Ten on the (Way to the) Top
by John Stifler
I met Mt. Washington up close for the first time in 1989, running it. Didn’t actually see much ), but loved it anyway. Now I watch the action in front, riding in one of the media vans. From the past two decades, here are ten memories that define the race for me.
10. 1998: The company she keeps. The weather was rotten, as usual, only wetter. Cathy O’Brien had been on two U.S. Olympic teams, and she was from New Hampshire, so it was time she ran Mt. Washington. Advised to run conservatively, she handled the drizzle and the grade in 1:12:24, then the third-fastest of any woman’s time here. Then, riding down from the summit, O’Brien sat in one of the Mt. Washington Auto Road vans, squeezed between Joan Samuelson, who had also just run Mt. Washington for the first time, and Jackie Gareau, who had previously won it three times. Having just beaten two legends of the sport, the bedraggled and somewhat shy O’Brien sat there quietly while Joan and Jackie chattered about babies, camping, picking berries, and nearly everything else except running.
8. Wyatt. Five men have broken one hour at Mt. Washington. One of those five broke it into such tiny pieces that they won’t be found for a long time. In his 2004 debut, Jonathan Wyatt showed up a few days ahead of time and ran the course once just to check it out. That took him 65 minutes, at an easy pace. On race day he ran it in 56:42. U.S. National Champion Paul Low, who finished a hard-earned second, said later, “Jonathan is the best mountain runner in the solar system. Probably in several solar systems.”
7. 1991, 1992, 1998, 1999: Others run; Carpenter floats. “He’s like a pair of lungs on legs.” That was how U.S. Mountain Running team director Nancy Hobbs once described Matt Carpenter, of Manitou Springs, Colorado. Carpenter won three times here, plus he ran even faster in 1999 when he was outkicked at the finish by Daniel Kihara. Each time, while the rest of the men up front ran with head slightly down and shoulders forward, visibly fighting gravity, Carpenter ran as if being lifted by invisible threads that hung down from the sky, keeping his shoulders squared and head up. In 1991 he beat Froude. In 1992 he might have broken Froude’s record if the unpaved parts of the course had not been a mixture of mud and snow. The higher he goes, the better he gets.
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