Rickey Gates tops on Mount Washington
June 21, 2011
Rickey Gates is sporting a new look complete with long, brown locks and an untamed beard that engulfs nearly half his face.
“I’m in disguise,” the 30-year-old from Woody Creek joked Tuesday afternoon.
There was no mistaking the accomplished endurance runner, however, once he hit Mount Washington’s pavement.
The former Aspen High and University of Colorado standout caught and passed fellow Coloradan Tommy Manning down the stretch in Saturday’s 51st Mount Washington Road Race. Gates hung on for the victory – his second in three years at the world’s steepest all-uphill road race – crossing the finish line in 1 hour, 1 minute, 32 seconds.
Manning was 10 seconds off the pace, while Matthew Byrne of Scranton, Penn., rounded out the top three in 1:03:31.
“It’s brutal all the way through,” Gates said of the famed course, which gains 4,727 feet in elevation over 7.6 miles. “There’s nothing like it in Colorado. It’s kind of funny, we’re so proud of our mountains here, then you get out on this hill that doesn’t look all that impressive on it or at the bottom. It’s a road from a different era, though – 12 percent [grade] all the way up and never a rest from it.
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“It’s one solid hour of suffering. … There’s no faking it on that mountain.”
In 2009, Gates became the fifth person in history to complete the dash to the 6,288-foot summit of New Hampshire’s tallest peak in less than one hour (59:58).
He entered Saturday with a lingering calf injury and a healthy dose of curiosity; he was wondering how he would hold up after a winter spent washing dishes at a base at the South Pole.
“Being at the South Pole for four months certainly doesn’t make you faster,” Gates joked. “I wasn’t not fit – I did a marathon down there – but your body deteriorates there. … That has been my biggest challenge this spring, getting back into the shape I was a year ago.”
Gates settled into second place at the outset Saturday, as Glen Randall of Mesa, Colo., established the early pace. He vaulted to the front after little more than a mile.
Gates maintained the lead for nearly two miles before behind passed by Manning, a schoolteacher from Colorado Springs and his teammate on the 2010 U.S. Mountain Running Team.
He labored to keep pace.
“When you’re trailing behind somebody for more than three miles … it becomes way more than a physical race. It’s mental instead, and you have to try and stay focused,” Gates said.
“You know in that race that when someone’s 50 feet ahead of you, unlike on another course where the lead would be five seconds, on this course it’s 15. That can be daunting. … I had to put my game face back on, power through and try to close small gaps.”
Gates reeled in Manning on a steep hairpin turn about a half mile from the finish. After a quick pat on his friend’s back, Gates took the lead for good.
He glanced over his shoulder one last time down the final straightaway – a roughly 70-yard stretch with a 22 percent grade aptly nicknamed “The Wall” – before jogging across the line with arms raised toward the sky.
“[The pat] was almost kind of a thank you,” Gates said. “You don’t do Mount Washington by yourself, your competitors help pull you up. … I know I wouldn’t have ran as fast as I did without him.”