By Paul Kirsch
The 55th Running of the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race is almost upon us, with this year’s race taking place on Saturday June 20th. This year’s field looks to be as competitive as ever. On the men’s side we have three sub-one hour winners returning to take on the Beast of East and on the women’s side we have three former winners in the top athlete mix.
First, we begin with the men.
Last year Joe Gray (Colorado Springs CO) won his first ever Mt. Washington, breaking the magical 60 minute barrier with a 59:09, beating runner up, Eric Blake (West Hartford, CT) who finished in 1:00:01. Both runners had great years last year including returns to the US Mountain Running Team and both had their fastest races at the Pikes Peak ascent as well. Gray recently finished second at the Vail Pass Half Marathon at the GoPro Games and won the Vail 10K Spring Runoff the next day.
For Blake, this year will also contain another milestone. He is being inducted into the Mount Washington Road Race Hall of Fame where he joins legends of the race including Jonathan Wyatt, Simon Gutierrez, Matt Carpenter, and many others. The induction ceremony will take place just before the awards on Saturday the 20th at the base of the auto road.
Gray and Blake will see some good competition from some returning athletes and new faces. A surprise late entry into the field is Rickey Gates, who is also in the prestigious sub-60 group at Washington when he won in 2009 with a time of 59:58. Gates has not run at Washington since 2012 and has since been doing more Sky Races so it will be interesting to see where he ends up in the mix. His leg speed is still there though, as he just finished 5th at the Vail 10km Spring Runoff. If you get the opportunity to hang out with Gates at the race, you will also discover he truly is the great Bohemian of the mountain running world (Check out his Salomon TV Video). I always enjoy a conversation with Rickey.
Joining the three sub-60 runners will be some top runners from across the country and from Italy as well. Four of these runners are all from Colorado with some impressive finishes at Washington and other mountain and trail races.
Zach Miller, who was 4th at Mt. Washington in 2014, has had a great year. He was on the 2014 US Mountain Running Team after he finished 4th at the US Champs at Loon Mountain. He also was a member of the 100km US Team.
New to Mount Washington but not new to mountain running is Andy Wacker of Boulder, CO. Wacker has a personal best of 13:41 in the 5km and a Half Marathon time of 1:03:25. He finished just behind Gray at both Vail races this past weekend. Wacker has won the Mount Evans Ascent and was 3rd overall at the 2014 Pikes Peak Ascent, finishing just ahead of Blake.
The other two Colorado runners who have a shot at the podium are Simon Gutierrez and Peter Maksimow. Gutierrez finished 6th overall in 2014 at age 48 but he knows the mountain so well you can never count him out of the overall race. Look for some potential age division records to go down next year when Gutierrez hits age 50. Maksimow finished 7th last year at Washington, just behind Gutierrez. After a few years battling injuries he is coming in to this race healthy so he could be a real factor.
In 2012, I began working with Paolo Germanetto from the Italian Mountain Running Team to try and bring top Italian runners to the race to give them a chance to race against some of the best in the US. In 2012, six time World Champion, Marco DeGasperi came to the race. Degasperi finished 5th overall and new tradition began. Last year, two runners came from Italy- Emanuel Manzi and Valentina Belotti. Manzi finished 8th and Belotti was 2nd overall, a minute behind winner Shannon Payne. This year will see Luca Cagnati join the field. Cagnati lives in the Dolomites region in Northern Italy and was a member of the 2014 Italian Mountain Running Team. He finished just ahead of Eric Blake at last year’s World Mountain Running Championships.
On the New England front, besides Blake, we have the Freeman brothers of New Hampshire, Justin and Kris, returning. Justin finished 9th last year with Kris finishing 15th. They will be competing against Dan Princic (Reading, MA), Kevin Tilton (North Conway, NH), newcomer Alex McGrath (Marlborough, MA), Drew Best (Amherst, MA) and Paul Dube (Windham, ME).
A couple of milestone years for the men in the field – Dave Dunham of Bradford, MA will be competing in his 25th Mt. Washington and Eric Morse will be turning 50. Morse is also being inducted this year into the Mt Washington Road Race Hall of Fame.