Dare Mighty Things

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." -Teddy Roosevelt

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mt. Washington Road Race

"The secret of discipline is motivation.  When a man is sufficiently motivated, discipline will take care of itself." -Sir Alexander Paterson

Mt. Washington, NEW HAMPSHIRE--Since I was a boy I've looked up to my father.  When I became a man, his athletic accomplishments served as the yardstick by which I have measured myself.  "Family Records" aren't mere notches on a belt, they are instead a means through which I am afforded the chance to race against my hero.  The hands of time have stolen the opportunity at a head to head meeting, but the record book gives us the chance to measure our commitment and resolve without the constraints of history.  The 50th Mt. Washington Road Race (MWRR) was one of those rare opportunities to race my father.  My dad began running in the 70's when the running boom was at it's zenith.  Although not a naturally gifted endurance athlete (he was a football player in high school and college), through incredibly hard work he fashioned himself into a very good runner.  In the early 70's he and a few of his running buddies headed to the Mt. Washington valley for a road race to the summit of the highest point in the northeast.  Back in the day, as he tells it, they walked up to the 'toll both' on the day of the race and paid their entry fee.  And 1:39 minutes later he stood on the summit.  My mother tells me that my brother and I were there, but my early childhood memories are buried too deep for me to remember.  Fast forward to the spring of this year.  When the MWRR lottery results were announced it was a 'good news, bad news' story.  The good news was that my number was actually called, the bad news was that my teammates Geoff and Rich (who talked me into entering the lottery in the first place) were not chosen.  Because of the randomness of the lottery draw and the incredible demand for the event, I had let this race fall off my radar instead focusing my attention for the past 15 years on my dad's elusive 3:14 marathon mark.  When I called my parents to tell them of my good fortune, I was reminded of my dad's family record on "The Hill".  That was all the motivation I needed.  Karen and I met Geoff and Rich at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center shortly before 7:00 am.  The three were planning to hike to the summit via Lion's Head and arrive in time to see me finish.  I arrived at the race site around 7:30 am and after picking up my race packet stood under the tent and waited for teammate Gary Reuter and my designated ride back down courtesy of Diane and Don.  Once my stuff was stowed away in Don's car I headed back to my own vehicle to begin my race preparations.  I had corresponded and talked with a number of MWRR veterans all providing me with valuable pearls of wisdom.  Perhaps the most common piece of advise I got was to go out easy in the first half because it may be the toughest 3+ miles on the course.  The #1 objective was sub 1:39, but in the back of my mind I felt like I was capable of 1:30.  To that end I planned a :43 split at the 1/2 mark knowing that nobody runs a negative split on this hill.  The way I figured it, if I ran a :47 second half I would still be in at 1:30 and safely set the family record.  At the start, Steve Wolfe and I seeded ourselves conservatively in around 250-300th place.  Not :30 before the start I had seen Tim VanOrden who reminded me that it's always better psychologically to be passing people as you go then getting passed.  And I must say he was absolutely right.  When the cannon fired Steve, myself, and 914 others began the slow and methodical march to the summit.  I could sense Steve's frustration with our seeding from the start as he darted in and out of other runners in the first 1/4 miles of DOWNHILL on the course.  Resisting the temptation to chase him I also picked my way through the hoards but repeated the mantra...PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE.  Interestingly, before we reached the 1 mile marker people around me were already walking.  I had accepted that walking would be an option but was hoping to delay it for as long as possible choosing instead to go to the lowest climbing gear imaginable and grinding to the 1/2 way split.  Somewhere around 3 miles I finally caught Steve.  Although I had no intentions of passing him, my climbing gear was just seconds faster than his and I slowly pulled ahead.  Choosing to look neither back nor forward I focused on the 2-3 meters in front of me and settled into a rhythm.  When I reached the 1/2 way point I hit the split function on my watch...:44:16.87.  No doubt a very respectable split, but about a minute behind my target pace.  I quickly took inventory...physically I was feeling very strong and very much in control of the race.  The focus for the remainder of the hill would be on the next mile marker as I attempted to run the best 3.8 one mile uphill races of my life.  It was somewhere around this time that I also caught and passed Mike Wade of TRIAD racing.  Mike had put the beat down on me at Pineland last month and the fact that I had caught and passed him really boosted my confidence.  Like the great competitor he is, he shouted a few words of encouragement as I went by him.  Popping out of the trees, the course begins the long sun splashed ascent to the summit.  The strong wind gusts forcasted before the race never really materialized instead the mountain provided a welcome cooling breeze.  On the toughest mile of the race (mile 5 if you're scoring at home), and old familiar foe appeared at my left shoulder.  Wolfe had, through a combination of recovery walking and running surges, reeled me back in and took back the spot I had "borrowed" from him :20+ minutes earlier.  My desire to "race" him at this point in the race was superseded by my #1 objective, the Dunn family record that I still had a very good chance of attaining.  Adding to my hesitation to 'chase the Wolfe' was my opportunity to run the whole damn thing that Trail Monster's Ian Parlin and Ryan Triffitt had suggested.  By the time I reached the "hairpin" I still had only walked through the aid stations to drink water.  And as advertised, the hairpin was steep and took every bit of 'mountain' I had to run through it.  With less than 200 meters to go I ran up on another familiar snowshoe racing mate, Kurt Gustafson.  Kurt was knee deep in all kinds of hurt and I encouraged him to run with me and work together to the finish.  The plan worked great for Kurt, not so great for me.  Apparently, my words of encouragement grew wings on his ankles and he surged past me as we hit "The Wall".  With a warrior cry that would have given William Wallace goosebumps, he cast his giant frame forward literally attacking the last 50 meters of vertical hell.  Now on the homestretch I caught a glimpse and an ear full from Karen, Rich, and Geoff who had made it to the top in plenty of time to help pull me in.  I had not "had" to walk for 1:31:30 and had no intention of needing to then either.  The crowd on "The Wall" erupted with encouragement as each runner waged their own battle with gravity and lactic acid.  I don't know how anyone could have walked on this part of the course (anyone, that is except Danny Ferriera who claimed his "Type D" personality doesn't get that caught up in those things..en route to a 1:31:16)?  I shuffled to the top and across the line in 1:32:00 (180th and 21st in age group).  The first call I made, while standing at the summit, was to my dad. 

My Mile Splits (for those interested)
Mile 1: 10:41.74
Mile 2: 11:23.56  [22:05.30]
Mile 3: 11:26.92  [33:32.22]
Mile 4: no split taken
Mile 5: 11:52.30  [58:32.00]
Mile 6: 13:11.68  [1:11:44]
Mile 7: 12:40.90  [1:24:25]

Next Up: Broken Boulder Dash

[Photo credits: Geoff Cunningham]


  1. Nice run Chris! You are one tough son of a Dunn! I think mile 6 is the toughest mile at Washington, and you put over a minute between us there. Hope to see you out there again soon.

  2. Your one tough hombrey Chris. Congrats on the family record! Your plan worked better them mine. I set out to better last years time not allowing for the heat. Was doing great at half way point. The “hill” got me at mile 6 when legs turned to stone. 11 min. worse then last year. Well, there is always next year.

  3. Nice job out there Chris, but I must correct the record (my description sounds better). After you passed me I kept you and your climbing gear in my sights, with the biggest gap being right around 5 miles. I think I timed around 45 seconds. I took a gu, changed my stride and started slowly reeling you in. At the last waterstop around mile 6 I was only 20 seconds back. It was well AFTER mile 7 that I came up on your shoulder and passed. At that point I was pretty sure all I needed to do was not walk since you were fully entrenched in low gear 4-wheel drive. Thankfully, I'm not yet ascared of your finishing kick :-)
    Thanks for pulling me up the hill!

  4. Clarification- I just checked my splits compared to you: I must have passed you right at mile 7, I have exactly the same split recorded (1:24:25). Nice.

  5. Great race, Chris! Can't wait to duke it out with you next year!

  6. Hi Chris! I love that father and son have a Mt Washington connection. Hard to believe that there were ever just over 100 entrants now that running as a sport has exploded and the MWRR field is limited to the lottery of 1000. It's incredible to me that so many do indeed want to take on the challenge of the mountain, for that reason I am making a documentary about the race.. you can check it out here kitchentabledocs.blogspot.com if you're interested.
    Keep up the good race!

  7. Way to go Chris. One family record down one to go!!

  8. nice job, chris! im soooo jealous! maybe next year ill try for the lottery, just couldnt make it happen this year. my friend melissa has done it the past two years and raves about it. might be a little too hardcore for me though haha.

    nice meeting you a few weeks ago (@work). ill stop by again sometime.
    ~danielle (smmc,RT)