As Saturday’s Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race approaches, predicting the outcome of the 59th annual run to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast continues to be a guessing game. But the race has plenty of strong competitors and colorful characters, including George Etzweiler, 99 (pictured above, in the 2017 race, photo by Joe Viger) and several others in his “99 and Still Going” team from Pennsylvania.
With the withdrawal of defending champion and women’s American course record-holder Kim Dobson, the women’s race is certain to be won by someone who has never won it before. Meanwhile, in the absence of four-time champion Joe Gray, the only previous winner with a chance to take the men’s top prize is 40-year-old Eric Blake. Blake, a three-time winner here, faces challenges by runners with less experience, or none at all, on the 7.6-mile all-uphill Mt. Washington Auto Road.
On paper the woman to beat may be Heidi Caldwell, 27, of Craftsbury Common, Vermont. Part of the legendary Caldwell family of cross-country skiers, Heidi is better known for her running. At Brown University she was a two-time Ivy League champion at 5000 meters and set several school records. Last October, she ran the Newburyport Half Marathon in a personal best time of 1:13. She was the runner-up at Mt. Washington in 2018, three minutes behind American course record-holder Dobson.
Shelley Doucett, from Quispamsis, New Brunswick, who placed third here in 2018, has withdrawn from the race as of this week. However, Caldwell will have to outrun Kassandra Marin, 29, of Merrimack, N.H., who placed fifth in 2018; Amber Ferreira, 37, a top triathlete from Concord, N.H., who was ninth last year; and Kim Nedeau, 39, of Leverett, Mass., who placed second in 2016.
In a race where first-timers have often surprised the veterans, several newcomers add suspense this time. One is Caitlin Patterson, 29, also of Craftsbury Common, a Nordic skier and 2018 Olympian who placed fourth in last year’s U.S. Mountain Running Championships at Cranmore in New Hampshire. Another is Brittni Hutton, 29, who comes from Lubbock, Texas, but lives in her van while traveling around the country to train and race. A former all-American at Oakland University in Michigan and a qualifier for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials with a personal best of 2:41:31, Hutton has run times on level ground that may translate into a top finish at Mt. Washington.
Another strong marathoner is the field is Meagan Boucher, 29, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Last fall, Boucher won the Bay State Marathon in Lowell, Mass., setting a new women’s course record with her time of 2:42:23.7, fast enough to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
The youngest woman who may challenge everyone is Gaia Colli, 20, from Auronzo di Cadore, Italy. Colli has competed on her country’s national junior mountain running team for the past two years, and she placed seventh in the 2018 European championships. She is making her first appearance at Mt. Washington in Saturday’s race.
Eric Blake, of West Hartford, Conn., is known as one of the most formidable competitors in any uphill footrace. He won the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race in 2006 and 2008, and then again in 2013, when he became the eighth runner ever to reach the Mt. Washingtonsummit in under one hour. Last year he ran side by side with the eventual winner, Cesare Maestri of Italy, before finishing second. If he wins again this year, few observers will be surprised.
Two men who could not catch Blake last year have another opportunity this time: Lee Berube, 28, of Syracuse, NY, a seven-time collegiate all-American who finished fourth in the 2018 Mt. Washington race, and Matt Lipsey, 29, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who was seventh.
A potential challenger to them is another Italian newcomer to Mt.Washington, Nadir Cavagna, 25, of San Pellegrino. Cavagna, a member of the Italian team that won the silver medal in the 2018 World Mountain Championships, has run a personal best time of 1:04:35 for the half marathon, as well as 29:576 for 10 km. and 14:19 for 5 km. He could duplicate last year’s result at Mt. Washington, when his countryman Maestri won in his debut on the Auto Road while Joe Gray was racing elsewhere. (Maestri is not entered this year.)
The men’s field will also include the 32-year-old Kenyan runner Francis Kamiri. Now based in Birmingham, Alabama, Kamiri this year won the Twilight 10-Mile road race in Beaufort, South Carolina, in an impressive time of 47:59, and last November he placed first in the Magic City Half Marathon in Birmingham, in a time of 1:05:35.
Many elite runners can run up Mt. Washington in times slightly faster than their half-marathon times. By this indicator, Cavagna and Kamiri are likely contenders for top-five finishes, possibly for the overall win.
Simon Gutierrez, now 53, of Alamosa, Colorado, a three-time Mt.Washington winner and the other most experienced contender besides Blake in the field, has withdrawn.
The runner in a class all by himself in the Northeast Delta Dental MountWashington Road Race is 99-year-old George Etzweiler of State College, Pennsylvania. A retired professor of electrical engineering at Penn State, Etzweiler has inspired the entire field of Mt. Washington runners for several years with his durability and warm good humor. He holds the record for the fastest times in the race’s three highest age brackets – 85-89, 90-94 and 95-99. This year he’ll be accompanied on the Auto Road by several runners from State College who are members of the 99 And Still Going team.
Sponsored by Northeast Delta Dental, the race ascends the Mt.Washington Auto Road from Pinkham Notch, N.H., to the 6288-foot summit of Mt. Washington. In addition to the unrelenting grade, runners face the added challenge of Mt. Washington’s famously high winds, precipitation, and unpredictable temperatures. Prizes include $1000 apiece for the first male and female finishers, smaller cash prizes for the next five men and women and the top three male and female masters (over 40), prizes for the first male and female finishers from New Hampshire, and a $5000 bonus for setting a new course record.
Shewarge Amare of Ethiopia set the women’s record, 1:08:21, in 2010. The men’s course record, 56:41, belongs to six-time world mountain champion Jonathan Wyatt of New Zealand, who ran that time in 2004 and won the race a second time in 2007.
The race will take place on June 15th, starting at 9 a.m. For other information visit www.mountwashingtonroadrace.