Last week was the third annual Millinocket Marathon and Half and it was festive as ever. The race has gone from 50 runners, to 550, to more than 1,000 this year. The event was created to benefit a community hit hard by a mill closing. It is a free race. The timers donate their time. The community comes out in droves to support the race. The library and the economic development group have taken in thousands of dollars in donations over the last three years. Hotels are full. A would-be quiet December day in Northern Maine is filled with activity and runners contributing to the local businesses.
The race is about an hour north of where I live in Maine. My wife and son were nice enough to make the day out of it with me. A runner friend joined us for the road trip. We were up at 6 for the trip, after my wife and I had attended a fundraising event, where she is a board member. Probably not the best rest plan to be standing around... and a little bit of dancing, the night before the run.
The goal was to be there at 8. The volunteers are great but with the increase in runners, I expected bib pickup to be a little time consuming. Our timing was good and we had bibs in minutes! The volunteers were friendly and efficient. Registration was at the craft fair. We bought a t-shirt and a calendar raffle and some other things, contributing to the cause. So we had plenty of time before the race, and while it was "cold" at 29 degrees, with no wind, it was balmy compared to last year's wind chill. We still didn't want to spend too much time outside, so we drove the course. We took a few pre-race photos, including Mt. Katahdin.
We returned to the start and layered up for the race. There were a number of festive costumes among the runners, including an very awkward moose costume with an extra pair of legs and large antlers. I decided that I needed to make sure I was started ahead of him. The marathon started at 10 and half at 10:10. We were in the half. I lined up in the middle of the pack. The starting line featured two loaded logging trucks.
The starting cannon went off and I quickly regretted starting so far back. I hit the first mile marker at 7:35. Impossibly fast for the number of people I was weaving by. There were lots of people on the side of the road cheering us on as we ran into the Maine woods. A little while after passing the marker, my watch beeped, at 8:43 for the first mile. I guess the marker wasn't in the right place. It was relief because I hadn't wanted to start that fast, but it provided more evidence of starting too far back. Someday I'll figure that out. Although, it never ceases to amaze me the number of folks going a different pace at the starting line.
The poor volunteer by herself after the first mile marker couldn't pour water fast enough. I ran by without stopping, then got drinks at later stops. One station was providing fireballs. I passed. I picked up a cup at one stop that was empty. Went back for a second one. One station had mini bottled water. That was a nice touch. The course started in town, then became a dirt road, the "Golden Road" that drives toward Mt. Katahdin. We took a right onto another dirt road around mile 6, then headed back into town on a rolling paved road.
On that paved road, I continued to pass some runners, although I couldn't tell if they were marathoners or half runners. And some passed me. I came along a younger runner who was cold but I had already given up my gloves and couldn't help him. I had stopped to try and help but was useless. My wife and son had taken my gear and I couldn't find them at the moment.
In the final couple miles, a couple of runners, appearing to be in my age group passed me. In one case it was because I was eating a cookie. Last year in the final mile, I had come along a nice lady handing out cookies to the runners. I didn't take one. You can't eat cookies in a race! But I regretted it ever since. This time I took a sugar cookie with red icing and sprinkles. My wife took a picture of me showing her the cookie. If I had to do that over again, I would have gone for the chocolate chip or molasses, and put in my pocket for later. After a couple bites of the frosted cookie I was breathing too heavy and covered in frosting. I had to dump the cookie for the final stretch. Disappointing but more fulfilling than last year.
I ran pretty good up Main Street. I knew I was 1:42 something last year, and could see I was around the same time. As I crossed the finish it appeared that I was better, 1:41. When I think about all the weaving and stopping for the cookie, and trying to help someone, I feel like I was better than a year ago. Then again, part of last year's race was spent breathing through a frozen face mask and running into a head wind! My running friend, in my age group, had beaten me by 10 minutes in his first half. He had done very well.
We gathered after the race and had a meal at a local restaurant, tipping generously of course!.
We hit a downtown shop and picked up a few more items. My wife and son, between the library and a bookstore had gathered 8-10 books. My son picked up some driving time on the way home as the 3-5 inches of snow predicted for the evening has started. Overall it was a great day. You can't help but feel warm on a cold winter day when you are doing something you love (run), with people you love (family), and helping out a community working hard to make you feel welcome.
Here is a link to the Facebook page with lots of stories about the race and next year's date. But be careful, because it might just draw you to Northern Maine next December. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1313318738729689/