I kept entering the Mt Washington lottery, as I've always wanted to see what I can do on foot relative to my many bicycle times. Finally in 2016, I got in again. I pretty much stopped running when I started hiking last summer. I have to think 5-10 hour hikes will do more for bone health than 25 minute lunch runs once or twice a week.But can it prep you for something as grueling as running up Mt Washington?
Hiking has brought about positive adaptations. My dorsilflexion has improved. My achilles and calves are considerably stronger. I think risk of calf injury is very low now.
I started running repeats on Pack Monadnock again. I haven't done much focused VOmax work the last couple years. Running up a mountain is a sure way to get your hurt on! Going down was a problem in 2012. I would get excruciating shin splints and DOMS a couple days later. I found all the descending in hiking made me DOMS proof now. I also noticed the increased dorsilflexion changed my uphill running technique. On Pack, there are sections on the paved road to the summit that are 15-20% grade. Before, I could not heel plant. I'd end up running on the balls of my feet on the steepest parts, which was extremely stressful on my calves, and it also felt like I couldn't engage my hamstrings fully.
Three weeks out from the Mt Washington race, I signed up for the Mt Wachusett 10k race with great hesitation. The course goes up and over the summit, all the way back down. I suck at downhill running, or downhill anything for that matter. But I wanted some pacing experience in a race situation before Mt Washington. I could always walk/run the descent.
Wouldn't you know it, the temp was expected to rise well into the 90's on Saturday for the race. I tolerate heat more poorly than most. The race wasn't that early either, starting at 9:30am. The skies cleared and the sun turned the mountain into an oven as 300+ racers lined up for a mass start.
We go off and I find myself about 50 runners back. The grade kicks up on Mile Hill Rd, the breathing around me gets louder. I started reeling people in. I maybe gained 10-15 spots by the time we turned into the state park. After a brief downhill, the climbing resumes. We turn left onto the one-way "down" road, which is uber steep. Are we hurting yet? The discomfort level went beyond anything I experienced on my Pack training repeats. I felt like a liter a minute was dripping off my hands and elbows.
A right turn onto the summit spur had us face-to-face with 15% grade in full sun. I just wanted to hit that mat up top, get my summit split and stop. The heat was giving me abdominal cramps. My thermal governor had kicked in, and it took only 23 minutes. I crossed the mat, ran around the tower, and headed down. Why was I still running?
The 15% grade heading down didn't freak me out like I thought it would. There was some braking going on, but not jack-hammer kind of stuff. I still felt somewhat fluid. The least steep parts I kind of ran wide open without pushing it. Maybe I keep this race going for bit to see how this descent business works. My biggest concern was my knees giving me the big f-you, but there was no hint of that.
Half way down, the course veers left onto gravel fire road. The surface was pretty predictable, there were areas of loose ankle biter rocks. Again, I think the hiking over the past 10 months gave me the confidence and stability in my ankles to maintain a decent pace. It's amazing how hard you can still breath running downhill. I was surprised only one person passed me on the 3.2mi descent.
I finished in 45:33, good for 18th/311 finishers overall, about what I thought was possible. I was pretty happy with that, especially given the oppressive heat. My hamstrings were in a bit of a funk after I finished, but my knees were fine. I guess sometimes you just have to step outside of your comfort box if you want to learn new things about yourself. I'm not about to take up trail running though, at least not downhill.
Gaunt from dehydration and rocking the goofy cyclist's tan
There's really no good way to extrapolate this result to how I might do on the big Rock Pile in three weeks. I do have a goal, and that is to gain the 4700ft in less than 80 minutes. Hopefully we don't get a scorcher like Saturday. I'd DNF running that long in heat. I do plan to run a couple of the other mountain climbs, like Loon and the Whiteface Vertical K in NY. Off road, and the finish is at the top for these events!