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Story by John Stifler – MWRR Press Liaison

54TH Annual NORTHEAST DELTA DENTAL MOUNT WASHINGTON ROAD RACE

Pinkham Notch, N.H. – June 21, 2014

Joseph Gray and Shannon Payne, both of Colorado Springs, Colo., dominated the men’s and women’s fields today in the 7.6-mile Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race to the summit of the highest peak in the northeastern United States. Gray’s win was hard-earned relief after several years in which he had placed second, third or fourth in this grueling all-uphill race. Payne’s was the impressive celebration of her first-ever attempt at Mt. Washington, in a career which previously included almost no mountain-running experience.

Men’s Champion Joe Gray interviewed by John Stifler (Photo by Joe Viger)

Gray’s performance – he finished in 59 minutes 9 seconds – not only made him just the eighth runner ever to finish this race in under one hour but also gave him the satisfaction of defeating both of the men to whom he had been runnerup the past two years: Sage Canaday, 28, of Boulder, Colo., the 2012 winner, and defending champion Eric Blake, 35, of West Hartford, Conn., who overtook Gray to win in 2013. Today the 30-year-old Gray set the pace early, with Blake beside him and Canaday following, but Canaday fell off the pace by the halfway point, and when Gray leaned into the mountain’s 12 percent grade and winds that swirled at 35 mph., Blake could not match the new champion’s effort despite running his second-best time ever here, one hour and one second.  Canaday stayed third, finishing in 1:01:30.

“I felt pretty good the whole way,” said Gray. “I knew we’d have a good strong race. Eric is always strong, and it makes you nervous if he’s behind you. I figured I could win it, but I knew it was going to be a barn-burner.”

Payne, 28, looked almost surprised to find herself alone in front before she had run two miles up the Mt. Washington Auto Road. “I don’t know how to (run an all-uphill race) very well. I kept thinking, ‘Well, the course will flatten out soon,’ but it never does. But going uphill in really short strides, the way you have to here, is good for my running form.”

Holding a steady form from start to finish, Payne crossed the line at the mountain’s 6288-foot summit in one hour 10 minutes 12 seconds, the fifth-fastest time ever for a woman here. Chasing her, but unable to catch her, was the redoubtable Valentina Belotti, 34, of Temu Italy. A three-time runnerup in the World Mountain Championships, Belotti was also seeing Mt. Washington for the first time, but she arrived with more mountain running experience than Payne. However, as she remarked as she recovered in the 25-degree wind chill of the summit, “This is very different from our mountain races in Europe. Very steep!” Belotti finished in 1:11:58.

Third place went to Brandy Erholtz, 36, of Evergreen, Colo., in 1:15:38. A two-time winner here (2008 and 2009), Erholtz ran strongly but was still returning to top form after having her second child last September. “When he starts sleeping through the night, it’ll help me get more endurance (for running)!” she said.

The top finishers from New Hampshire were Justin Freeman, 37, of New Hampton, ninth overall in 1:06:29; and Denise Sandahl, 33, of Bow, fifth woman overall in 1:17:21 – just nine seconds behind the 2011 World Mountain Running Champion Kasie Enman, 34, of Huntington, Vermont.

Race results will be posted at http://mountwashingtonroadrace.com/results/