By John Stifler
Special to The Conway Daily Sun
PINKHAM NOTCH — Joe Gray, a four-time winner of the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race, recently announced that his racing schedule has obliged him to withdraw from the June 15 contest on the historic Mt. Washington Auto Road. Even more recently, Kim Dobson, who was the women’s favorite, withdrew Tuesday, as she is recovering from an injury. In the absence of these two outstanding champions, the men’s and women’s fields for this annual 7.6-mile all-uphill race are both wide open.
Dobson, the American women’s course record-holder, has won this race each of the five times she has entered. Last year she not only was the first female finisher but placed seventh overall. Without her, the top woman may be Heidi Caldwell, 27, of Craftsbury Common, Vermont, who excelled in track at Brown University. Part of the legendary Caldwell family of cross-country skiers, she was runner runner-up to Dobson last year.
Shelley Doucett, 35, from Quispamsis, New Brunswick, placed third here in 2018, 90 seconds behind Caldwell, and is another favorite. So is Caitlin Patterson, 29, a 2018 Nordic Olympian who was the fourth finisher in last year’s U.S. Mountain Running Championships at Mount Cranmore. Originally from Alaska, Patterson now also lives in Craftsbury, Vt.
Brittni Hutton, 29, 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, she has run times on level ground that may translate into a top-level finish at Mt. Washington.
Like Cavagna on the men’s side, an Italian newcomer to watch on the women’s is Gaia Colli, 20, who has competed on her country’s national junior mountain running team for the past two years. Colli’s excellent performances in major European mountain races include a seventh-place finish in the 2018 European championships.
Rounding out the top group of women this year are Kassandra Marin, 29, of Merrimack, who placed fifth in 2018; Kim Nedeau, 39, of Leverett, Mass., who placed second in 2016; and Amber Ferreira, 37, a top triathlete from Concord.
Brandy Erholz, who won this race in 2008 and 2009 and has several runner-up finishes, has withdrawn.
As the American men’s record-holder at Mount Washington and the 2016 individual gold medalist in the World Mountain Championships, Gray was the prohibitive favorite for a fifth Mount Washington win this month. Without having to chase him, several men are likely to compete to be the first to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast.
One is Italian mountain-runner Nadir Cavagna, 25, a member of the Italian team that won the silver medal in the 2018 World Mountain Championships. Cavagna, who will be seeing the Mt. Washington Auto Road for the first time, could duplicate last year’s top result, when his countryman Cesare Maestri won in his Mount Washington debut while Gray was racing elsewhere. Maestri is not entered in this year’s race.
Two promising challengers are Lee Berube, 28, of Syracuse, N.Y., a seven-time collegiate all-American who finished fourth at Mount Washington last year, and Matt Lipsey, 29, of Harrisburg, Pa., who was seventh last year.
The man to watch most, however, is probably three-time champion (2006, 2008, 2013) Eric Blake, of West Hartford, Conn. Blake, now 40, is known as one of the most formidable competitors in any uphill footrace. He ran with Maestri in 2018 for several miles before eventually finishing second. If he wins again this year, few observers will be surprised.
The other most experienced contender is Simon Gutierrez, now 53, of Alamosa, Colorado. Older runners have a long history of success in Mount Washington’s demanding environment, and Gutierrez’s experience is a match for anyone’s. Having won this race in cold rain in 2002 and under a blazing sun in 2003 and 2005, he finished sixth in 2018 and is likely to do at least as well this year.
The runner in a class all by himself in the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race is 99-year-old George Etzweiler of State College, Pa. A retired professor of electrical engineering, Etzweiler has inspired the entire field of Mount 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 to the 6288-foot summit of Mount Washington. In addition to the unrelenting grade, runners face the added challenge of Mount Washington’s famously high winds, precipitation and unpredictable temperatures. Prizes include $1,000 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 $5,000 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 Saturday, June 15, starting at 9 a.m. For other information visit mountwashingtonroadrace.com.