Saturday morning, cyclists racing in Newton’s Revenge will tackle the grueling, 7.6 mile Mount Washington Auto Road.
Missing from the pack will be the cyclist who won 11 titles racing the course, the most ever.
Marti Shea announced this week she is stepping down from competitive racing. The 52-year-old Manchester, New Hampshire native has been battling an arthritic knee.
She owns the women’s record for time for both Newton’s Revenge and the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, which use the same course.
Shea now lives in Massachusetts, and spoke with NHPR’s Morning Edition.
Your list of cycling accomplishments certainly isn’t limited to the Mount Washington Auto Road, but being from New Hampshire originally, was there something special about racing that particular course?
Yes. It is my home state and I know so many people in New Hampshire follow that race, including old coaches, like my high school coach, and obviously my parents and my immediate family and my God mom and her family. There are just so many people up there that know me and that’s what makes it really special. I know they’re following it and they’re going to be really excited, because it’s a part of them that’s there, too.
The other big thing is it’s just such a challenging climb. It’s truly the toughest climb in the world. I’ve traveled extensively in Europe and all over the United States doing other various events and climbs. Everything else just pales in comparison to Mount Washington. It’s the most challenging climb in the world, without a doubt.
For people who’ve never raced this course, describe the sights and sounds of racing up Mount Washington.
The best sound ever is when you’re nearing the top of the mountain and you hear the cowbells. When I hear the bells on top of Mount Washington, it just brings back a lot of happy memories and fond memories and really motivates me. Sometimes it’s so foggy, like last year for example, you couldn’t see two feet ahead of you the last couple miles, and that’s all I heard was the cowbells. I just kept following those cowbells all the way to the finish line. And the cheers you hear the last 22 percent of the mountain, it’s just stacked with people and they’re just screaming. It’s just an amazing feeling and so inspirational. You know you just have to push all the way to the finish line because you’re letting those people down if you don’t.
You seem to take a lot of pride in staying so competitive into your 50s. Do you feel like you were able to set an example for some older cyclists?
I hope that I’m an inspiration to some other people. There are a lot of couch potatoes out there that see my age and maybe that gets them off the couch and thinking twice about starting to do something. If I’m doing this at 52, they could at least be taking a walk. I hear that frequently from people that are on the top of the mountain when I finish. They’ll say they can’t believe we’re the same age, so that’s fun and motivating for them, and inspirational, as well.
And I understand you’re still planning on being there Saturday?
Oh, absolutely. I’m definitely going to be there. I have eight athletes who are competing that I coach. I’m going to have my cowbell up there at “The Horn,” the part of the race that’s kind of strategic, almost halfway up. I’ll be letting people know how they’re doing. If they’re competitive to win their age group, I’ll let them know where they are position-wise. And I’ll be there helping out with the awards, as well.