By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Gardner – Back in the 1980s, Jeff Gould, now 54, was in the habit of running a slew of “crazy” races with a buddy. In 1990, they decided to enter the Mount Washington Road Race in Pinkham Notch, N.H. This year’s race, held June 15, marks the 30th consecutive time that Gould completed the 7.6- mile grueling race that boasts an 11.5 percent average upward grade.
“The first year I ran, I guess it was pretty much as expected. Though it’s extreme, it’s the toughest race in its own way, and its own genre of racing, to say the least,” Gould said about the course that rises 4,650 vertical feet (6,288 feet total distance to the summit) with the steepest part, 22 percent incline, at the end.
Upon entering the race for the first time, Gould had no intention of doing it annually for the next three decades.
“If you told me then that I’d be currently answering questions about my 30th consecutive, I’d have thought that there was something wrong with you,” he said. “I’m not 100 percent sure why I initially kept coming back, it’s been too many years, but I do know it’s one of my favorite races; I love it every year, and plan to continue.”
A blend of a love of the sport, perseverance, luck, and surely a certain level of insanity is what Gould said has kept him coming back. And he’s not the only who’s gotten hooked on the challenge. He’s got a friend with a longer consecutive steak than him and knows several others with over three decades. Ninety-nine-year-old George Etzweiler, was back competing again this year too, adding another medal to the more than 10 he’s earned at Mount Washington.
To train for Mt. Washington, Gould runs 70-80 miles a week, with some intense hill repeats, usually once a week.
He has an abundance of memories from his races up the hill, many of them related to the weather. He recalled one year when it was 70 degrees at the summit with no breeze.
“It was actually too warm, and the black flies drove us nuts,” Gould said, “Other years have been 80 plus degrees at the start, 30s near the summit, raining sideways, and visibility so poor, you sometimes couldn’t see an oncoming car with its headlights on.”
Many of his memories also relate to his time and place. His best time was 1:17:36 in 1991, when he also earned his best place to date of 56th out of 875 runners.
“I was particularly happy when I ran 1:19 in 2012,” he said, “I was 47, and was pleased at that age to go under 1:20.”
He clocked in this year at 1:28:16 and finished 84th out of 1,017 runners.
“Though the numbers on the old wristwatch are getting bigger,” he said, “I feel little difference than I did when I was in my 20’s. I sprinted the final and steepest part of the race this year, about 120 yards or so, and finished strong.”
His ritual at the top was the same.
“No different than in the past, I spent several minutes with my hands on my knees, praying to the running gods,” he said, “The fire in the belly is still there.”
Heading into this year’s race knowing it was his 30th consecutive was special to Gould but he was not able to focus on that when the gun went off.
“Few races put butterflies in my stomach, but Mt. Washington still does. Lining up at the start, I know the effort that lies before me, he said. “I’ll keep going back simply because I love to run, and by some level of default, I’ve made the mountains my home.”