DNF. Those are three letters that I never thought I would be associated with at Mt. Washington. The forecast all week called for highs in the 80's at the start and high 50's at the summit. I knew that I normally would wilt under those conditions, but I was confident in my fitness, especially after running a 10k PR the week before at Market Square Day. I tried to stay relaxed all week and not stress about the race too much. I think I did a pretty good job and slept pretty well most of the week and didn't get to pre-occupied with the concept of racing up a 6,200 foot mountain.
Race day dawned with warm, but not too humid air. I have found I can handle heat or humidity, but not both at the same time. The drier air was buoying my confidence of having a good race after 4 lackluster finishes in the last 4 years. I tried to stay hydrated before the start and stayed in the shade under the tent. The butterflies started to kick in a few minutes before the start, but not any worse than any other race. I knew I was geared up to run hard.
The start was packed as usual with an interesting mix of mountain running veterans and newbies who had never even seen the road. I lined up right behind the eventual women's winner, not overly concerned with getting out too hard, especially on a warm day. Before I knew it the canon had been fired and I was mired in a quagmire of runners who were hell bent on spriniting the first part of the race. Did I mention there were a lot of newbies? I finally worked my way up to the back of the lead pack a few hundred yards into the climb. I just tried to latch on and do as little work as possible. I noticed my heartrate was high and I was breathing pretty heavy, but I figured it was just because of the fast start.
As we ascended the moutain on the hot black top, things weren't getting any easier. The grade steepened and a few people dropped back, but I was intent of gutting it out no matter how bad I felt the first 2 miles. I knew from my spring races and workouts that it took me a good 2 miles to get into a good rythmn. A few guys started to string the pack out and passed the mile in around 6:12, with me and a few others passing the mark in 6:20. I was thinkning the split was a little quick, but not insane and I was where I needed to be to race for one of the top 6 spots.
Mile 2 is a gut wrenching mile (as if they all aren't) where you really need to bear down and just grind, especially if you plan on racing and not just finishing. I was losing a few spots in this mile, but felt the effort was where it needed to be, and I was keeping people in sight and not losing time to them as they passed me. I battled back and forth with Justin Freeman to the 2 mile mark (8:38). Seing the split got me a little worried, as I was hoping to come through about a minute faster, but I knew the heat was going to slow me down, and hopefully everyone else.
I made it to the infamous 2 mile mark, but I could tell I was starting to crack. I started losing ground to Justin as we commenced the grindind after we crossed the Appalchain Trail. My shoulders were hunching up, my stride shortened, and I started running on my toes. I really worked on using my quads more in training this year, but the heat was causing me to lose my focus. As I rolled into the 2.5 mile water stop I knew it was going to be a long day. Numerous thoughts crosseed my mind. Do I want to finish? Can I still manage a 1:05 or will I crawl across the line in a 1:09 and embarass myself once again? I took a cup of water and dumped it over my head, but I felt no relief; from the heat or the anguish of knowing that I was going to have another shitty race. I say shitty in English because it sounds more convincing than in French. At that point I spiked my water cup into the road, grumbled an expletive or two, and tried to avoid being run over by people who were mentally stronger than me on this day. I sat on the concrete headwall that overlooked a small stream which was washing away the mountain water as quickly as the heat had dried up my dreams of gaining a spot on the US mountain running team.
After a few minutes of wallowing in self-pity on the side of the road, I headed down as the masses headed up. I knew how mind-numbing it can be to run down the road in training, but it did nothing to prepare me for the mental beating I took as I walked along the edge of the travelled way with my head down and my singlet in hand, trying to hide the fact that I was potentially the first person to drop out of the race. The good intentioned questions from friends who were still pushing up the hill were appreciated, but each one hurt a little as I acknowledged there concerns.
After nearly an hour of walking and jogging, I finally made it to the base. I gathered my warm-up gear and soaked in the Peabody River before finding a spot in the shade to lay down and sulk, far away from anyone who knew me.
Nearly a week has passed since the disatser that was my race, but I'm over it, mostly. I've moved onto thinking about new challenges and focusing on the future of my running. Cross country is going to be my main focus this fall. I learned a lot about myself this spring in training and in racing. I'm convinced that Washington was an anomally. I was well prepared, in great shape, and mentally ready to run well. It just wasn't my day. This has also made me realize though how hard I need to work in order to achieve my goals. I'm not going to make the US mounain running team on a bad day. I have to have EVERYTHING come together at the right time. I don't have a 1:06 half marathon or 14:xx 5k to fall back on. My genetics and home climate don't seem to allow me to run well in the oppressive heat that others thrive in. To some this might be discouraging to have the odds stacked against them all the time. To me int's nothing new. It's all about putting one foot in front of the other, then repeat.