Mount Washington Road Race – Food Network Fiasco

For the last twelve months my training has been focused on one goal; doing well at the Mount Washington Road Race. This year, the 7.6 mile race, climbing Mt. Washington’s Auto Road to the 6,288 foot summit, was serving as the National Mtn. Running Championships. The top 4 finishers in the race would make the US Mtn. Running Team and travel to Switzerland for the World Trophy Race.

After lengthy talks with the producers of the Food Network show “My Life in Food“, they decided to shoot the Mt. Washington race as the big finale to the show. Their romantic vision included me winning the race and being crowned National Champion. Despite my best efforts to inform them that I was in NO such shape, and that I was hoping for a top 15 performance, they would counter with “stop being so modest”, or “don’t sell yourself short”. Needless to say, the pressure for me to perform was HIGH.

To keep the production of the show within budget, they wanted to group much of the filming into one weekend. This action packed adventure was to include filming me training in Central Park Friday morning, a lecture in NYC on Friday night (my first talk in New York, and we had 9 days to find a place and fill it with people – thanks Tera and Guy Goldmeer), filming on my family’s farm in Vermont on Saturday morning, a five hour drive to New Hampshire Saturday afternoon, then up at 6am Sunday morning to begin filming for the race… oh, and then I had to run up a mountain 6,288 feet high.

By the time I got to New Hampshire I was run ragged. My nerves were shot, so I had a small salad for dinner, thinking that it would help me to sleep better with less food in my stomach. Upon waking Sunday morning, I dragged myself out of bed at 6am and had a small smoothie. I hadn’t slept much and my stomach was in knots.

The camera crew attracted quite a lot of attention as I walked around the registration tent and said hello to other racers that I knew. There were pointed fingers, whispers, and the usual comments about the “raw food guy” as I passed. Many people had seen my video of last year’s race online, and quite a few had even browsed around my site. The race director, Bob Teschek had given permission to the camera crew to film the race, and he had spilled the beans to many of the participants that they might be on TV. A few people that I knew only as acquaintances, greeted me like old friends in front of the cameras, offering hugs and well wishes. It was all quite unsettling.

Dave Dunham invited me to do a warmup with the Central Mass. Striders, 45 minutes before the start, but we were in the middle of filming, so I declined. I was hoping that we’d be done in a minute so I could get a good warmup. Before I knew it, there were only 10 minutes remaining till the start and I was still blabbing away on camera.

I hurried to the start line and worked my way into position near the front. The cameraman approached me and told me to get on the front line. I informed him that I didn’t plan to start that fast and was going to let the rabbits get out quickly. He told me that it will look much better on camera if I’m in the front line. So I worked my way up and took position. A few of the other racers shot me looks. Yeah, yeah… not only I am the freaky raw food guy, but now I think I’m somebody special.

The race director approached the crowd to give us our instructions, which were quite sparse. “Relax, there is only one hill”, he said and the crowd laughed. Next he informed us that we were to begin at the sound of the cannon. I thought nothing of it. Then moments later a CANNON went off and I jumped backwards instead of forward. I think I might have let out a little squeak at the same time, which was caught on the mic wired to my chest. As it turns out, the cameraman was standing right next to the cannon when it went off and he jumped farther than I did… I can’t wait to see that footage.

With Dave Dunham as my pacer, I set off to a comfortable pace. We were about 30 seconds behind the lead pack at the mile and feeling comfortable, but I was going quite a bit faster than I had intended. This race is not won in the first few miles, but in the last few, where it feels like the whole World is crashing down on you. My goal time for the race was an hour and nine minutes, which was an average pace of 9 minute miles. We were under 8 minutes for the first mile, which was too fast. All the guys I had hoped to be close to in the race were either right in front of or right behind me, so I kept the pace. Mile 2 was an 8:16, still too fast. When I hit mile 3, something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t place the feeling, but I knew that something was wrong. At the half way point, I had slowed down, hoping to regain my strength, but it didn’t work. Mile 4 was even slower than 3. Thirteen people passed me. I slowed down even more, hoping for a second wind in the later stages of the race. Mile 5 took forever. My legs were extremely weak, and I was becoming light headed and nauseous. Over 25 people had passed me. Mile 6 had me seriously considering dropping out of the race. I could barely move my legs. I was now walking 50% of the time, and my run looked more like a shuffle. 40 more people passed. My head was swimming as I worked toward my seventh mile. The pain in my legs was so severe that I could barely take 5 steps without needing to stop. It was difficult to focus my eyes, and my mind’s eye didn’t feel like it was attached to my body anymore. I was floating. There were points where I’d stop and just stand in the middle of the road, not knowing how I was going to take another step. Mile 7 clicked by like a dream. A bad dream. Spectators were beginning to appear along the road. There was only six tenths of a mile to go. To me that seemed like a thousand miles. I honestly didn’t think I could make it. Then I remembered something. I was being filmed. This race was going to be on national TV.

DNF next to someone’s name on a result sheet usually signifies Did Not Finish. But America was watching and if there was going to be any DNF next to my name it was going to stand for Did Not Fail.

I somehow managed to turn my wobbly walk into a hurried hobble. Somewhere in this dream state, my name was being called. Over and over again it rang out “go tim!”. It took me a while to realize that a man was standing on the side of the road cheering for me. I stared at him as I slowly moved by, I wasn’t sure who he was until I was about 5 feet away. My brain suddenly awoke to the realization that this was Sean, one of my friends and former students. I wondered what he was doing there as I stumbled past. The next four tenths of a mile are a blank. I became conscious again on a very steep section lined with screaming people. Someone had spanked me in the butt as they went by. It was another friend and former student of mine Mike. He said “come on Tim!” and tried to pull me along. I looked up and realized that I was only 50 meters away from the finish line. I could see the camera ahead filming me. I was embarrassed, mortified, defeated. I dragged myself as quickly as possible to the finish line where I collapsed into the arms of two EMT’s who had seen me coming and jumped into action. They kept asking me questions, like “What’s your name?”, over and over again. Then they injected me with glucose. My eyes rolled back into my head and I collapsed into their arms. The camera caught it all, and there was nothing I could do about it. I looked like a fool. A shining example to America that raw food does NOT work for extreme athletic endeavor. At least that’s what I thought they would be thinking when editing the story. It turns out that I had a pretty serious case of hypoglycemia. I had not eaten enough the day before or morning of. I had made a fatal error.

The next day, while preparing a huge raw feast for my family and friends (also to be filmed), the producers of the show told me not to worry about the disastrous results of the day before, they said it will make a great ending for “act II” of the show. Let’s just hope that the hero in this story can rise up in act III.

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