DELTA DENTAL MT. WASHINGTON RACE HISTORY
Credit for the first timed run up Mt. Washington goes to George Foster, who performed the feat to impress his friends in 1904 when he was a medical student. He completed the climb in 1:42 —faster than any automobile had ever made the trip. 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), J’ne Day-Lucore, the near-legendary Anna Pichrtova, who won this race six times, and most recently Kim Dobson, a five-time champion here.
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 J’ne Day-Lucore’s record with a blazing 1:10:08.2
The race in 1999 saw ten individual age group and five 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 1998 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 Muriithiwon 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 Mt. 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 Gutierrezof Albuquerque outdistanced Eric Morseand 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 Masaifrom 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 Moonof 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 Blakeof Connecticut.
Blake returned in 2006 to win emphatically, outlasting Paul Lowof 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 runner-up.
The 2008 Mt. Washington Road Race was a thriller. Several Western runners, including Colorado aces Clint Wellsand Rickey Gatesas well as steeplechaser Joseph Grayand 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 Erholtzran an impressive 1:11:08 to beat Vermont’s Kasie Enmanand the rest of the field in her first-ever Mt. Washington appearance, while Laura Haefelitook 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.
The 2010 race welcome two new champions who were making their first-ever appearances on the famed 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.
Siemers did not return to Mt. Washington in 2011 – but Rickey Gates did, determined to win again. Fellow Coloradan Tommy Manning built an impressive lead in the early going and mid-race, but Gates methodically reeled Manning in, passed him with a friendly pat on the back above the six-mile mark, and went on to win in 1:01:32. In the women’s race, Erholtz looked as strong as ever, but she had to contend with a new element in the race – Kim Dobson of Denver, holder of the course record at Mt. Evans, who had finished just 15 seconds behind Erholtz at the Pike’s Peak Ascent. Adjusting to the surprising (for her) steepness of the Auto Road, Dobson came on strong in the fourth mile, passing Erholtz and winning in 1:12:11.
In 2012 Dobson returned to Mt. Washington even better prepared and won decisively in 1:09:25, becoming only the second woman ever to break one hour and ten minutes in this race. Meanwhile, the men’s race served as the U.S. National Mountain Championship, so the men’s field was loaded with more talent than ever, and it was hard to pick a favorite – until the race got under way. Then newcomer Sage Canaday of Boulder, Colorado, methodically moved up through the lead pack, established a lead by two miles, and kept pulling farther ahead until he tore through the tape in 58:27, the third-fastest time ever run in this race.
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 runner-up the previous two years, third in 2009 and 2010 and fourth in his debut on the mountain in 2008. He 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.
Gray’s 2014 win was a preview of his rise to the top of the rankings in mountain running. He returned to Mt. Washington for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 races and emphatically won them all, with a personal best of 58:15 for the course in 2015 and two more finishes below 59 minutes the next two years (58:17 and 58:57). Meanwhile, he competed each year at the World Championships, winning the gold medal in 2016 while also leading the U.S. men to the team gold medal.
In the women’s field, Kim Dobson was equally dominant, winning Mt. Washington in 2015 and again in 2016. When she missed the 2017 race, Shannon Payne returned to claim a second victory for herself, clocking 1:11:21, more than four minutes ahead of runner-up Erholtz. Then, in 2018, Dobson came back to win the race for a fifth time – only Pichrtova has won more – and placing seventh overall in the entire field.
That same year, Joe Gray’s racing schedule obliged him to be elsewhere, and the result was a duel in front between Eric Blake and newcomer Cesare Maestri of Italy. Maestri proved himself equal to the test, pulling ahead to finish a minute ahead of Blake, while Sage Canaday took third. The other three men who managed to finish ahead of Dobson were Andy Wacker of Boulder, Colorado, Lee Berube of Syracuse, N.Y., and Simon Gutierrez, now 52 years old and seemingly as tough as ever.
The 2019 Northeast Delta Dental Mt. Washington Road Race produced a finish previously unheard of: a tie. With Kim Dobson and Shannon Payne both absent, 2018 runner-up and former Ivy League 5000-meter champion Heidi Caldwell of Craftsbury Common, Vermont, was a possible favorite, but the strong field also included Brittni Hutton of Lubbock, Texas, a former all-American at Oakland University and a qualifier for the Olympic Marathon Trials. As the race developed, Hutton moved ahead of Caldwell and every other woman, but on the upper slopes Caldwell made up a large gap and closed on Hutton in the final yards. They finished shoulder to shoulder, and after viewing every available photo of the finish, officials determined that the two had finished in an exact tie, in one hour 16 minutes 17 seconds.
As for the men’s race, Kenyan newcomer Francis Kamiri found his way to the front of the lead pack and pulled ahead, but Eric Blake, now 40, drew on experience and stamina to reel him in and run ahead to his fourth Mt. Washington win. Kamiri held on for second a minute later, with Lee Berube taking third.
The Northeast Delta Dental 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.