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:
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