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Mount Washington Road Race on Saturday a success

June 25, 2014
PINKHAM NOTCH The 54th Northeast Delta Mount Washington Road Race brought over a thousand runners who raced to the summit of the steep terrain the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288 feet. Hundreds of spectators attended. There were some expected winners as well as some surprises. All ages of men and women competed. It was about 68 degrees and was one of the best crowd turn-outs this year helping to make the event successful.

Not only do the runners face the forces of gravity from the steep climb at an average grade of 12 percent and a net altitude gain of 4650 feet, they face the weather the temperature decreases and the winds get stronger the further they ascend. There was a 25 degree wind chill.

In both the men's and woman's fields, the 7.6 mile uphill race was dominated by Joseph Gray and Shannon Payne, both of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Gray, who has won many second and third place titles in previous years, is a tough competitor who earned his way to the top this year. Payne, who has little to no mountain running experience, made a huge impression as it was her very first attempt at Mount Washington.

Gray finished in 59 minutes 9 seconds making him the eighth runner ever to finish this race in less than one hour. He also defeated both of the men to whom he had been runner-up the past two years: Sage Canaday, 28, of Boulder, Colorado, the 2012 winner, and defending champion Eric Blake, 35, of West Hartford, Conn., who overtook Gray to win in 2013. Today the 30-year-old Gray set the pace early, with Blake beside him and Canaday following, but Canaday fell off the pace by the halfway point, and when Gray leaned into the mountain's 12 percent grade and winds that swirled at 35 mph., Blake could not match the new champion's effort despite running his second-best time ever here, one hour and one second. Canaday stayed third, finishing in 1:01:30. Gray was the top American male last fall at the World Mountain Championships in Poland and placed fourth in the USATF cross-country national championships in February.

"I felt pretty good the whole way," said Gray. "I knew we'd have a good strong race. Eric is always strong, and it makes you nervous if he's behind you. I figured I could win it, but I knew it was going to be a barn-burner," said Gray.

Payne, 28, was noted to have looked "almost surprised" to find herself alone at 2 miles up.

"I kept thinking, 'Well, the course will flatten out soon,' but it never does. But going uphill in really short strides, the way you have to here, is good for my running form."

Holding a steady form from start to finish, Payne crossed the line at the mountain's 6288-foot summit in one hour 10 minutes 12 seconds, the fifth-fastest time ever for a woman here. Chasing her, but unable to catch her, was Valentina Belotti, 34, of Temu, Italy. A three-time runner-up in the World Mountain Championships, Belotti was also seeing Mt. Washington for the first time, but she arrived with more mountain running experience than Payne. "This is very different from our mountain races in Europe. Very steep!" said Belotti who finished in 1:11:58.

Third place went to Brandy Erholtz, 36, of Evergreen, Colo., in 1:15:38. Erholtz, two-time winner in 2008 and 2009), ran strongly but was still returning to top form after having her second child last September.

"When he starts sleeping through the night, it'll help me get more endurance (for running)!" she said.

The top finishers from New Hampshire were Justin Freeman, 37, of New Hampton, ninth overall in 1:06:29; and Denise Sandahl, 33, of Bow, fifth woman overall in 1:17:21 just nine seconds behind the 2011 World Mountain Running Champion Kasie Enman, 34, of Huntington, Vermont.

Runners from Berlin included Dana Hoyt, 55, who finished at 2:1:22 and William Knight, 25, finishing at 2:3:6.

From Gorham were Adam Marsh, 31, finishing at 1:42:42, Amanda Lavigne, 36, at 1:46:22, and Mike Pelchat, 59, at 1:46:22.

Doug Mayer, 49, of Randolph, finished at 1:35:12.

Based in Concord, Northeast Delta Dental has sponsored the race since 2001. The health company's CEO, Tom Raffio, has run the race in a personal best of one hour 50 minutes and 51 seconds.50 percent of all proceeds from the race will be donated to the Coos County Family Health Services for their oral health programs.

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