Skip to content Skip to footer

SOLONS AND SLOPES; MARINES AND MOUNTAINS

Last winter at a Northeast Delta Dental legislator reception, State Senator Tim Lang beckoned me to come over to talk with him and Delta Dental CEO Tom Raffio.

“I told Tom we’re going to do the Delta Dental Mt. Washington Road Race in June,” said the senator.

“You’re nuts,” said I.

“Why?” asked the senator.

“I did that race 37 years ago,” I explained. “It’s almost 8 miles, all uphill.”

“I’ve run it ten times,” said Raffio, a longtime racing rival.

“What are you afraid of?” asked the senator. “What kind of Marine are you?”

Lang knew what buttons to push.

“Okay. I’m in.”

A social media devotee, Lang then made it known that we’d be running the famous race, thus making it hard to back out. We were trapped.

The next day I got a message from Lang. “What have we done?”

“If you back out you can forget about getting reelected!” I replied. “We have four months to train.”

Lang is many years younger than me. (I’m pushing 70.) And at least 40 pounds lighter. (I’d have to push 210 pounds up those eight miles.)

“Hopefully there will be doctors and ambulances on call,” Lang tweeted.

While the senator was trying to be funny, the truth is that Mt. Washington is one of the world’s most lethal mountains. While around 300 have died on Mt. Everest’s slopes, around 170 people (that we know of) have perished on Mt. Washington’s slopes in many ways over the many years. Just this past winter one of my former students froze to death on an adjacent mountain.

And while I’m a runner, I’m forever aware that my brother passed away due to a cardiac event during a 5K race in 2007. Also a Marine, John was a serious runner who loved the White Mountains, and me doing an occasional road race or hike helps keep his spirit alive.

So, for four months I tried to do a modicum of training. (“What kind of Marine are you?”)

I occasionally messaged the senator to remind him that he should also train for the grueling eight-miler. Lang invariably messaged back a photo of himself drinking a beer. He was more concerned about running for reelection than about running up Mt. Washington.

But the June 15th Delta Dental Mt. Washington Road Race was penned into our calendars. There was no getting away from it.

Some Race History

In the fall of 2004, I walked to an NHTI sports management night class with one of my students, Andy Tabor, who worked for Northeast Delta Dental. He mentioned that his boss—Tom Raffio—was a serious runner. Event management was part of our curriculum, and we came up with an idea for a 5K involving NHTI and Delta Dental. My people called his people and eventually the first annual NHTI/Delta Dental 5K Road Race took place the following spring to raise scholarship funds for NHTI students.

Little did we know it then, but that race was the genesis for other subsequent area race events. Both new and existing road races were eventually coordinated to create the Capital Area Race Series. Eight area races would partner and offer discounts and awards to runners who signed up for all the CARS events. Raffio and his Delta Dental team were prime movers behind it all. Fitness, fun, fellowship, and funding were the watchwords. Countless thousands of runners helped raise countless thousands of dollars for worthy causes.

Raffio and I regularly competed and became friendly rivals of sorts with comparable run times— except for a period when Tom became something of an elite runner. One Saturday he ran three separate 5Ks in less than 75 minutes.

But Father Time conspired with Mother Nature to lengthen our run times. Still, we and our running friends remained CARS fixtures.

Which brings us to June 15th and Mt. Washington.

Only One Hill

Mt. Washington runners like to say the course has only one hill. But the route up that hill is almost eight miles with some 20-degree slopes. The first runner to do a timed run was George Foster in 1904. A medical student trying to impress a girl, Foster completed the ascent in 1:42 (one hour and forty-two minutes). I got online and found my 1987 time—1:48, good for 466th out of 1000+ runners. Not that much slower than Foster’s—and I wasn’t trying to impress any girl! Could I break two hours in 2024? Doubtful. Three hours? A more reasonable goal. The race stops timing after 3:35.

June 15th was sunny down in the valley as hundreds of cars brought 1300 runners to the start. But the word was that the summit had temps in the high 30s with wind gusts up to 50 mph. (Got wind chill?) I wrapped a windbreaker around my waist and after the national anthem a gun fired, and we were soon ascending. In 1987 I “ran” for an hour before inevitably walking. In 2024 I ran for a much shorter time before “breaking into a walk.” But steadily, inexorably, we all ascended.

Distance runners focus on breathing, pace, and stride length but they also have time to think. I thought of my brother. Of the finish line. Of what a great event the race was. And of the associated charity: Coos County Family Health Services. As a Coos County native, I naturally supported that. The race is pricy, so it was good to know that it was all for a good cause.

Above the tree line the wind became a factor as we seemed to face a constant headwind—at least 40-50 mph. It was brutal, but it was also dry and clear. Usually, the summit is shrouded in clouds, so I thanked the running gods for the views.

Around 100 minutes in, a runner came speeding down the hill. Having done eight miles up, he was now running back down with a smile on his face.

I hated that runner—who was carrying an orange blanket. Soon other descending runners came by, also wrapped in orange blankets. Super sleuth that I am, I deduced that they were giving out orange blankets to the finishers.

The last mile was a freezing ordeal, up into the howling wind. I was almost blown off the road a couple times, despite my 210 pounds of ballast. My head started spinning and my breathing became difficult, over a mile high into the troposphere. But I would die before I’d stop. Lang had told too many people we were racing. And, of course, there was the Marine thing.

Finally, we rounded a corner and could see the summit. A half mile to go. I always try to finish with a kick, but the last 100 yards were the steepest. I finished as strongly as I could—well under three hours. Yay! A nice lady immediately put a medal over my head, and another gave me an orange blanket. I squeezed into the summit building with hundreds of other runners, trying to warm up.

Success!

Whither Senator Lang?

Around a half an hour later the word was passed to find our return vehicles. A member of Team Delta Dental (thank you Tom!), I’d get to ride in the first van heading back down. None other than Andy Tabor and his Delta cohort Joe Kasper were loading runners into the vans. But Team Delta was missing a runner: Tim Lang.

Apparently, the senator didn’t draw a race bib with a sensor, so there was no way to confirm he’d passed the various checkpoints. Had he been blown off the mountain?

Kasper was getting upset.

“Does anyone know what this guy looks like? Where is he? Everyone will be waiting for us!”

Scores of vehicles were staged, waiting to follow the Delta van back down the mountain.

I spoke up. “I know Tim. We still have ten minutes before the clock stops. Let me look.”

I headed back down the road wrapped in my orange blanket, fearing the worst. Had the senator succumbed to the elements? A couple hundred yards down I saw a figure wrapped in an orange blanket bravely limping forward. It was Tim!

(At first, I found it odd to see an orange blanket ascending, rather than descending, but super sleuth that I am, I figured a descending runner saw the freezing senator clad in only a tee-shirt and then gave up his blanket.)

“Hey!” shouted Lang. “I’m ready for a beer!”

“You’ve got about five minutes before they turn the clocks off. Everyone’s waiting for you.”

Lang bravely picked up his pace and finished just before the clock stopped at 3:35—the last of a thousand runners to get a recorded time. But without a bib sensor, his name and time would not be recorded for posterity.

Anyway, into the van we went for the ride down.

“We did it,” said the smiling senator, who acknowledged that he could have trained better for the big race. Recalling how he’d goaded me into signing up for Mt. Washington, I had one thing to say to him.

“Marines always take the hill.”

Sports Quiz

Who won the 2024 Mt. Washington Road Race? (Answer follows)

Born Today

That is to say, sports standouts born on June 27 include Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli (1943) and NBA forward Chuck Person (1964).

Sports Quote

“He who climbs upon the highest mountains laughs at all tragedies, real or imaginary.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Sports Quiz Answer

Joe Gray won the 2024 “race to the clouds” with a time of 1:02:21.

#####

State Representative Mike Moffett was a Sports Management Professor for Plymouth State University and NHTI-Concord. He co-authored the award-winning “Fahim Speaks: Between Two Worlds: A Hollywood Actor’s Journey as a U.S. Marine Translator through Afghanistan” which is available on Amazon.com. His e-mail address is mimoffett@comcast.net

Author

Go to Top