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96-year-old conquers 1,400-metre ascent at Mount Washington Road Race

The Mount Washington Road Race in New Hampshire was held on Saturday and had a special finisher: 96-year-old George Etzweiler (photo: Meg Skidmore/Mt. Washington Auto Road photo library).

George Etzweiler

The Mount Washington Road Race in Gorham, N.H. has only one hill. The only problem is that the one hill is 12.5K making it one of the toughest races in North America.

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The race had a special competitor on Saturday in George Etzweiler, a 96-year-old runner who was attempting to climb the gruelling course. He raced the event last year and completed the Mount Washington Road Race eight times between the ages of 85 and 95.

He completed the June 18 race in 3:23:15 according to race organizers. The State College, Penn. resident was one of three athletes to be inducted into the race’s hall of fame on Saturday. No other runner besides Etzweiler aged 88 or older has completed the tough run.

Joseph Gray, an accomplished trail and mountain runner, won the event for the third consecutive year on Saturday in 58:16, one second off his winning time in 2015. That’s averaging 4:38 per kilometre on an ascent with an average grade of 11.5 per cent. The final metres of the race is run on a 22 per cent grade.

Kim Dobson won the women’s race for the second consecutive year in 1:09:30.

The mountain’s peak is 1,916 metres above sea level making it the largest in the Northeast. Mount Washington is considered the United States’ “oldest manmade tourist attraction,” having first opened in 1861. The Mount Washington Auto Road climbs 1,408 metres to the top.

Part of the race is run on asphalt while there are also sections of crushed gravel.

Driving to the top of the toll road comes with a bumper sticker that says “This car climbed Mount Washington.” Imagine how runners must feel if a car making it to the top is considered an accomplishment. About 1,300 runners take part in the annual event.

The race takes place in Gorham, N.H., approximately two-and-a-half hours south of Sherbrooke, Que. The mountain in the Northeast is sometimes confused for Mount Washington Alpine Resort on Vancouver Island.

The mountain is well-known for its unpredictable weather. On June 10, Mount Washington’s peak was covered in snow, as can be seen in the below photo. Fortunately, conditions cooperated for runners on race day on June 18. In early June, the winds reached more than 160 km/h at the summit.

The race has gotten so popular among Americans, Canadians and runners from overseas that organizers now accept entrants through a lottery system. Runners are transported from the peak back to the bottom by way of spectators’ cars.

Two Canadian women have won the event in the past including 1980 Boston marathon champion Jacqueline Gareau – a race famous for Rosie Ruiz being disqualified for not running the entire course – and Lise Demers in 1973.

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Full results can be found here