PINKHAM NOTCH - Veteran mountain runner Joseph Gray and newcomer Shannon Payne, both from Colorado Springs, Colo., put together break-out performances to win the 54th Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race on Saturday.
Another long-time competitor here and with another newcomer shared the podium as the top two New Hampshire finishers in this 7.6-mile, all-uphill race.
Justin Freeman, 37, of New Hampton, was the first male Granite State finisher for the third time and second year in a row. Denise Sandahl, 33, of Bow, a professed novice at mountain running, made her first ascent of the Mount Washington Auto Road in 1:17:21, placing fifth among all women and as the top woman from New Hampshire.
"My goodness that was an experience," exclaimed Sandahl at the 6,288-foot Mt. Washington summit. "I haven't done a mountain race before."
Sandahl could fool a lot of people. She had just dueled through the final mile with Kasie Enman, the former Manchester Central High School standout and the 2011 World Mountain Trophy winner. Enman, who lives in Huntington, Vt., finished nine seconds in front of Sandahl.
"I only know her from photographs and I didn't know it was her until she passed me at the end," Sandahl said and then laughed. "I thought to myself, 'Can I have your autograph?'?"
Sandahl didn't realize she was the first New Hampshire woman until after the race."It was a nice surprise," he said. "I was pretty happy with that." She and Freeman each won the Crossan Cup, awarded annually in this race to the first Granite State male and female finishers, along with a $100 prize. Sandahl won an additional $100 for placing fifth.
Larissa Dannis, 26, of Strafford, last year's top New Hampshire runner, was a spot behind Sandahl in sixth. Dannis finished in 1:22:00, beating her time from last year by almost five minutes. Diana Davis was the third place female from New Hampshire in 1:24:39 and eighth overall.
Freeman finished in 1:06:29, turning back an in-state challenge from Brandon Newbould, 32, of Nottingham, N.H. Freeman looked back around Mile 6 of grueling 7.6-mile race and saw Newbould coming.
"I was hurting and wasn't thinking he'd be that close," Freeman said. "I tried to bluff him and move ahead, but that didn't work. So I put my head down and kept going."
That did work. Newbould was 11th overall in 1:07:07.
Kris Freeman, 33, of Thornton, Justin's brother and a 2014 Sochi Olympian in cross country skiing, was the third New Hampshire male in 1:09:28.
Gray and Payne won in impressive fashion on a decent, but windy and chilly, day for racing. Temperatures were in the high 40s at the base at the 9 a.m. starting time, and at the summit it was 36 degrees, with winds gusting from 20 to 35 miles per hour.
Gray, 30, looked strong from the start and pulled away from defending champion and three-time winner Eric Blake of West Hartford, Conn., just past the halfway mark to finish in 59 minutes and nine seconds. Blake, 35, the cross country and track and field coach at Central Connecticut State University, finished in 1:00:01, just four seconds slower than his winning time last year.
Payne, 28, had run her first mountain race at the Black Canyon Ascent in Colorado only last month. She was a little wary of the Mount Washington course when she got her first look at it on Friday by car on a tour conducted by 2012 winner Sage Canaday.
"Driving up, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this looks brutal,'?" Payne said. "People run up this? All the way?"
She did. And fast.