PINKHAM NOTCH — Larisa Dannis didn’t know what to expect in her first shot at the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race last year, and she ended up being the first female finisher from New Hampshire and the seventh woman overall.
“I had a blast,” said Dannis, 26, who lives in Strafford and works in Manchester. “It’s a pretty unique race. For whatever reason, my strength as a runner happens to be climbing.”
Dannis and a field of almost 1,300 runners will be climbing again this morning in the 54th edition of the grueling test up the 7.6-mile Mount Washington Auto Road.
The 2014 Northeast Delta Dental Road Race begins at 9 a.m.
Kasie Enman, 34, formerly a standout high school runner at Manchester Central and now living in Huntington, Vt., is a contender for the women’s title, as is Valentina Belotti, 34, of Temu, Italy.
Dannis, who finished in 1:26:59 last year, is planning to have fun again. Last weekend she did a 20-mile run, with a pack, that started with a trek up Wildcat Mountain, just down the road from here.
“My training’s been going extremely well,” Dannis said. “I do a lot of training in the White Mountains on various loops.”
She said she would love to better her time from a year ago and take a shot at being the top New Hampshire woman again, but she also plans to run a smart race.
That’s because she has qualified for the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run and leaves for California on Thursday for the race that starts on Saturday at Squaw Valley and finishes on Sunday.
“I plan to push myself hard, but not overexert myself,” Dannis said.
“I have to keep in mind that I have another big race next week.”
Diana Davis, 28, of Exeter, who has a personal best of 1:21:09 in the half marathon, and Abbey Wood, 28, of Laconia are expected to be among the top challengers to Dannis for top New Hampshire woman.
The Brothers Freeman — Justin (of New Hampton) and Kris (of Thornton) — are generally among the top New Hampshire finishers among the men and were one-two last year. Justin was eighth overall and Kris, an Olympian in cross country skiing in Sochi last winter, was 12th.
Today’s events also include the induction of three-time Mount Washington winner Dave Dunham and Plaistow’s Craig Fram, the winner in 1997, into the race’s Hall of Fame. Dunham, running out of Lowell and then Londonderry, won the race in 1988, 1989 and 1994.
He beat Hall of Famer Bob Hodge of Lowell by one second in 1989 in a time of 1:02:59. He was the first to finish the race in a time of less than one hour and one minute with a 1:00:50 in 1988.
Fram, 55 now, was 19th last year in a time of 1:09:52 and Dunham, 50, was 22nd in 1:10:44.
Both runners hold several age group records.