Local Runners Survive Mount Washington

photo by Darrel Lassell
Dot Helling, from Adamant, Todd Taska (No. 1347), from Lowell, and Darrel Lassell, from Williamstown, are pictured at the start of the annual Mount Washington Road Race. The June 17 race began in comfortably cool conditions, with a slight drizzle. As the runners reached the tree line, the weather turned extreme with gusty winds, heavy driving rain, and ice pellets. Despite adverse conditions, the trio, together with East Hardwick’s Roger Prevot, successfully finished the 7.6-mile race up the auto road.

by Jim Flint

PINKHAM NOTCH, GORHAM, N.H. – First held in 1936, the Mount Washington Road Race has run annually since 1966, with the exception of 2020. Women first officially entered the race in 1972. From the starting line, runners ascend 4,650 feet up the 7.6-mile auto road. The average grade is 12 percent. The last stretch to the finish line has a daunting 22 percent grade.

On June 17, two local seniors, Roger Prevot, from East Hardwick, and Dot Helling, from Adamant, ran to the 6,288-foot summit of New England’s highest peak. They were among 1,038 finishers who encountered extreme weather conditions above the tree line.

Prevot, 64, conquered the climb in one hour, 44 minutes, and 45 seconds. He placed 206th overall, and seventh of 60 finishers in the M60-64 age group. This was his first run up Mount Washington.

“I found it very challenging, which may be an understatement,” said Prevot. “I was determined to run the entire way to the summit, without walking, and found that it took supreme concentration and effort, despite the fact that I was running very slowly.”

The race started sublimely, with comfortably cool temperatures, relatively calm winds, and a light drizzle. An hour into the race, weather conditions deteriorated dramatically.

“The worst weather, including cold wind and dense fog, didn’t hit us until the final stretch to the summit,” said Prevot. “I was happy to find my wife, Margie Prevot, and her warm car. I’m signed up to do the bike race on the same course in August and hope to find it just a bit easier.”

Dot Helling, 73, has done the Mount Washington Road Race around 20 times. Her best finish was under 1:30. Helling ran in last year’s race, which was cut to the halfway mark due to weather conditions. The last time she raced all the way to the summit was in 2021.

Going into the race, Helling was dealing with a knee and back problem. “I was clearly under-trained,” she said. “My goal was just to get to the top and enjoy the turkey dinner at the base after.”

Helling averaged 18:47 per mile. Closing in on the summit, she encountered nearly horizontal heavy rain, wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour, and visibilities of 10 to 20 feet. She was on the verge of hypothermia as she crossed the finish line, in 2:23:04.

“Only the hand warmers I brought gave me the bit of heat I needed to push through the last two miles,” said Helling. “I was on the verge of tears on top as I searched for my bag. I was too cold to use my hands to even hold a blanket around me.”

Helling was grateful that she rode to the race with Darrel Lassell, 65, from Williamstown. Lassell climbs Spruce Mountain, in Plainfield, on a regular basis. This was his fifth time in the Mount Washington Road Race. He finished in 2:10:07.

“I only wore a t-shirt and shorts,” said Lassell. “I found a boost of energy and felt my best during the last mile. It was my fastest mile and I passed about 40 runners.”

After crossing the finish line, a volunteer wrapped a blanket around Lassell and held him for a minute, until he could walk on his own. “It was comforting to see and feel fellow runners’ compassion for each other,” said Lassell.

Lassell waited about eight minutes for Colleen Leonard, a fellow carpool rider, to reach the finish. By that time, Lassell’s body heat had dissipated. He made his way to the car, shaking and shivering in the pelting rain and hail. After changing into dry clothes, he went looking for Helling. He found her amidst a crowd of cold, wet, and weary finishers trying to get to the changing rooms.

“On our way to the car we were holding each other and still almost got blown off the mountain,” said Helling. “The driver had one of those full body warmers which I put to my core, and it brought me back. I have always been a tough survivor. This was rough for me.”

After recovering from the road race, Lassell returned to Mount Washington on June 24. He completed the Mount Washington Cog Railway Race. The 2.75-mile climb has a vertical gain of 3,500 feet, with up to 37% grade. Lassell placed 61st of 109 runners. His time was 1:28:43.

Helling has arthritis laterally in her right knee. She hopes to schedule knee surgery as soon as possible. “My goal is to make a comeback at 75,” she said. “How’s that for optimism?”

Joseph Gray, 39, from Colorado Springs, finished the Mount Washington Road Race in one hour and 24 seconds to win the men’s division. Amber Ferreira, 41, from Concord, N.H., won the women’s division in 1:15:16. Kasie Enman, 43, from Huntington, was the first Vermonter to reach the summit. Her time was 1:18:07.

Incredibly, four octogenarians completed the race. Sally Swenson, 80, from Exeter, N.H., finished in 2:53:17. Alan Callaway, 82, from Hanover, N.H.; Ronald Paquette, 82, from Albion, Maine; and Thomas Meacham, 80, from Anchorage, Alaska, finished in 2:51:15, 3:03:59, and 3:25:11.

Paquette had run the Mount Washington Race 40 times previously. By the last mile of the race, he was frozen, cramping, and unable to talk straight. Hypothermia had set in. Paquette was in trouble.

John McGinty, a 21-year-old runner, had finished an hour earlier. He became worried about Paquette, who is his mentor. McGinty ran back down the toll road. Paquette was stumbling through the fog. With an arm around each other’s shoulders, McGinty helped Paquette move forward against the wind and rain. Running the last few yards, they reached the summit and crossed the finish line together.

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