The original plan for Millinocket was a quick trip. Fly in, run, fly out. With a flight leaving out of Bangor, one hour South of Millinocket at 2:50pm. Then I realized the race started at 10am. Ooops. So I figured I’ll still make it home Saturday night if I book a flight out of Boston later in the evening (8pm). As I was showering the morning of I did the math and realized I had forgotten that I still had to drive the hour south, and there was no way I would make that flight either, so with that in the background I arrived at the Stearns High School that hosts a craft fair and bib pickup. I got my bib, and grabbed a muffin and coffee from the concession stand, and began the wait to start at 10am.
A word about Millinocket: The northern Maine town’s primary employer, the Great Northern Paper Company, shut down the paper mill, and the town became a case study in what happens when an industry town loses its industry. After a New York Times article about the town, Gary Allen, Mainer and race director of the Mount Deseret Island Marathon, sprung into action and created the Millinocket Marathon in 2015. The race would be free with the understanding that participants would spend, and give generously in the Mount Katahdin region to help revitalize the community.
For those not in the know there is a concept known as a fat ass. Not to be confused with what you look like after Thanksgiving dinner, a fat ass is a free unsupported group run. No medal, no shirt, just go out for a run. I kind of imagined this race to be a fat ass. I was wrong.
The course is fairly simple. 6 miles up (it is mostly a steady climb) what’s called the Golden Road, turn right, and head about a mile to a connecting to a sister road that heads down another 6 miles. For the marathon, repeat. The Golden Road and the connector is compressed snow and icy, not an ideal surface. The return was asphalt, no snow, just asphalt. The temperature: a brisk 14 degrees at the start, only slight breezes, but they chilled me to the bone in a hoodie (the warmest running gear I had brought).
At mile 3 there were a few nice ladies with nut balls, Gatorade and water, oh and some sort of schnapps I’d never heard of called Dr. McGillicuddy, but then I’m not a schnapps connoisseur. On to another aid station at mile 5 where we got the best view of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, of the whole race. Here they had a burn barrel I practically dry humped, and some cherries soaked in Fireball, among other food and drink. Not much further, just before the turn onto the connector road were the EMTs with the most divine drink I’d ever been offered, hot gatorade. I would have bathed in the stuff if I could. Once we reached the asphalt an older gentlemen had hot soup. Last but not least a group of motorcyclists (seriously in Maine?!) had water and gatorade, and I dare say they may have had alcohol as well. Aside: This race is very drinky, and Mainers definitely know how to drink.
Back into town the first loop took me almost 3 hours. I was thinking about how I could save myself the cost of another night in a hotel and yet a third plane ticket if I just cut to the half and caught my flight home. I could finish my round of 50 states at MDI next year rather than Kiawah Island, South Carolina again next weekend. Alas I stupidly decided to take the turn for the second loop, and called American Airlines to book another ticket home. The second loop took just as long. I ran into Jamar, a 6’8″ guy from Augusta I’d met before the start. He was doing well as he and a new amigo Conrad passed me at mile 15. I caught up with Jess, a triathlete from Iowa I’d met on the first loop, for a bit until she left me in the dust around mile 23, and I met Zach a senior at the Maritime Academy, who was rucking with 50lbs in his pack. All fine examples that inspired me to finish this thing out.
When I finally stumbled my way to the finish I was a little concerned my chip might not read because of the previously mentioned dry humping of the burn barrel, but it seems to have taken and I found myself to the nearest place downtown that served pizza. You know what the best thing about pizza is? You need an oven that gets to 500 degrees to make it. 🙂
I’ll be honest, the course isn’t all that exciting, and Maine in December is stupid cold if you live in Florida. Note: This is the coldest race I’ve ever done (Alaska 5 times, Iceland, and even Antarctica were far warmer), but I’ve always say that I have a soft spot in my heart for races where people in the community are really jazzed about their local race, and that is the case here. I’m reminded of all the whining I hear from people in the Keys for the 7 mile bridge run, or Keys 100, and these folks were genuinely happy to see us, and ungodly kind. That said there’s a lot more people doing the half, and I would suggest the half over the marathon here. Note: If you’re a shirt or medal collector there is no medal or shirt–hey it’s a free race.
Fun fact: Mount Katahdin is Maine’s highest point, and means “the greatest mountain” in the Penobscot Native American language.