Looking for a challenge beyond competing in Ironman distance triathlons? Then look no further than the Sea to Summit, an adventure where you supply your own support and the finish line is at the highest peak in the Northeast United States at 6288 feet! This race was voted on of the top 5 bucket list races in the world. Here is the recap of my first adventure race in 2006.
The course: New Castle Island to Mt. Washington Summit
110 plus miles * 6288 feet in elevation gained
Limited entry: qualification based on a Ironman or 1/2 Ironman finish.
**This is a repost and rewrite of my original post in July 2006
The Weather: Foggy, Headwind and Hail!
Mt Washington weather can be tricky and hard to forecast as the patterns move in and out so quickly.
The start of the race for the kayak in New Castle Island was 79 degrees and foggy. The low visibility likened “Pea Soup” and the lighthouse fog horn went off that early morning to set the stage.
The bike route started on route 16 with a slight head wind . It was cloudy but dry. When I got to Dana Place Inn to Pinkham Notch it was 68 degrees and dry.
The “run” Mt. Washington run on the rocks was 57 degrees with crazy 60 mph wind gusts. This is an estimated 30 degrees with the wind chill factor. When you add in the rain, snow and hail beginning just before I reached the shelter. At that point I felt the wind picked up on the steep section of the rocks. An adventure race indeed!
Kayaking in Piscatqua Bay
The kayak start was a mass of faces getting into these skinny kayaks. I had the shortest fattest kayak there. It was a hybrid lightweight kayak recommended to be tested for my rep friends from Perception. Obviously my fat kayak held its own. Note my finish in the pack as 2nd of all women. The current was mild in my estimation, but the fog was heavy and the lighthouse fog horn could be heard the entire 12 miles. My hands and back hurt slightly from cranking on that paddle, keeping pace with the others. It was a great paddle and warm up for the bike to come. I finished and as they helped me out of the water I sunk in the mud and fell into the river as I stumbled up the side to get to my bike.
The Fuel to get me there!
Breakfast- ½ cup of coffee black – and the old standby – “PB & J”
Water – the colder the better – in the camelback on the kayak and the bike. Nothing tastes better than COLD water.
Shaklee Performance is “my liquid power” 5 quarts on the bike and 1 quart on the run. Because this is a 10 plus hour race and how little you are able to eat, the liquid you chose is so incredibly important. I rely on this stuff!
Bar of Choice: Cliff Luna bars – Toasted nuts and cranberries – (4 on the bike because I can let them digest)
On the run I ran out of fuel. Had my last bar and hoped for the best!
Lost On The Bike
The transition from the water was smooth and Mario helped me with my equipment and clothes to head out on the 90 mile bike route. I pushed myself pretty hard, checking the timing and the average speed. My biggest fear was getting lost. The markings on the road began to get confusing, I got worried and turned right and realized I was off course. Deep in focus with less than 20 miles to go, the markers from another race confused me as they used the same design as the Sea to Summit race. I turned the wrong direction and found myself at Attitash Mountain. I looked at the markers and saw they had an X through them. I KNEW I was in the wrong spot. I “freaked” out in frustration waving at the cars yelling “help I am lost” Finally this motorcyclist couple on the side of the road stopped as I rode across the street and in desperation asked them to use their cell phone. They were speaking French, but understood me and let me use their phone. After 3 attempts Mario answered and I told him I was lost and he was able to give me direction to the bike transition area. Disappointed in myself, dazed and very frustrated. it took me 20 minutes to pedal up the road, Mario came in my direction with the car and assured me the finish was up the road. It seemed to take forever but finally I made it to the transition area. A 90 mile bike turned into almost 100 miles. Now it was time to run! I swiftly changed into my sneakers and got my fuel belt and singlet.
The Challenging Run
The beginning of the course was all uphill on the open paved road. I kept on running every step up that hill! This support guy from another group was very encouraging, “You’re reeling ‘em in! Keep up the good work”. Bikers and others were also very beneficial to my psyche and I passed about 4 people in the first 4 miles, including 2 of the women that must have passed me on my detour of the bike course (I figure at this time I must have lost about 40-50 min from my “detour”).
Meeting up with Jessica at the trailhead, I hit the bathroom and then with more energy started to run up the trail. My competitive brain took over and I pushed harder. Jess gave me some energy drink, but I left my coat and additional water behind with her and kept going. I passed Elizabeth on the rocky section and made it to the shelter.
The hikers were truly amazing, cheering me on up the Pinkham Notch trail When they see you with a number they just know and move out of the way. It was great to have them there encouraging you! One woman called me her hero. I responded “sometimes I am my own hero” This is first time in my life I was feeling competitive thinking I would break that 10 hour mark.
A male hiker with dreadlocks at the shelter searched through his stuff to find a bag to protect me from the elements at the top. He asked me questions about myself, which I was happy answer and chat for a little while, because he was obviously impressed. He walked me to the side of the shelter. I called back to him as I headed up to the summit and said “I owe you! I don’t know when I will see you again, but I owe you!”
The guys were great and thank God for that garbage bag. I continued to climb the rocks looking up to where the summit I hoped would be. No markers could be seen because the rain had washed them away. I caught up to another male racer with his female support who shared some water. My garbage bag kept blowing in the wind and pelting rain so I put my fuel belt around the outside to keep it from blowing over my head. I saw a couple hikers higher up the course and that assured me I was almost there. Then I could see cars parked above the rocks. The visibility was so poor I could barely see it – the peak had snow and the fog was dense! I asked everyone I would pass, “Where is the summit?”
The Top of Mt Washington!
The hikers on the trail all assured me I was on my way to the summit. All I was thinking was “If anyone can get lost, I CAN” I have a tendency to veer left getting stuck in the rocks and the tree brush above timberline.
They were assuring me the summit was anywhere from 20 min to 45 min away. “You’re almost there” takes on a whole new meaning!” Follow the cairns – big rock piles that showed the way up, sending you to the top. It was treacherous! I slipped on the rocks getting lodged in between them, because of the pelting rain. My Asics sneakers didn’t work well as I tried to be “spider man”!
It was so foggy at the top so anyone I saw I would ask them where is the top?! I finally found the timer guy with his BRIGHT orange jacket blowing in the wind at the top of Mt. Washington Summit. A sight for VERY sore eyes!
The wind was blowing so hard the guys timing the finish could barely see me and I pulled out my number to show it to them. They said my time and I had finished.
I was pretty dizzy and disoriented at this point in time, looking for someplace warm entering the lodge, looking around not knowing anyone. Ellen’s friend Heather came over to help me and get me warm. My body was bone cold and I was shivering.
Ellen’s friend Molly and Heather shared a wool hat and fleece coat when I couldn’t find Mario at the top. The top lodge was filled with friendly, happy and encouraging people I will never forget! Buying me hot chocolate and congratulating me on my accomplishment that day!
She shared her jacket and advised me to get out of my cold wet clothes. I sat and they offered me some hot cocoa, I couldn’t get up. I used the towel as a blanket and laid down on the lodge floor. Heather went to tell Mario that I was finished and in the lodge. Schuyler didn’t want to go out in the cold so they stayed in the car and waited. He tried to call Jess once I told him she wasn’t with me and we waited for a while before leaving hoping she was at the bottom.
We went to the blue Subaru and received a call from Jess saying she made it to the top and had a ride to the bottom. She was an incredible support to me and it was brutal out there!
The Competitors & Support
It’s all about the people you meet and because this “stealth” race has so few competitors, it was fun to get to know them all.
Ellen – 1st overall woman – we met in the parking lot when she pulled into park beside us – After we brought out boats to the beach she returned at one point and said “you owe me already – your boat was floating away…..” We chatted on the kayak for the first 20 min, along with some of the other “chatty” others (although there weren’t very many).
Elizabeth – (3rd) A veteran to this race and a strong mom supported by her very proud family. She must have finished the bike when I was lost and I passed her on the beginning of the rocky section headed up to Tuckerman’s Ravine.
Jacqui – SUPER support crew – I got to know them all on the bike….. she had signs everywhere! She finished 4th overall woman.
Lisa – 5th woman – from Goffstown, I passed her on the run at the bottom, very nice lady – gave me a big hug at the race party and was so proud that WE finished!
MY support team: Mario & Jessica – you can’t do this race without the right support. Schuyler was four years old and would rather have spent the day at StoryTown, than in the back seat of a Subaru.
Jessica was with me to start the kayak – she is an incredible support, always with kind words and observing all those around. She joined me in the beginning of the hike.
Mario was a great support for the whole race, doing the research ahead of time, packing and organizing everything in its special bags and on the bike course listening to my needs of water, performance and bars. Checking in with me to be sure I was ok and encouraging me along the way. Most of all I was so glad he picked up the phone to listen to my desperation and need for directions to get to the finish.
The Canadian (French speaking) motor cycle riders parked on the side of the road right by Attitash Mountain that loaned me their cell phone to call Mario when I got lost on the bike. (Note: this is back when we all didn’t own cell phones and carry them all the time!)
1. Know the course – We rode the course the weekend before. There is so much more you can do to know the course. It would be best to hike Mt. Washington or kayak the channel or maybe even ride the bike course with your bike. I didn’t feel like I had time for that, but I paid for it by missing the turn because of the markings that confused me and took me to the finish of another race.
2. Have a plan and stick to it. Pack a cell phone, a back up map and a set of clothes for all weather at the top of the mountain.
3. Communication is key–know where all your key people are located. Have a plan where to meet and what to do if something happens and we separate.
I am very proud of my finish time and results. To survive the conditions and adversity of this race is 50% mental – 25 % fuel and 25 % training / strength. You need it all, but if your head isn’t in it, you won’t finish. I finished. It was a truly amazing experience.
2nd woman out of 6
- 22 out of 33 finishers
- 47 qualified
- 36 showed up,
- 33 finished despite the odds
- 5 women finished
Kayak – 12 miles – 2 hours (8th overall out of the water)
Bike – 97.7 miles (Off course detour cost me an additional 7.7 miles) – 18.1 mph average, 5 hrs, 35 min, 41.5 max speed Approximate time loss was 45 min.
Run – 3 hours (I was delirious at the finish and my watch kept getting knocked on the rocks when I was hiking and stopped keeping time)
Final Time: 10 hours and 36 minutes. –This was my first experience been to the top of Mt Washington and was deterred by the wind gusts and the rain! My first experience with hypothermia too! I am pretty lucky I found the timer guy at the top!
F -Nancy Peck
Kayak- 2:00:02 – 2/6
Bike – 5:35:40 – 5/6
Run – 3:00:42 – 2/6
10:36:24 – 2/6 = total time
What is the allure of racing adventure and ultra races?
I love to be challenged in every way possible in setting goals and going for the “glory”. The thrill of the finish, of competing, of knowing that I can do better and go faster and show my strength as a woman athlete shines brightly in these events. It is a very small percentage of people who ever start an Ironman or endurance / adventure race like this one. Proud to be one of the “crazies” competing at this level.
What is your training like to get ready for these events?
I have the “less is more” mindset. There is something to be said for being well rested, not burning out, and listening to your body. My training is varied. Training plan includes 2 long distance disciplines (run or bike) at least ¾ the distance of the upcoming goal race. My most faithful training partner – Labrador retriever Oakley wakes me up promptly at 5:15 AM every morning, to run with running partner Tina, with her dog and do a loop in the hilly neighborhood, Cycling workouts are on the weekend and are following my run. I take one day off a week. Weekends are for fitting in the required training in all the different disciplines of the upcoming race.
Is that enough training?
After many years of racing, I have built up a good “base” of endurance cardio fitness. I would not enter a race thinking I could not finish. My focus is on the mental prep for the race, having the right fuel and sport specific training. This works if you have the base miles, the experience, listen to your body and KNOW you can do it. I like to fuel myself with the right diet and exercise routine to prove some great results.