Mount Washington Auto Road, Gorham NH

Road Race
History 

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Credit for the first timed run up Mt. Washington goes to George Foster, who performed the feat in 1904 when he was a medical student, to impress his friends. He completed the climb in 1:42. In 1936 some of Dr. Foster’s friends organized a Mt. Washington road race in his honor. Twelve runners finished. The race was held again in 1937 and 1938, with larger fields each time.


During the war years the race was forgotten, but it was held again in 1961 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Mt. Washington Carriage Road. Boston Marathon champion John J. Kelley won that year, beating 78 other runners. In 1962, 40- year-old former coal miner Fred Norris won in the stunning time of 1:04:57, which stood for 39 years as the masters’ record.


After a 3-year hiatus the race resumed in 1966 and has been run annually since. In 1972 Charlotte Lettis became the first official female finisher, leading the way for subsequent winners including Martha Rockwell, Christine Maisto, Peg Donovan, Jacqueline Gareau (the only other Boston Marathon champion besides Kelley to win at Mt. Washington) and J’ne Day-Lucore, who in 1992 set the women’s course record of 1:11:45.5.


Other outstanding male runners have included Olympic cross-country skier Mike Gallagher, who won the race four years in a row (1968-71); the late Gary Crossan, also a four time winner; Bob Hodge, who proved himself king of this mountain seven times between 1976 and 1987; Dave Dunham, who set a course record in 1988, came back in 1989 to outsprint Hodge by 1.5 seconds, and then, after finishing second three times and third once, won again in 1994; New Zealand’s Derek Froude, who in unusually good weather in 1990 became the first person to run up the 7.6-mile Mt. Washington Auto Road in under one hour, clocking 59:17; and Matt Carpenter of Colorado Springs, who beat Froude and Dunham in 1992, then defended his title in 1993 with the second sub-one-hour performance – 59:50, and two Kenyan champions, Gideon Mutisya of Kenya in 1995 and, in an awe-inspiring demonstration of hill-running, Daniel Kihara, who in 1996 demolished the field with a record time of 58:20.05. In 1997 two Granite Staters won, Craig Fram of Plaistow and Cathy O’Brien of Durham, while Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Samuelson set a new masters record of 1:16:03. The 1998 race was won by Matt Carpenter again while Sweden’s Magdalena Thorsell broke the women’s record with a blazing 1:10:08.2


The race in 1999 saw 10 individual age group and 5 team records established in near-perfect conditions. Up front, three-time winner Matt Carpenter of Colorado dueled course record holder Daniel Kihara of Kenya to the fastest 1-2 finish in the race’s history. Kihara won in 59:03 with Carpenter just 13 seconds back. Barbara Remmers, who trained on a treadmill in her Manhattan apartment, lowered her ’98 third place debut time by over eight minutes to win in 1:13:52.
In the 40th anniversary race on June 17, 2000, the women’s race was won for the first time by a Kenyan. Alice Muriithi won in 1:17:26, while her countryman Daniel Kihara returned to defend in 59:24. Jacqueline Gareau’s time of 1:18:43 established the only record for the day in the women’s 45-49 age category. In 2001 Kihara won yet again, but for the first time not breaking one hour. On a scorching hot day, he finished in one hour and six seconds. First woman that year was newcomer Anna Pichrtova, a seasoned mountain runner from the Czech Republic, living and training in the hills of Virginia. Pichrtova ran away from the field to finish in 1:13:48. Craig Fram, now 42 years old, thrilled the crowd by finishing third overall in 1:04:29, breaking Fred Norris’s legendary master’s record by 28 seconds..


In 2002, for the first (and, everyone hopes, only) time in its history the Mount Washington Road Race was shortened on account of the weather. Pounded by wind and freezing rain on the upper slopes, volunteers setting up what was supposed to be the finish area could hardly maneuver, and Auto Road staff determined that too many people’s safety would be in jeopardy if the race went to the summit. The finish line was moved to just below the halfway mark, so that the field ran 3.8 miles. In his third appearance at Mt. Washington, Simon Gutierrez of Albuquerque outdistanced Eric Morse and Craig Fram, as Kihara finished sixth. Pichrtova once again handily won the women’s race.


Gutierrez vowed to return and defend his title on the full-length course, and in 2003 he kept that promise. In the most exciting men’s race since 1999, Gutierrez battled Fram and Kenyan master Andrew Masai from the start. Masai, the three-time masters champion at the Falmouth and Peachtree road races, took the lead before the three mile mark and looked like the winner until, approaching five miles, he began to feel the steep climb take its toll. Gutierrez reeled him in and went on to win in 1:02:54, while Fram not only also passed Masai but lowered his own master’s course record, taking second in 1:03:27. While the top men hammered away, Pichrtova once again made the hill look easy as she won her third Mt. Washington in as many attempts, in 1:12:50.


In 2004, Anna Pichrtova became the only woman ever to win Mt. Washington four times – in a row, no less – by once again running away from the competition and gliding to the summit in her fastest time ever here, 1:12:19. Meanwhile, World Mountain Running Champion Jonathan Wyatt, a 31-year-old architect from New Zealand, demolished Daniel Kihara’s record, as well as the entire rest of the field, by storming to the summit in 56 minutes 41 seconds.
The 2005 race turned into a brilliant duel on the women’s side, as world mountain champion Melissa Moon of Wellington, New Zealand, came to Mt. Washington for the first time. Pichrtova drew on experience and fortitude, but Moon ran most of the race by hanging off Pichrtova’s shoulder, then kicked in the final half mile to win in 1:10:11, less than three seconds slower than Thorsell’s course record. Meanwhile in the men’s race, Gutierrez recorded his third win, beating young Eric Blake of Connecticut.


Blake returned in 2006 to win emphatically, outlasting Paul Low of Massachusetts, who had also finished second in 2004. Pichrtova reclaimed her title as queen of the mountain by recording her fifth victory here.
She made a more dramatic appearance in 2007. The previous fall she had been seriously injured in a vehicle accident at a mountain race in Nigeria. Having returned to racing just a few weeks before Mt. Washington, Pichrtova showed little strain as she won here for the sixth time in seven years. Later that year she went on to win the World Mountain Trophy. The 2007 men’s race was another runaway by Jonathan Wyatt, although not so stunning as the 2004 record-setting race. This time Wyatt finished in 1:01:25 – actually slower than Blake’s 2006 time of 1:01:09 – with Low again the runnerup.


The 2008 Mount Washington Road Race was a thriller. Several Western runners, including Colorado aces Clint Wells and Rickey Gates as well as steeplechaser Joseph Gray and speedster Mike Sayenko from Washington State, showed up to challenge Blake’s hold on the title. In the end Blake ran a time of one hour 36 seconds to beat them all, but only because he somehow found the strength to outkick Wells up the final 50 yards after the two had matched stride for stride from the starting line to the summit parking lot. Gates and Gray took third and fourth, just ahead of Simon Gutierrez, who broke Matt Carpenter’s masters record with a time of 1:01:34.


The 2008 women’s race introduced Mt. Washington to a new champion and also crowned a new masters record-holder, as Colorado’s Brandy Erholtz ran an impressive 1:11:08 to beat Vermont’s Kasie Enman and the rest of the field in her first-ever Mt. Washington appearance, while Laura Haefeli took third in 1:13:34, breaking Joan Samuelson’s masters record.


Erholtz returned in 2009 even faster, winning in 1:10:53, just 45 seconds slower than Thorsell’s record. Meanwhile, Rickey Gates drew on previous years’ experience and impeccable training to fly away from the field, winning in 59:58 and becoming only the fifth man to break one hour on Mt. Washington. Blake took second in 1:01:19, ahead of Gray, Matt Byrne of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and ever-dominant master Gutierrez.


In 2010 the Mt. Washington Road Race celebrated its 50th running by crowning two new champions who were making their first-ever appearances on the Auto Road. Shewarge Amare, a 23-year-old Ethiopian woman training in New York City, entered the race, made the journey to the White Mountains — and then, seven minutes before the start, discovered that her shoes were locked in the trunk of a car with no key. Quickly borrowing an extra pair from a gracious runner, Amare wasted no time showing that no one could touch her on this hill, as she strode quickly ahead of the rest of the field and smashed Thorsell’s course record by nearly two minutes, finishing in 1:08:21. Forty-year-old Nicole Hunt of Deer Lodge, Montana, placed fourth in 1:12:59 to break Haefeli’s masters record.


Meanwhile, the men’s race was almost a copy of 2008, with Eric Blake matching strides with a newcomer the entire way. This time, however, the newcomer won; 29-year-old Chris Siemers from Arvada, Colorado, outkicked Blake to the finish in just one hour and 22 seconds.


In 2011 the Road Race helped to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Mt. Washington Auto Road, and runners from Colorado again dominated the top spots. They were led by 2009 champion Rickey Gates of Woody Creek, Colo., and first-timer Kim Dobson of Denver, each of whom had to overtake a home-state rival to win.
Gates, 30, was passed in mid-race by Tommy Manning of Colorado Springs but re-took the lead in the final two miles and finished in 1:01:32, with Manning ten seconds behind. Dobson, 27, followed two-time winner Brandy Erholtz for the first five miles, overtook her at the five-mile mark and reached the summit in 1:12:11. Erholtz, of Evergreen, Colo., was a happy runnerup in 1:12:44.


The race has grown steadily in popularity, thanks to its reputation and to the generous support of its sponsors, especially its primary sponsor, Northeast Delta Dental. The field each year is 1000 runners, with an equal number of would-be entrants turned away. Entrants are chosen by lottery except that places are reserved for former winners, the previous year’s medalists and trophy and cash winners, winning team members, and invited elite runners.


In 2012, Northeast Delta Dental officially became the title sponsor of the race, henceforth to be known as the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race.  At the same time, the USATF named the race as the sole selection event for the 2012 U.S. men’s National Mountain Running team, meaning that the first six U.S. male finishers would make the team and compete in September in the World Championships.


The field was more loaded than ever, with returning defending champion Rickey Gates, two-time winner Eric Blake, reigning world mountain champion Max King, and – not competing for a place on the U.S. team, but a likely pick for the overall win — six-time world champion Marco de Gasperi from Italy. Two miles into the race, however, it was apparent that newcomer Sage Canaday, originally from Oregon but recently relocated to Boulder, Colorado, was the newest best uphill runner in America.  Dropping the field after the first two miles, Canaday reached the summit in 58:27, the third-fastest time ever recorded on the Auto Road. Mountain team veteran Joe Gray followed him, while Blake, returning from hamstring surgery and a long layoff, came back with a thrilling third-place finish, just ahead of Coloradan Glenn Randall. Tommy Manning hung on for sixth place overall, behind de Gasperi, while Tim Chichester of New York state, made his Mount Washington debut well enough to snare the final place on the U.S. team.


The women’s race mirrored 2011, as Dobson, Erholtz and Enman finished 1-2-3, but this time with Dobson clocking a stunning 1:09:25, faster than any other woman in the race’s history except for course record-holder Amare.
In all, a record 952 runners completed the race – 672 men, 280 women.


A year later, Eric Blake became the seventh person ever to break an hour at Mt. Washington, winning impressively in 59:57.  Canaday, who had won a 50-km. trail race the previous week, settled for third behind Joe Gray of Washington State, who had also been the 2012 runnerup.  In the women’s race, Laura Haefeli ran unchallenged to a delighted 1:18:05 victory at the age of 45. Her nearest competition was Erholtz, who ran strongly to second place while four months pregnant.


A pair of runners from Colorado Springs, Colo., took the top two spots in the 54th edition of the Northeast Delta Dental Mt. Washington Road Race in 2014. It was the first Mt. Washington win for both Joseph Gray, 30, and Shannon Payne, 28. Gray had been closing in on a victory: He was the runnerup the previous two years, third in 2009 and 2010 and fourth in his debut on the mountain in 2008. Gray broke away from defending champion and three-time winner Eric Blake, 35, shortly after the halfway mark of the race and won in a time of 59 minutes, nine seconds. Blake finished in 1:00:01. Payne saw the course for the first time the day before the race in a car tour conducted by 2012 winner Sage Canaday. She covered the distance in 1:10.12, more than a minute and a half ahead of Italy’s Valentina Belotti, 34. The race marked the first time since 2010 and second since 1997 that both first-place finishers were first-time winners.

 

The Mount Washington Road Race has grown steadily in popularity, thanks to its reputation and to the generous support of its sponsors, especially its primary sponsor, Northeast Delta Dental. The field this year is 1300 runners, with several hundred other  would-be entrants regretfully turned away. Entrants are chosen by lottery except that places are reserved for former winners, the previous year’s medalists and trophy and cash winners, winning team members, and invited elite runners.