I received an e-mail from former Olympian Pete Pfitzinger about his thoughts on what should be included in my book, 100 Things All Runners Should Do Before They Die. Pete was the top American finisher in both the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Marathons, and now hosts a training website for runners.
At the top of his list is "Run up New Hampshire's Mt. Washington," which fits nicely with the topic of mountain running in the book, as you can read below.
If your race resume already includes a trail run, a stair climb, a marathon, and assorted other goodies, maybe it's time to head to the mountains for a race. The Rockies, Appalachians, Cascades, and White and Green mountains are all home to popular races that give you a chance to run in the clouds. How tough can a mountain race be? When the entry form includes an elevation profile of the course, well, that's a clue.
There's a reason the Pike's Peak Marathon is called "America's Ultimate Challenge." The start itself is at a breath-taking (literally) elevation of 6,300 feet, which is not even halfway to the 14,000 foot summit and turnaround. If you want a preview of the first half of the race, just set your treadmill at an 11% grade and run for a few hours. Adding insult to injury, it may start to snow, even though the race takes place in summer.
At first you may think the Mt. Washington Road Race in New Hampshire is farly tame becuase the race starter will tell you "there is only one hill." Of course, that one hill is nearly eight miles long and climbs 5,000 feet. Still, the race is so popular it needs to hold a lottery for entrants.
For less strenous mountain races -- if there is such a thing -- you can try the Mill Mountain Mayhem 10K in Roanoke, VA, that corkscrews twice around the mountain on the ascent. Or, head to the Sierras for the Northstar-at-Tahoe Mountain Race where runners can behold beautiful Lake Tahoe at various points along the high, hilly 10K route.
Obviously, mountain running does not come without its warnings to potential first-timers. Veteran competitors like to say that if the climb doesn't get you, the descent probably will. Which brings to mind a paraphrase of the famous Japanese maxim about Mt. Fuji: A wise man runs up the mountain once, but only a fool would do it twice.