so slower thru the first mile than I was my PR year. At that point I just put my head down and I just kept trying to do that same pace, nice and relaxed and within myself. Then two miles came and went. I just kept passing people and it was kind of surreal. When I got to halfway, I pulled right up behind Simon (Gutierrez). I ran with Simon for three miles, teetering between 5 steps ahead of him and then a couple of steps behind him. That was surreal too because we couldn’t see anybody up front. And there I am running with Simon 4 or 5 miles into the race. That felt bizarre. Once I got to 6 miles I pulled ahead of him a little bit and his sheer presence behind me just kept me going.
PK: Weather any impact on you?
I was heating up a little bit in the middle but wearing a cap helped. Luckily no wind to speak of. Other than being a little warm it was ideal. I usually run all right in the heat.
PK: Is this first Crossan Cup for you?
Jim: Yes. After two miles I passed Brandon Newbould, fully expecting him to come back. By about 5 ½ to the 6 mile mark I started to peak so I was starting to wonder who might be around me.
PK: Does someone at your level ever walk any of the course?
Jim: This is my ninth race. I have never walked any of it. Dunham told me the first year when he passed me at two miles, “whatever you do, don’t walk” Eric Morse told me after the race “don’t ever walk. Even if you have a bad day you have that going for you.” I always plan on never walking just because I think once you get into that level of distress and walk once, you’ll end up walking some more.
KIM DOBSON – 1ST PLACE WOMAN
Kim Dobson is now undefeated in four attempts on the mountain. She ran 1:09:34 on Saturday, just eight seconds off of her best time in 2012.
PK: How was this race compared to your other three times?
Kim: I think the more I do it, the more nervous I get. This mountain is intimidating. I was pretty nervous at the start but I felt good about my fitness and I had done all that I could so I was trying to remain positive. It was a warm year so I wanted to start out conservative as there were some other really fast girls in the field so my plan was to start strong but be able to build to the halfway point where I wanted to still feel like I had something left in my legs. I think last year I got to the halfway point and I felt pretty tired. This year I got there and felt pretty good and just tried to focus on one mile at a time and push as hard as I could each mile.
PK: Was this your second fastest time?
Kim: I think so. I think I ran within 10 seconds of my PR. I was super pleased with today.
PK: Were you running with any other women during the race?
Kim: About a half mile in, I passed Kim Nedeau and then I was in the lead from there on. I wasn’t sure how close behind she was. There were a lot of men around though.
PK: When that happens, do you end up trying to stay with any of the men to go up the mountain or are you comfortable running solo?
Kim: Yeah, I will. I also live at 6600 feet so I try and tell myself I have a little bit of advantage of the altitude. I also don’t mind running by myself either. Once I get a little space it almost relaxes me. Then I can really just focus on effort and getting as close to the red line as I can.
PK: I think you are tied with Anna Pichrtova now for most consecutive wins. That’s some pretty great company to be in.
Kim: I feel super blessed to be here doing this race. I had a little injury over the Winter and had to take some time off from running. I said to my husband, maybe I should just throw in the towel on competitive running if this doesn’t heal. After that is started to get better and I was able to start running. Every time you can get to the start line at a race like this it is sort of a blessing. When you win, WOW it is so wonderful. But I am just feeling super fortunate just to be here.
PK: What’s next for you?
Kim: Loon (The US Mountain Champs) in two weeks. I can’t remember if I have registered yet (laughing) but I do have my plane tickets!
PK: You are trying to make your first US Team?
Kim: Yes, that would be so amazing, I am looking forward to the race.
KIM NEDEAU – 2ND PLACE
Kim Nedeau was running her first Mount Washington this year. She finished second to Kasie Enman at last year’s Loon Mountain Race so she is no stranger to climbing hill. But the steady grind and road surface of Washington can be a shock to even the most seasoned of runners. Nedeau is focused on training for the US Champs at Loon but Washington was also a big goal race for her. Her 1:13:51 second place finish is the first time a New England woman has finished second since Kasie Enman did in 2008. Kim was pretty ecstatic with her results.
PK: What was your goal coming into today’s race?
Kim: I have had a goal of top 3 for several months. It is what I have been training for and it felt really good out there today.
PK: Kim Dobson was telling me that she passed you around the half mile mark. Did it feel weird to be leading up until that point?
Kim: (laughing) yes, it was a little funny. I was starting to wonder where she was or if I had gone out too fast.
PK: Did you have a specific race strategy or plan on mile splits?
Kim: I did. I had my watch. Chris (Dunn, her coach and founder of acidotic RACING) and I went over some splits. I didn’t want to pay too much attention but I wanted to make sure I didn’t go out too fast so I was using my watch for that and I used it at the halfway point to make sure I was on my goal pace. I had a goal of about a 10 minute pace in my head and I was faster than that today so I was really happy with the results. I really wanted top three and without any women around me, I used the watch to guide me.
PK: Have you run on the Auto Road before?
Kim: No that was my first time. I have done Ascutney (Mountain Race in Vermont, which has the same grade as Washington with a total distance of 3.7 miles) and that was probably the most similar.
PK: Any shock hitting the Wall in the last 200 or so yards?
Kim: Well, when you see the acidotic RACING cheering section just before it on the less steep part, and they are cheering really loud, well I started running pretty fast there. So when it got a lot more steep, it hurt a lot, it got pretty bad. I had heard about the Wall but it was still a bit of a surprise.
PK: Next up for you?
Kim: The US Champs at Loon.
PK: Shooting for a specific place?
Kim: It’s a big goal but I need to say it out loud- shooting for top 4. If I don’t do that as long as I run my best, I will be happy. I know it is tough competition but I am looking forward to the race.
SHANNON PAYNE – 3RD PLACE
Shannon Payne won the race in 2014. After that, she had a bout of injury struggles in 2015 and wasn’t able to return. This race was somewhat of a gateway for Shannon into mountain running and the culture and the people. It was really exciting to see her back here in 2016. This was her first race back since the big layoff and she finished in 1:16:10, good for third place in the women’s field. When I mentioned doing the interview with her, I of course asked her in mid-bite of her post-race turkey feast but we decided to wait until she was done chewing to do the full interview.
PK: So you missed last year with injuries, which I am sure wasn’t fun at all. So first tell me what it was like just to be back here.
Shannon: I kind of came out here with the approach that I just wanted to give it the approach that I would give it my best shot. I have been out of action for a while and I wanted a starting point. There really is no other race that means as much as this one, even though I have just run it once. It was kind of a turning point for a lot of things. I feel nothing besides gratitude as cheesy as that sounds.
PK: So how did the race feel for you today?
Shannon: It was good. I was surprised, I felt really strong considering I haven’t put in a lot of long uphill grinds like I did in 2014. I was pretty conservative but definitely it was what I had. I felt good and I can’t complain.
PK: What are the next races for you?
Shannon: I will probably go and do the Vail Hill Climb out in Colorado. Loon is kind of a toss-up, we’ll see. Initially I wasn’t even planning on racing at all until the Fall. This was a last minute decision but I am glad I raced today!