Strong Fields Set for Mt. Washington Road Race
Past two years’ male winners Blake and Canaday take on Joe Gray (again); Belotti challenges Erholtz in women’s field; Haefeli, Arritola withdraw
Posted Wednesday, 18 June, 2014
PINKHAM NOTCH, N.H. – The Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race has seen a couple of race-to-the-wire finishes in recent years, but more often the eventual winner has broken away from the field somewhere on the windswept upper slopes of the highest peak in the northeastern United States and finished all alone in front. Saturday’s 54th edition of this all-uphill footrace could well be the scene for close finishes, as three well-matched men battle each other for the third time in as many years and a two-time women’s Mt. Washington champion faces a challenge from a former world mountain running champion.
In the men’s race, defending champion Eric Blake of West Hartford, Connecticut, and 2012 winner Sage Canaday of Boulder, Colorado, will have to match their best-ever Mt. Washington performances if they expect to hold off Joe Gray of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Gray, who finished second here in both 2012 and 2013, 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.
Having won the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race in 2006 and again in 2008, in one of the closest finishes ever, Blake won again last year by running his personal best time for the course last year, 59 minutes 57 seconds. Canaday’s winning time of 58:27 in 2012 was the third-fastest ever recorded in this race, and his third place finish here last year came one week after he won a major 50-kilometer trail race. Canaday and Blake are two of only seven people ever to run up the up the 7.6-mile Mt. Washington Auto Road in under one hour; Gray could become the eighth this year.
Brandy Erholtz of Evergreen, Colorado, winner of the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race in 2008 and 2009, was a particularly impressive runnerup in 2013; four months pregnant at the time, she beat all other women in the field except fellow Coloradan Laura Haefeli. Haefeli recently withdrew from this year’s race and will not defend her title.
Another recent withdrawal is that of Morgan Arritola of Idaho. Arritola, who placed third in the 2012 World Mountain Running Championships and won the U.S. National Mountain Championship a year later, was a possible co-favorite in what would have been her Mt. Washington debut.
Erholtz must still contend with Valentina Belotti, who won the women’s World Mountain Running Association championship in Italy in 2009 and was runnerup in that race in 2010 and 2012. Belotti will be running up Mt. Washington for the first time.
While the men’s field looks like a three-way race, two newcomers may break up the favored trio. Belotti’s countryman Emanuele Manzi will bring considerable mountain-running experience to his Mt. Washington debut. A protégé of Italian mountain running legend Marco de Gasperi, Manzi run on the Italian national team in six World Championships.
The other strongest threats from first-time competitors here come from Ryan Bak of Bend, Oregon, and Zach Miller of Manitou Springs. Colorado. Bak, who expected to compete at Mt. Washington in both of the last two years but had to withdraw each time, has run a 2:14:17 marathon – a time resembling the marathon bests of several previous Mt. Washington winners. Miller, a member of the Nike Trail Elite Team, won the 2013 JFK 50 Miler and has set course records in several other ultramarathons this year.
As usual, nobody can ignore Simon Gutierrez, of Colorado Springs. Winner of this race in 2002, 2003 and 2005, Gutierrez holds the course record for masters (over 40) runners, a time of 1:01:34, which he ran in 2008. Gutierrez placed fifth in 2005 and last year was fourth after Blake, Gray and Canaday.
For that fourth place finish in 2013, Gutierrez had to outduel Matt Byrne, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the final 50 yards. Byrne, who claims several top-five finishes, returns to Mt. Washington for another attempt.
Two or three other women are possible dark horses in this year’s race. One is Kasie Enman, of Huntington, Vermont, who in 2011 became the first American woman to win the World Mountain Running Championship, and who placed third at Mt. Washington in 2011 and 2012. Enman woud be a co-favorite with Erholtz and Belotti, except that her mountain running strength is greater on uneven terrain than on an all-uphill grade.
Another contender may be Carolyn Stocker, of Westfield, Mass. In 2011, at the age of 18, Stocker placed seventh here, breaking the course record for juniors (19 and under). She lowered that record while placing fifth in 2012. Having missed the race last year because of an injury, she returns with deeper experience in mountain running, two more seasons of competing in cross-country and track at the University of Maine, and superior winter conditioning from snowshoe racing.
An intriguing unknown in this year’s race is how well Shannon Payne, of Boulder, Colorado, will fare against the rest of the field on Mt. Washington’s 12 percent grade. A late entry into the race, Payne beat Erholtz by four minutes recently at the Black Canyon Ascent in Colorado and came close to the course record set there by two-time Mt. Washington champion Lisa Dobson (who will not be in next Saturday’s race).
Each year’s race includes prizes for the first male and female New Hampshire finishers. This year’s men’s race is a copy of the past several, as brothers Justin Freeman, of New Hampton NH, and Kris Freeman of Thornton will bring their Olympic Nordic skiing strength to the race again. Last year brother Justin won the prize while placing eighth overall.
The women’s race for first Granite Stater will be exciting, as it pits last year’s winner Larisa Dannis, of Strafford, against Diana Davis of Exeter and Abbey Woods of Laconia.
The Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race begins at the Auto Road base on Route 16 north of Pinkham Notch and climbs to the 6288-foot summit at an average grade of 12 percent and a net altitude gain of 4650 feet. The runners battle not only each other but the sheer force of gravity and Mt. Washington’s famously severe winds.
Former six-time World Mountain Champion Jonathan Wyatt of New Zealand holds the men’s course record at Mt. Washington: 56 minutes 41 seconds, set in 2004. The women’s record was set in 2010 by the 23-year-old Ethiopian runner Shewarge Amare, who made the ascent in one hour eight minutes 21 seconds.
Based in Concord, NH, Northeast Delta Dental has sponsored the race up the historic Mt. Washington Auto Road 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. In 2012, Northeast Delta Dental increased its already strong support for the event, making it officially the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race.
Fifty percent of all proceeds from the race will be donated to the Coos County Family Health Services for their oral health programs. Based in nearby Berlin, NH, this community-based organization provides innovative, personalized, comprehensive health care and social services to everyone, regardless of economic status.
For more information, visit http://mountwashingtonroadrace.com/