by Jordan Castillo
The time is 7:45AM on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. A few other Striders and I are at the starting line for one of the virtual 8k races within the Quarry Road Summer Series. It’s early, but the heat and humidity are strong. The thick aroma of the dense greenery and freshly cut grass floods my nostrils, and I feel as if I can nearly taste the scenery. Despite feeling a subtle daze, my heart begins to quiver with excitement as I look around at the five-or-so other Striders who are jogging in place, preparing their bodies and minds for the race ahead. And though there aren’t any spectators and it’s not a typical race environment, my body still fills with electric anticipation as I prepare to give it my all in my first ever trail race.
I warm up with a few butt-kicker’s, some high-knees, and a few other exercises to get my blood flowing. As the clock nears 8am, I gather with the other Striders (socially-distanced, of course!) at the starting line. To make sure we have plenty of space between each other on the course, we spread out the start times of each runner. This actually makes it a bit more exciting, because each runner has their own personal starting time, so the whole group yells and cheers as each runner takes off onto the course.
Finally, after 13 minutes of waiting for the other Striders to start their race, it’s my turn.
“Alright, Jordan, you ready?” Ron Peck asks, holding his watch. He glances at the countdown. “Ok. Three, two, one… GO!”
I take off like a bullet. I hear a bunch of voices hollering behind me. “Go, Jordan, go! Woo!”
About five seconds into the race, I realize I am definitely running too fast. I’m in the middle of marathon training, so eight kilometers doesn’t sound like much. But I can’t sprint for eight kilometers, and I quickly remember what the other Striders told me about the race. They warned me, “Don’t underestimate the hills. You’ll reach what you think is the top, and then suddenly you find yourself at the bottom of another hill!”
Find your pace. Find your pace, I tell myself. I settle into an eight-minute-per-mile pace as I steadily ascend the first set of hills tucked away in the back of the Quarry Road trails. The rolling hills remind me of a gentle roller coaster, taking me for a ride on trails flanked on either side by dense Maine forest. I pay close attention to my pace, “changing gears” on the uphills and downhills as if I were riding a bike. All the while, I remember to take in the lush beauty of the trails and to just enjoy the thrill of the race.
The hills slowly drain my stamina, but I continue to push forward. It’s only an 8k, it’s only an 8k, I tell myself in an effort to convince my muscles to give it everything they’ve got. As I descend the highest hill in the park, I feel a rush of victory. Just some small up’s and down’s from here on out, I think to myself.
After making it past the toughest hills in the race, I feel more confident about running the last segment with a bit more speed. I kick it into a higher gear, determined to see how quickly my legs can carry me through the last few kilometers.
I make it to the last hill. My body is yearning for a break and wants to just be done with the race, but my mind knows there is still plenty of energy left for the final stretch. As I near the top of the hill, I break into a full sprint and zero in on the finish line. I faintly hear a few of the Striders yelling. “Jordan, come on! You’re almost there! Go, go, go!” I propel forward as I absorb this encouraging energy. Zooming with my hands held high, I cross the finish line and feel a rush of satisfaction and relief.
I glance down at my watch. Thirty-seven minutes. I know I could have run a bit faster, but nonetheless I smile because I know I did well. I turn around and begin cheering as soon as I see the remaining Striders running the final stretch of the race. It turns out our staggered start times led us to finish within just a few minutes of each other, and everyone is soon on the other side of the finish line.
To celebrate the completion of our hot, sweaty 8k, we immediately dig in to the donuts a few of us had brought to the course. As we are munching, there is a communal feeling of victory and satisfaction. Yes, things may feel different from a typical race that would include the crowd energy and more runners, but I feel deep gratitude for the sense of true community that exists even in the small group of Striders around me.
For those of you out there who miss gathering for regular race events, let me join you by saying I feel the same way. On many days, the effects of the pandemic can feel heavy. But experiences like the virtual Quarry Road Summer Races have served as another example of an important lesson I’ve been learning throughout the past six months. With a bit more effort and creativity, we can continue to (safely) experience community and gather with others for fun events. So, I encourage everyone to reach out to their running friends (Striders and potential future Striders alike!) to come up with some fun, safe ways to continue competing. And especially when you are running on those Quarry Road trails, just remember: don’t underestimate the hills—enjoy them.
Jordan Castillo is the Vice President of the Central Maine Striders and works in admissions at Colby College.
by Patty Hallee
Being new to the running scene within the last year, my husband Mike and I decided it would be fun to try something different. So we signed up for the Quarry Road Summer Race Series. We didn’t realize how much different it would be trying to race on a trail vs the road. Trail running definitely requires a lot more work than the road. Again this was our first year and because of the Pandemic we all ran our own race and turned in our time and our GPS maps by Sunday evening. The series runs 9 weeks and starts with a 3k which takes you down the backside of the field by the Yurt and around the Riverside loop. It's not a bad run but still a challenge for an older, inexperienced runner such as myself. It was a fun run and made me want to do better. The next week is a 5k which takes you up around North Koons and back down around the first Riverside loop. North Koons is more of an uphill run, more challenging but still fun. Again it still drives you to want to be better. The third week is an 8K that takes you up around North Koons, back to South Koons and finishes you off running the Riverside loop. South Koons is a little tricky and following the arrows is very important or you can end up running it twice. And don’t let the word South fool you. You aren’t running downhill!!! Then you start over with the 3k week 4, 5k week 5 and the 8k week 6. Week 7 you start back with the 8k, down to 5k and then the 3k week 9. I have found this to be a fun series. We are very fortunate to have the trail system we have in this area that is well maintained by volunteers, and provides shaded spots to run when it’s really hot. I would recommend the Quarry Road Summer Race Series to anyone who is looking to challenge themselves to something a little different. And with next year hopefully being back to some type of normal it will also provide an opportunity to meet other runners in the area.
Patty lives in Waterville. When not running she loves to spend time by the pool and also volunteers at the Unified Champions Club at the Alfond Youth Center. “Spending time with my son and the other athletes is fun and simply puts a smile on my face.”
Jordan Castillo moved to central Maine a couple years ago. The first time he attended a Central Maine Striders meeting was last December. By the end of that meeting, he had been voted in as the new club Vice President. In his short tenure as the VP, he's organized several group runs (and brunches), started the club's Instagram account, and generally been one of the more energetic and enthusiastic club members. One weekend at brunch this winter, he shared the story of how he started running. It was such a great story that I asked him if he could write it up for the club webpage and newsletter. So, just in case you weren't at that brunch, here's Jordan's running story:
With confidence and excitement, he responded, “Yeah! Your younger brother is going to join, too! C’mon! It’ll be fun!”
Slowly, but surely, my brother and I began to see the results of our training. Three miles started to feel like a warm-up distance. I began to feel like I could slow my breath enough to even carry a conversation while running. The first time I finished a 13.1-mile run, I felt like a straight-up champion. Many times, my brother and I would join my dad’s running club for long runs on the weekends. The runners carried such an encouraging, infectious energy. They loved seeing young people like my brother and I training for a such a big race, and it was always motivating to hear their stories about running accomplishments and the goals they were setting for themselves.
As the weeks passed, I came to believe that finishing a marathon was actually possible—I just had to stick with the training plan and know that my body was capable of carrying me further than I could ever imagine.
Fast-forward to race day. I had barely slept because I was so nervous and excited. With my green singlet and black running shorts, I joined the other runners in the starting area. It was a clear, sunny day and 6,000 of us were about to embark on this 26.2-mile journey along the beautiful north shore of Lake Superior.
One of my strongest memories of the race is the feeling of camaraderie between my dad, my brother, and me. They always kept me focused on the goal, especially near the end when I felt more fatigued than ever and I began to seriously doubt whether I could finish. I also remember all the fans on the side of the road who encouraged us and handed out free water, Gatorade, salty snacks. Some of the fans even had water hoses to cool us off, and some were literally grilling on the side of the road and giving out hot dogs and hamburgers. There were so many moments during the race when I just felt rushes of gratitude and excitement from seeing all the fans. Crowd support makes such a huge difference!
Around mile 23, I started to hit “the wall.” Each step felt like it required ten times the normal amount of effort, and I felt all my muscles ache with each strike of the ground. I actually remember feeling angry and wondering why I was running the race in the first place. My brother was so good at reminding me that this race was possible and that we were going to make it to the end. I was in so much pain, so my brother’s encouragement made a huge difference.
Without a doubt, the final .2 miles of the race was the most agonizing, challenging part. I remember passing the 26th mile marker and thinking, “Wow! I’m done! We are at the finish line!” But the reality is that .2 miles is still .2 miles. It also didn’t help that there were still a few turns after mile 26, so I couldn’t even see the finish line until a minute or so after passing the final mile marker. When I eventually did see that finish line, though, I ran with everything I had.
“From Lakeville, Minnesota, we have Jordan and Spencer Castillo, about to finish their first Grandma’s Marathon!” The announcer was cheering us on, along with the hundreds of fans lining each side of the road. Those last few seconds of the race seemed to last an eternity, and I couldn’t believe that I was actually about to be done running those 26.2 miles. With a time of just under five hours, my brother and I crossed the finish line. My dad and brother were right there, and we grabbed each other with a sweaty, beautiful embrace. I felt a sudden rush of accomplishment, relief, pride, and overwhelming joy like I’d never felt before. At the age of 16, I had just finished my first marathon.
During the drive home, my Dad turned to my brother and me and blurted, “So, who’s ready for the next marathon?”
“Haha, are you kidding me? Too soon, Dad,” I answered. “Maybe in a month, you can ask me then.” And a few months later, my dad did, in fact, ask me about running Grandma’s Marathon again.
“Sure, why not,” I responded with a soft smile.
So, the next year, I ran my second Grandma’s Marathon. The year after that, I ran another marathon with my dad, and the year after that, too. Because of that initial nudge from my dad, I have been running long-distance consistently for 11 years now. I am proud to say that last month I completed my tenth marathon in Napa, California (with a PR of 3:29!), and in less than three months I will go back to where it all began to run Grandma’s Marathon again, this time with the intention of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
Thanks for sharing your running story with us, Jordan! We love the energy and enthusiasm that you've brought to the club.
If any of you would like to be featured in a "Meet Our Members" article, contact us at email@example.com. We'd be more than happy to publish your running story and/or interview you.
by Julie Millard
Runners are widely known for their questionable idea of fun. For example, running 6 miles up an old logging road in the winter, looping around for an even 13.1, and possibly even doing the whole thing again might seem crazy to some. But with a creative race director, such an event lured 2,000+ runners up to Millinocket, Maine in December!
2019 marked the 5th running of the Millinocket Marathon and Half, the brainchild of Gary Allen, who also directs the Mount Desert Island Marathon and the Down East Sunrise Trail Relay. The race philosophy is simple: “Don’t run Millinocket for what you get; run Millinocket for what you give.” There is no entry fee; instead runners are expected to somehow contribute to the local economy, such as by staying at a local motel, shopping at the artisan fair, and/or eating at the spaghetti supper or pancake breakfast.
My first trip to Maine’s Biggest Small Town was back in 2017, when I was bold enough to register for the full marathon. I attribute this error in judgment to not really grasping the significance of the elevation profile up the Golden Road, which didn’t look like much on paper. Despite the balmy temperature (30 degrees) and clear roads, I quickly learned to respect the course and was relieved to finish both loops before the season’s first snowstorm arrived. Club members Pat and Tracey Cote both ran strong races that day, with Tracey even setting an age-group record that still stands.
This year marked my third trip up north, this time running the half with fellow Strider Susan Brooks. Although we drank only water and hot soup at the aid stations, we briefly ran with a woman whose goal was to complete 19 shots of Fireball (in honor of 2019) along the 26.2 miles. (According to the results, she finished the race but it’s unclear about the shots or her physical status at the end.)
Why drive 2 hours to run a potentially frigid race? One reason is that running Millinocket feels epic but is actually quite convenient to central Maine. Another is that the weather could be mild, frigid, or something in between, and gambling on the unknown contributes to the adventure. What you can count on is the warmth of the townspeople and the celebratory feel to the event. As observed by Vice President of the Striders, Jordan Castillo:
Social media director Sapan Bhatt added the following about the “local gem” called the Millinocket Marathon and Half:
Have you run a race recently? We'd love to publish your race report too! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
With the 41st January Thaw on January 19th postponed due to an impending storm, the rescheduled date of January 26th dawned with clear roads and balmy, almost spring-like temperatures. Buoyed by a strong team of volunteers including Gene Roy, Geoff Hill, John Manzer, Harold Shaw, Rob Krickus, Deb Violette, and Lynda McGuire, the race kicked off without a hitch.
The field of 33 included some “old road race veterans” and quite a few new, welcome faces. Conspicuous among the new faces was a young man, Patrick Caron, from Needham, Massachusetts who just decided to drop in. The group took off with some donning just shorts and t-shirts for this real January Thaw. The “outta stata” shot out in a near sprint leaving me to wonder about that pace for 4 1/2 miles but he proved to be the real deal finishing with a time of 23:41. As far as I can find, this is second only to Todd Coffin’s 1993 course record of 22:01.
CMS runners, Sapan Bhatt and Jordan Castillo, finished second and fourth with times of 27:21 and 30:26 respectively. They were separated by third place finisher, Blaine Moore of Brunswick in 29:24 running for Team Dirigo. The first ladies across the finish line were Anya Davidson of Readfield in 6th place overall in 32:07 and Jess Beers of Waterville in 8th place with a time of 33:40.
This was a successful transition year with a strong foundation in place to carry on this longtime tradition led by “new blood” next year.
Thanks to David Colby-Young for his coverage. As Gene Roy said, “We know we’re putting on a real race when David Colby-Young shows up to take photos.”
The Downeast Sunrise Trail (DEST) relay is one of the great races in Maine. It holds the distinction of being the only overnight relay race in the Pine Tree state and lets competitors enjoy the natural beauty of some of Maine’s quieter camp towns. I was honored to be part of the Central Maine Striders (Streakers?) team with my greatest asset being a reliable (read: available) SUV.
Not only was I new to the race, but it’d also be my first time visiting each town along the trail. Ron spent the drive passing on such geographic gems as Eastport being the easternmost city in the US (because Lubec is technically a town). I listened intently as Ron had won a marathon up there a few years back and his insider knowledge of the terrain was bound to
save us valuable minutes.
After a delicious pizza and pasta dinner, we arrived at the starting point to a mini rave. The Wackos from Waco, a fellow perennial team, were busy weaving glowsticks onto an old mountain bike. This psychedelic figure would always appear at the end of legs; a luminous siren shepherding us to cold water and starchy treats.
The team took off at 10:30pm with me taking the lead leg. The typical start-line adrenaline was magnified by the reality of running into the wilderness in the dead of night with nothing to guide me except the clearance headlamp I got at Walmart 2 years ago (I knew I should’ve sprung for that Black Diamond). After the first couple of miles, I was able to sink into the moment. The quiet and calm of the trail coupled with the darkness made it feel as if I were running through a sensory deprivation tank. I was able to zone out and let my instincts take over as I passed through marshes and woodlands with the moon to guide the way.
With the first handoff to Tiana, the relay was in full swing. Each rendezvous point was designated by GPS coordinates which greatly helped with navigation (save the occasional detour through a blueberry farm). I was eager to pass the baton to our teammates in car 2 and get a few hours of rest before sunrise. I was surprised to see how many local teams rolled up in campers and sprint vans, as if our expedition was taking us around the whole state rather than a 3 hour drive north. However, incredulity was quickly replaced with envy as I gave the captain’s chair in my Toyota Rav4 the airplane seat tilt.
The second half was soon underway, with Brian getting to enjoy the namesake of the trail instead of our captain, Julie (I’m sure she’s already consulting almanacs and time splits to recalibrate for next year =). This sunrise also brought one of the hottest days of the summer; air temps reached the mid 90s and the roads were well into the triple digits. We made our way through Machias as the sun picked up. I cost our team a couple min by being on the porcelain (plastic?) throne as Tracey waited to handoff after running a blistering pace for leg 10, but I think we can all agree the extra facilities on the trail were a huge plus. Great legs by Ron, Tiana, Jess, and Pat helped us extend our lead over the Wackos, our Maine rivals.
We waited in a beautiful park in Eastport overlooking a Canadian island as Pat took us from trail to road and the last exchange. Our closer, Brian, was psyched and ready to go. He slipped into his experimental Nikes that had such rebound, they made Vaporflys look like Bean boots. The heat was beating down on the roads and we stationed our cars along the final stretch to keep our anchorman hydrated and cool. A few minutes later, we crossed the finish as a team to receive some impressive race medals.
The race provided unique challenges and memorable experiences all within the confines of 24 hours. We arrived back in Waterville on Saturday afternoon with a great sense of accomplishment and having seen picturesque locations in some more rural parts of Maine. If you’re looking for a race that will challenge you physically, give you a chance to explore the state, and most importantly spend time with some really cool Striders, look no further than signing up for DEST next year.
Striders L to R
Jess Beers, Ron Peck, Pat Cote, Tracey Cote
Sapan Bhatt, Tiana Thomas, Julie Millard, Brian Morin Brian breaking the speed limit!
By Ryan Goebel
It is hard not to run a race that starts less than a mile from your house. That’s probably the main reason I ran the Doc & Mardie Brown 5K last year and again this year.
In the race last year, I was new to Maine and didn’t really know what to expect from the competition and from the course. I managed to place second overall and win the 40-49 male age group division with a time of 18:38, which was 29 seconds behind the overall winner. Having never actually won a race on a certified course before, I immediately put the thought into my head that I wanted to come back in 2018 and win this race.
The Doc & Mardie 5K course is by no means easy. In fact, it’s the hardest road 5K that I’ve ever run. The first mile includes an elevation gain of 128 feet, most of which is over a quarter mile while you climb up the hill to Colby College from North Street. How you run up this hill can make or break your race, and I was determined to conquer it. So, I ran up this hill frequently during my training, including seven times in the week prior to this year’s Doc & Mardie 5K. I made several attempts at capturing the Strava segment “course record” from fellow Strider Ron Peck, but continually failed. The only thing I could hope for was some race day magic to propel me up the hill at the pace I wanted to run.
Going into the race, I gave myself about a 50 percent chance that I could win it. My running has improved a lot over the last year, including cutting nearly 30 seconds off my 5K PR, but I knew there was no guarantee that I could beat the winning time from last year. I was also afraid that a random Colby College kid would show up and blow me away.
On the morning of the race, I jogged from my house to the YMCA to pick up my number and t-shirt and then jogged back home where I changed shoes and shirt and drank some water. Once again, the convenience of racing this close to home can’t be overstated. As I ran down the street heading back to the YMCA and the start of the race, I started feeling a little hungry, so I made a U-turn to go back home to eat a GU energy gel and drink more water.
As I chatted with some of the other Striders while standing at the starting line, I looked around and either didn’t see or didn’t recognize the guy who won last year’s race. I also didn’t see anyone else I recognized as being faster than me. I knew that winning was a real possibility now.
“On your mark. Go!”
I immediately shot out into the lead having no idea how close anyone was behind me. I looked at my watch about a quarter mile into the race and saw I was running 5:15 pace. I knew I had to slow down a bit so I wasn’t too winded by the time I reached the base of the hill. As I ran up the hill, I started getting paranoid that someone was right on my tail. I thought I was hearing heavy breathing and footsteps right behind me, but was afraid to look back.
I continued to push up the hill trying to pull away from the phantom runner trying to pass me. The hill felt much less bad than normal. I made it to the top of the steep part of the hill, but knew that the road kept climbing until close to the one-mile mark just past the Colby Art Museum. My Garmin GPS watched beeped and showed that I ran my first mile in 6 minutes flat. “Not bad,” I thought to myself. “I can do this.”
Running down Mayflower Hill, I knew my pace would increase, but I didn’t want to push it too much. I knew that the third mile included another climb that may not be as big as the hill in the first mile but still had the potential to zap a lot of energy out of me. I came through the second mile at 5:36 min/mile pace. I was right where I wanted to be.
As I approached the bottom of the hill at the Gilman Street bridge, I again thought I heard heavy breathing right behind me. After crossing the bridge, there was a car that seemed to want to drive through the construction barriers. I was relieved to see that race director Patrick Guerette was talking to the driver, but also a tad worried because the driver seemed to keep inching forward. I wasn’t sure whether I should go around the left or the right side of the car. I went to the right without incident and soon after saw my wife standing on the side of the course cheering for me.
“Are you winning?” she asked.
“Yes. How far back is the next guy?”
“I don’t know. I can’t tell.”
I was relieved to know that the phantom runner chasing me really was a phantom and I was well on my way to winning the race as long as I maintained my pace to the finish.
Of course, knowing that I had a comfortable lead also killed my adrenaline rush. My breathing grew heavier and I felt hot for the first time in the race. Running up the hill on West Street felt much worse than the giant hill in the first mile. At this point, I just wanted the race to be over. I topped the hill and turned onto North Street. “Only a half mile to go,” I thought to myself. I really wanted this half mile to be finished.
As I turned into the YMCA parking lot, I saw the race clock counting up from 17:37. I pushed to the finish line realizing that I was going to win the race and run a sub-18:00 time. I had just won a race for the first time ever!
I turned around to see the next runners approach the finish and was glad to see that Ron Peck came in second overall and Julie Millard won the women’s race.
After I got home and loaded my GPS data to Strava, I found that I had finally beat the segment record going up the big hill to Colby (sorry, Ron). That capped off a great week of running for me: placing fifth in my age group at Beach to Beacon, winning the Doc & Mardie 5K, topping 70 miles for the week, and getting a segment record on Strava. The only thing left to do was to head over to the New Balance Factory Store Tent Sale and spend the gift card I won from the Doc & Mardie race.
Thanks to Patrick Guerette for organizing a great race. If you live in the area and haven’t run the Doc & Mardie Brown 5K, you really should consider it. I plan on running it again next year.
by Julie Millard
In July a Central Maine Striders team tackled the Down East Sunrise Trail Relay for the second year. In the DEST Relay team members take turns over 16 legs running the 102.7 miles from Ellsworth to Eastport. Teams estimate their finish time and are given staggered start times on Friday night (July 20th) in order to finish around the same time on Saturday ( July 21st).
This year's Striders DEST team included Pat Cote, Bruce Maxwell, Ron Peck, Jess Beers, Cecilia Morin, Tracey Cote, Julie Millard, and Brian Morin. Team captain Julie Millard shared the following race report.
Chapter 1. In which the brave travelers begin their arduous adventure
Friday, July 20, 6:00 p.m.
The motley crew assembles on the Colby campus, cramming eight bodies and approximately 37 bags into two SUV’s. Destination: Pat’s Pizza, Ellsworth.
Chapter 2. In which many carbs are consumed
Friday, July 20, 7:30 p.m.
The team elders, Brian and Julie, throw in a beer for good measure. Lead-off runner Pat may have let his hunger override his good sense, but all hope that three hours is enough time for him to rest and digest in his camp chair.
Chapter 3. In which the race begins
Friday, July 20, 11:30 p.m.
An awkward seed time of 11:30 p.m. puts our excellent adventurers in the undesirable position of having only one team with a later start time and key rivals with significant leads, likely meaning that they will experience a lot of alone time on the trail. Pat does an excellent job of digesting, runs a powerful leg, and puts our heroes fifth from last.
Chapter 4. In which the night is dark and full of terrors
Saturday, July 21, midnight to 4:30 a.m.
Skunks, porcupines, ticks, mosquitoes, blown-out calf muscles, dim headlamps, and a lack of cell phone reception and bathrooms are only some of the horrors the brave Striders faced, with the biggest being the tricks of the mind. (Is that a bear? Is that a serial killer? Where’s my damn coffee?) Somehow the team makes it to Columbia Falls, where the sunrise brings them great joy.
Chapter 5. In which there is significant road kill
Saturday, July 21, 6:30 a.m. to noon
Tracey’s calf injury requires a change in plans, with secret weapon Cecilia, youngest team member by more than a decade, swapping into a difficult uphill leg. Despite her strong performance, she is unable to hold off top-seed team Boyz n the Woodz, but she puts the team in striking distance of several teams with earlier start times.
The heroes pick off the competition, one at a time, like lions on the prowl. A bathroom and breakfast sandwiches in Dennysville further lift their spirits, and they cruise into Eastport faster than their seed time, 8th out of 42 teams overall and first-place equal gender team, having averaged 7:24 over 102 miles.
Congratulations to the Striders team for their performance at DEST! In addition to a strong finish, for the second year in the row, they also finished closest to their predicted time—within two seconds!
Check out their video below. Then consider running the next Down East Sunrise Trail Relay July 19-20, 2019.
by Alicia MacLeay
Knowing something is hard and doing something that is hard are not the same thing.
On July 15-16 I ran the Vermont 100, a race I’ve wanted to do for several years. It was hard. It was far. It was painful at times. It was incredible.
Established in 1989, the Vermont 100 is among the four oldest 100-mile races in the country and is part of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. The course covers 68 miles of rolling dirt roads, 30 miles of trails, and two miles of pavement. It’s considered a fairly runnable 100, but with more than 15,000 feet of elevation gain it’s not flat.
There’s a 30-hour cutoff, although the top runners complete the race in half that. My goal was to finish in less than 30 hours and earn my first 100-miler finisher’s buckle.
At 4 a.m. I lined up in a dark Vermont field with more than 350 other headlamp-wearing runners. In addition to managing acute pre-race anxiety, I hadn’t run a single mile in nearly three weeks due to shin pain.
What had seemed like a minor shin splint had progressed, despite rest. I was convinced I was out of the race the week before when, on a tearful hike, sharp pains shot up my left leg with every step. Thankfully, I’d been cleared to run Vermont by my sports doctor, albeit with caveats and the risk of a stress fracture. While I didn’t know if my leg would hold up or literally crack, I was going to take this chance.
The race started and after a few miles of panic-inducing twinges my shin was forgotten. In the way of ultras and life, things change and you move on.
The field spread out as we left the initial trails for dirt roads. I ran. I walked steeper hills and tried to keep things easy. The sun came up.
Vermont is the only 100 with a simultaneous horse ride. Horses with cheery riders passed me on the dirt roads. I passed some on a steeper trail. After 21 miles I came to the first of eight handler aid stations and saw my crew, husband Dave and coach/friend Brendan Gilpatrick.
Aid stations require a mental shift. You’ve been running along alone, passing or being passed by the occasional runner, and suddenly you enter a hubbub of activity—food, drink, ice, crews, runners, medical checks—and you need to focus, attend to your needs, and move along.
I was extremely grateful to have Dave and Brendan as my crew. When you’re tired and sore, it helps to have people who you trust and who understand you. They systematically made sure I stayed on top of my food and hydration plan. They outfitted me with a full pack and new socks, clothes, and gear as needed. They kept me focused on what was coming up. They did all this and said nice things while kicking me out of each aid station.
I spent much of the first 70 miles running by myself, in my own head, occasionally greeting another runner, volunteer, or spectator. I was often alone, but never lonely. I lost track of time except for the mile I was in and to know whether it was day or night.
I climbed hills up dirt roads and trails and over fields. I heard the song fragment “Hamilton faces an endless uphill climb…” in my head on every hill. There are a lot of hills in Vermont.
The descents became increasingly painfully as my quads tightened and my knees began to ache.
I occasionally noted milestone distances, like farthest run ever, but avoided calculating how far I had to go (ultra math is faulty math). The race distilled down to running and moving forward mile to mile, aid station to aid station, crew to crew, and letting those miles add up.
At one point some guy yelled, “you run like a girl” at me. I called back “thanks!”
When people ask what I like about ultras I say it’s the mental challenge on top of the physical, needing to be flexible and figure out unknown and unexpected challenges as they come. And then unknowns happen, like my quads not being able to run downhill, and, of course, the unknown isn’t what you thought it would be and doesn't come how you expect.
I’d signed up for Vermont because it was hard, because I wanted to do something beyond my comfort zone, and knowing there were no guarantees. That was the appeal. And yet there came a moment in this race, running alone on a dirt road, when I realized that I could do everything possible and still fail. I’d thought I already knew that.
One in four of us who started in that dark field would not finish, despite how much we wanted it or how hard we worked. I’d already seen a few of them, a man hunched over on the side of the road, another vomiting in a field atop a scenic hill. They were OK; I checked. But, I was determined not to become one of them.
So I ran when I could for as long as I could. I walked and power hiked hills. I forced my quads to stretch and my knees to bear each impact downhill. I would do what I could at the time and hope it all added up to 100 miles in less than 30 hours.
I reminded myself that “The best way out is always through,” according to the wise Robert Frost, once poet laureate of Vermont. And I kept going.
I thought about Dave and Brendan waiting for me at the next handler station. And I kept going.
I thought a lot about that buckle waiting at the end. And I kept going.
Eventually it was night, and I ran the first hours by myself following glow sticks in the dark. I heard gunshots. I heard an owl. I met a nice man from Baltimore and we ran together for a while before I moved ahead.
At the mile 69-aid station, I looked up and saw millions of stars in the sky and then the little light of the International Space Station tracking across its own black path.
I set off from that stop with Brendan, who would pace me for the final 30-plus miles. I could not have asked for a better pacer and companion. He patiently stuck with me, reminding me to eat or drink, being positive even as I slowed and grimaced in knee and quad pain with every downhill step. He patiently answered the thousand times I asked, “are we okay?” about cutoff time.
We saw an amazing red moonrise. We talked some. We were quiet a lot. Morning mist settled in the woods. The sun came up and the mist burned off. It was another day. And we were still going forward.
At mile 95 I saw Dave for the last time. I ate a bite of a waffle, put on my Striders shirt, and Brendan and I took off…at a shuffle. “Just” five more miles.
I thought of my 9-year-old daughter, waiting for me at the finish with handmade signs that said, “you can do it.” I didn’t want to let her down. I wanted to be able to tell my 13-year-old son back at home that I’d finished. I wanted to offer them some small glimpse of what I was experiencing.
After winding around in the woods for the longest mile ever, I finally came around a bend and saw my daughter sitting on the side of the trail. Above her was the finish banner and then I was on the other side being greeted by race director Amy Rusiecki. After thinking I wouldn’t make it to the start, it was now over. I’d come through. I nearly cried.
I spent some time lying in the field before being able to stand up without passing out. My left ankle was so swollen Dave had to cut off my calf sleeve. But an hour later, with my daughter acting as a crutch, I managed to stand up and get my buckle at the awards ceremony.
My time of 29:11:52 was slower than I expected, but I was beyond happy to have done it and have earned that buckle. I was touched and grateful for the volunteers, other runners, and especially Dave and Brendan who’d helped make it happen. Having people devote their time to help you reach your goal is an amazing gift.
Now, two months out the race is a bit blurry. I only recently looked at my Garmin data to see what actually happened out there. It says I went a mile. And then I went another mile, 100 times, which feels about right.
The Vermont 100 Endurance Race is a major fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, which provides outdoor recreation opportunities for people with disabilities. This year’s race had its first ever Athletes With Disabilities (AWD) division for visually- and mobility-impaired runners, making Vermont the first trail ultra with such a division. It was impressive!
Pictures above by Brendan Gilpatrick or Dave MacLeay , unless otherwise noted.
by Julie Millard
Back in May, Crow Athletics founder Gary Allen (caw!) invited the Central Maine Striders to field a team for the Down East Sunrise (DEST) Relay via our Facebook page. Being a relay aficionado from way back, I quickly followed up in the comments to gauge interest. Within 48 hours, seven other Striders had joined me in registering for our club’s first overnight relay team. Prior experience ranged from relative novice to virtual professional, with everything in between!
Our start time on Friday, July 21, was calculated based on our self-reported half marathon pace times, so that all teams would finish at about noon on Saturday, July 22. My quick estimate was that we would average about 8 minutes per mile, allowing us to complete the 102-mile course in about 13 and a half hours. The Crow folks clearly have similar math skills, and our official start time was 10:30 p.m.
Waves of teams departed from an Ellsworth parking lot adjoining the trail at half-hour intervals, and before we knew it, our lead-off runner Ron Peck was on the line with runners from Sleepless in Eastport and Whackos in WaCo. The darkness was punctuated only by headlamps, Tiki torches, and a string of holiday lights across the start banner. Then the bullhorn sounded, and they were off.
Our team had eight runners, and all ran two legs in different orders:
Paranoid about leaving a runner behind, we had a carefully planned out spreadsheet with estimated run times and van assignments for dropping off and picking up each runner. Van #1 shepherded the first three runners to their starts, while Van #2 hopscotched ahead to the start of leg #4. While runner #3 ran only 7.6 miles, the driving distance was 21.5 miles! On twisty back roads with no street lights! And intermittent cell phone reception!
But Van #2 overcame these obstacles and found the blinking red light beacon that marked the start of leg #4. Its occupants catnapped for about 30 minutes until our alarm went off, and then we waited at the exchange point for our incoming runner. An unforeseen problem was figuring out which runner was ours.
Pro Tip #1: Make your runner easy to identify in the dark by using colored blinking lights or a waist light in addition to a headlamp. Alternatively, bring a support person on a fat bike so that they can ride down the trail, intercept the incoming runner, and then ride back to the exchange point with an update. And don’t forget the bug spray!
The best leg of them all had to be leg #8 (just a coincidence that the person who assigned the order got this one!). It's described as follows in the Race Handbook: “The trail becomes semi-remote again in the four mile stretch from Columbia Falls to Jonesboro Station.”
The “semi” is an overstatement, as my only companions, with the exception of the two runners who blew by me, were the songbirds and frogs as the mist rose over the bog. But I enjoyed running east as the horizon slowly turned orange and brightened to the point where the headlamp wasn’t necessary to see the big rocks underfoot.
Pro Tip #2: Minimalist shoes are not a good idea. The trail is more like a dirt road, with some sizable stones. A former rail trail, it is also extremely flat, leading to calf cramps in some of our runners. Compression socks helped!
Team members encountered a variety of wildlife along the trail, including porcupines, skunks, deer, and a bear (heard about, not seen, fortunately!). The larger problem was probably intestinal issues that plagued several runners, which may have been compounded by the scarcity of toilet facilities. Either we didn’t get the nutrition quite right, or the body does not take kindly to running hard when it thinks it should be sleeping.
When our anchor runner Bruce Maxwell cruised across the finish line in Eastport, we had beaten our projected time by more than four minutes! We ended up sixth out of 26th teams overall (first equal-gender team), with a 7:51 average pace.
Next year we would love to have more than one Strider team representing the oldest active running club in Maine, so put this one on your bucket list!