Now that hiking season has been winding down I find myself with more time for running again. I'm super excited to be back into the swing of things and this coming year I've got some lofty goals set for myself, starting with a New Years' Eve Ultramarathon! While this is still primarily a hiking blog, much like last winter you'll start to see some running posts from me again. This particular post will be a race review of the Millinocket Marathon and Half Marathon I ran back on 12-10-16 in Millinocket, Maine.
Many of you already know that Millinocket is dear to my heart. The final Appalachian Trail town, I spent six days here on my 2012 AT thru hike. in 2013, I moved to Maine to work in the Appalachian Trail Lodge for an entire hiking season. In 2015, when I got sick on the Finger Lakes Trail, NoKey and I went to spend a week in town during the Fourth of July between the end of that hike and the start of our Long Trail thru hike. While NoKey was able to visit town back in August of this year when he did a canoe trip on the Allagash, I wasn't able to visit this year. That's why I was so happy to be able to participate in the Millinocket Marathon and Half - a free race thrown by Gary Allen on behalf of the town. The stipulation for this race is a simple one - this free Boston Qualifier event is only free in the fact that you pay no race fee to enter. Whatever you would spend on a race of this caliber you are encouraged to spend in town at one of MANY local events. If you can't find anything to buy, Gary recommended you tip 100% at every meal to add up to the total of a race.
We drove up to Maine over the period of three days. Stopping in northern Virginia and Portland, Maine before heading up to Millinocket. When we arrived in town on December 9th it was very, VERY clear the entire town was behind the idea of this race. It was refreshing to me to see that everyone was so excited about it. There were banners everywhere welcoming runners. Each local business in town had a raffle going on. We immediate drove straight to Ruthie's Hotel Terrace and checked in before heading out to our favorite restaurant - Angelo's. NoKey got a slice and a Schlitz before we headed over to the Press Conference. The conference was only about 40 minutes and took place at Design Lab - in the old Wreath Factory - and had a couple of people speaking. Most notable of these people for me was Mike Wardian - a name most runners know. We then visited the craft fair taking place at Sterns High School which also doubled as the "expo" for the race. I had so much fun buying Christmas gifts that I actually forgot the reason we were there was to pick up our bibs! We actually got a swag bag too containing balsamic vinegar, some samples of natural products from Vitamin Shoppe, and some free Gu from Bangor Savings Bank. And here I was not expecting to get ANYTHING other than a bib for a free race.
The morning of the race we are able to sleep in, which is so nice! We headed over to the snowmobile club to get a cheap AYCE pancake breakfast and headed back to the hotel to wallow in pancake bliss. Around 9:30 we headed downtown for the race. The temperature had risen above zero, but the windchill still read -8. The start/finish line area had a great party atmosphere and two active bonfire pits - one of which was made by Pelletier's Manufacturing, formerly Pelletier's Logging. After a national anthem all marathon runners were asked to line up while the half runners were asked to fill in the area around the corral to cheer on the others. At the time of the start (which was the first race I've been to in YEARS that actually started on time!) they even sounded the horn at the fire department - the famous one that goes off every morning at 8 a.. and 9 p.m. I was more overjoyed about this than the race atmosphere itself!
Finally, it was time for the half runners to fill in and take off. The race immediately began by going up Poplar Street before turning and going uphill on the Golden Road. The cold was nearly unbearable at first and it was four miles before I could finally feel my toes again! When looking at the elevation profile of the race I wasn't super concerned about the hills, but it became very clear to me that the first six miles of the race were uphill the entire way! About 4.5 miles in came our very first view of Katahdin and it was amazing to hear all the runners start to oooh and ahhhh! Many stopped to grab photos while we kept running on. About 6 miles in the race took a turn back toward the paved road and there was a great aid station with locals handing out water and gatorade, both of which were a slushy consistency. I was happy to see the aid station because my hydration had frozen shut! (Turns out most people had this problem during the race).
At about the halfway point of the race we finally left the logging roads behind and hit the paved portion of the race again. Just before the turn off were tons of local folks out driving around and yelling support for the runners. There were even a couple of cute kids with signs that read "I want to be like you when I grow up" and giving high fives! I thought once we hit the pavement we'd see some more substantial downhill, but I was WRONG AGAIN! You don't realize how hilly Millinocket is until you're running it! After hitting the snowmobile club we FINALLY hit some substantial downhill for what felt like the very first time. I know this wasn't true, but it sure felt it! Running past Sawmill Bar and Grill the road flattened out back on route 11 for a few minutes. We passed mile 12 at Katahdin General Store and then I saw the race was taking a turn. While other people yelled out "oh a turn!" I was internally dreading it! I knew that turning on Bates meant one thing - one more tiny hill. From running and biking this hill nearly every day when I'm in town I knew this tiny hill would be a ball buster. And it was. So many groans were let out by everyone all around me. When we reached the crest of the hill to take the final turn onto Penobscot Ave there were two women in down parkas handing out homemade cookies and cheering us all on.
We run down to Penobscot Ave and we're finally in the home stretch. I checked my watch and realized that the damn sub 2-hr half was once again just out of reach for me, but I pick up the pace to finish strong anyway. Running down to the main intersection I see the Welcome Runner's sign just before really opening up my speed to run down the middle of the main street in town. Design Lab had lots of music blaring and people were lining the streets cheering for us to finish. We pick up speed triumphantly and run through the middle of the two loaded logging trucks signifying the finish. NoKey and I crossed the finish line at the exact same time for a finish time of 2:04:30. Not a PR for me, but an automatic one for NoKey - this was his first ever half marathon!
Upon finishing the race someone kindly threw an emergency blanket over both of us and we headed up to the Bangor Savings Bank tent and got a free bag of pretzels and a small gatorade. We were also able to snag a few Stonyfield Organic yogurts as well. It was such a nice gesture to see all the finish line swag - for a free race this one sure had a ton of perks! We went back to the hotel to shower and stretch before heading back out into town to do some more Christmas shopping and get lunch. We cheered on the runners who were still out on the course every time we saw one.
Being able to spend time in the town we love and being able to give back somehow made this race worth the long drive and cold trip. We loved the energy from all the people in town. It was so great seeing how supported the runners would be. NoKey and I have even decided to make this our new Christmas tradition - a yearly trip up to Millinocket for Christmas shopping and race running!
What's the furthest you've ever traveled to run or hike? Would you do it again? Do you think we're insane for going to Maine in December to freeze at a race?