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Joyce Endee

Mt. Washington Road Race runs Saturday, June 20

Fingers are crossed around the country for acceptable weather on race day

Runners in the 2008 Mt. Washington Road Race prepare to start what was sure to be one of the most grueling challenges of their lives. Joe Klementovich. (click for larger version)
June 18, 2009
The Mt. Washington Road Race is a 7.6-mile ascent to the 6288-foot summit of the highest peak in the northeastern United States, at an average grade of 12 percent. Each year the race attracts close to 1000 runners for the steepest all-uphill race on a paved road anywhere.

The weather, the available parking space for vehicles that bring finishers back down from the summit, and the capacity of the Auto Road all contribute to limiting the size of the field. At the same time, the number of runners hoping to run the race each year typically approaches 2000. Granite State Race Services, organizers of the event, operate a computerized lottery to give an equal chance to every applicant who signs up online any time between March 1 and 15. Entrants this year come from 35 states and four Canadian provinces.

The favorites for the men

The latest update on this year's Race is that the defending champions may be clear favorites after all.

Brandy Erholtz of Bailey, Colo., last year's women's winner of the "Run To the Clouds," has been racing very well in the Rocky Mountains and, at 31, seems to be in shape to repeat her 2008 performance at Mt. Washington, when she ran away from the field and won in her first attempt, in 1:11:08 — the fourth-fastest time ever recorded by a woman in the 49 years of this race.

Meanwhile, two-time winner Eric Blake, 30, of New Britain, Conn., will face a familiar group of challengers, nearly all of whom he beat to win last year's race.

The biggest potential threats to the defending champions are likely not to race at Mt. Washington this year. Six-time winner Anna Pichrtova, of the Czech Republic, planned to return to the race after injuries forced her to miss Mt. Washington in 2008, but her country's athletic federation requires her to compete in Europe that weekend in order to qualify for the European Mountain Running Championships.

The New Zealander who would have greatly altered this year's men's race, Jonathan Wyatt, has also decided not to run Mt. Washington this year. Wyatt, several times the World Mountain Running Champion, holds the Mt. Washington Road Race course record for men, a breathtaking 56 minutes 41 seconds, which he ran in 2004. This year other commitments are keeping him in Europe, where he lives during the northern hemisphere summer.

Blake's top competition is likely to include Paul Low of Northfield, Vt., former U.S. Mountain Runner of the Year, who has twice finished second to Wyatt here (2004 and 2007) and has finished ahead of Blake once (2004) and close behind him twice (2005 and 2006).

Also running will be Rickey Gates of Boulder, Colo., who has finished third in both his previous Mt. Washington appearances (2006 and 2008); Joe Gray of Lakewood, Washington, fourth in his 2008 debut here; three-time Mt. Washington champion Simon Gutierrez of Alamosa, Colo., fifth overall last year in a new master's course record; and Matt Byrne of Scranton, Pa., sixth in his debut here last year.

Others in the men's field include local favorite Kevin Tilton of North Conway, Jason Bryant of Elkin, N.C. (9th here two years ago), and Juan Guillermo Jaramillo, a Colombian mountain runner living in Milford, who placed sixth at Mt. Washington in 2007.

A newcomer who may figure significantly up front is Jonathan Severey of Winooski, Vt., who won the Steamboat Springs mountain championship race in Colorado last year and recently ran a half-marathon in 1:07. Another is Curtis Moore, who has never run the race but has often run up the road on his own, since he is a trail crew coordinator for the area. Moore can certainly handle the coldest weather the runners might see on Mt. Washington — he is a past winner of the Antarctica Marathon.

The women's field

Erholtz seems the clear favorite among women. Last month in Colorado she won the Black Canyon Ascent in a course-record time of 45:06. That race is a six-mile race with 2000-feet of altitude gain, and like the Mt. Washington Road Race it is on paved road. Given that performance, Erholtz appears a threat to break the Mt. Washington course record (1:10:08), and if she and Pichrtova were pushing each other, the likelihood would have been even greater.

Among the strongest challengers to Erholtz are Alison Bryant of Elkin, N.C., who finished at Mt. Washington in 2007 and fifth last year; Keri Nelson of Gunison, Colo., seventh last year; and former U.S. National Snowshoe champion Kelli Lusk of Manitou Springs, Colo., who has several times placed in the top 10 here. All of them will have to watch out for Lisa Goldsmith of Nederland, Colo., who will contend for the women's masters prize, which she won here in 2007, and who is likely to finish in the top 10 in the open race as well.

Amputee marathon record-holder

Also a serious threat in the women's race is Amy Palmiero-Winters, from Long Island, N.Y., an elite runner who lost the lower part of her left leg in a motorcycle accident a few years ago and now runs with a prosthesis on that leg. Palmiero-Winters, a 36-year-old welder and mother of two small children, is the world record-holder for single-leg below-the-knee amputees in the marathon, having run a 3:04 for that distance. That time suggests she may finish in the top five or 10 at Mt. Washington.

Another record-holder in the women's field, less likely to make the top 10 but quite likely to attract some notice, is Kimi Puntillo, who is in the Guinness Book of Records for having run a marathon on every continent.

Age group favorites

While Lisa Goldsmith looks like the favorite in the women's masters race, the favorite in the men's is three-time Mt. Washington winner and masters course record-holder Simon Gutierrez of Alamosa, Colo. Gutierrez, 43, won the men's race last month at Black Canyon in 40:24, while Erholtz was winning the women's. The field also includes three-time Mt. Washington winner Dave Dunham of Ward Hill, Mass., and Eric Morse of Berlin, Vt.

Several age-group records are in jeopardy this year. Craig Fram of Plaistow, N.H., the 1997 Mt. Washington winner and formerly the master's course record-holder, is now 50 years old and likely to set a new record for men ages 50-54.

In the men's 55- to 59-year age group, the current record belongs to Chuck Smead of Mosca, Colo., who set it last year in 1:17:15.7. Smead won the master's division at Mt. Washington in 1992 and 1993, finishing in the top 10 overall both times. This year he has to contend with Keith Woodward, 58, of Stowe, Vt., who won the race overall in 1983 and beat Smead for the masters prize by one minute on a rare hot day in 1994.

In the men's 60- to 64-year division, Mike McMusker of Buckland, Mass., squares off against fellow 60-year-old Barry Spitz of San Anselmo, Calif. The record for women aged 80 years and up (that's not a typo) may fall too, as Mt. Washington veteran Hildy Fosse of Holderness, recently turned 80. The oldest runner entered in the race is George Etzweiler, 89, of State College, Pa.

Carrying the load for soldiers

Although he is not running for any prizes, another runner who should attract notice is Colonel Jack Mosher, of Waterville, Maine. A U.S. Army combat veteran, Mosher will run the Mt. Washington Road Race this year with the intention of drawing attention to the soaring rate of service/veteran suicides. He will run carrying a small pack that holds a yellow ribbon and a "Resilience Stone" – a rock that represents, as Mosher says, "the load that many of our soldiers carry when they return from war," including depression, PTSD and substance abuse.

The top runners will compete for the first prize of $1000 for first male and female finisher overall, with a $5000 bonus for breaking the men's or women's course record and a $2000 bonus awarded by New England Runner magazine to a man or woman breaking the master's record.

The Mt. Washington Road Race is sponsored by Northeast Delta Dental, with additional support from New England Runner magazine, Bridgton Academy and La Sportiva.

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