A few years ago I remember hearing that the Northeast Harbor 5-miler had enjoyed great weather for all of its many years. At the 33rd running last Saturday I was not able to confirm that the sunny streak has remained intact, but I can say that the weather was glorious all across Mount Desert, and that the event measured up to the perfect August day.

The NE 5 is the kind of race you run for the first time and wonder why in the name of Andy Palmer you hadn’t before, even as you vow to return next year. School buses ferry everybody out of town up Route 198 to the start (which is a very relaxed and civilized 9:30 a.m.) in the woods on Sargent Drive. There’s a bit of rolly-hilly business in the shady first half-mile or so, much like the beginning of the Al Sproul Samoset 10-K in Bristol, before you emerge facing the waters of Somes Sound.

If your eyes are open, the prospects are breathtaking, potentially a problem if you’re trying to run, but oh well. Ever find yourself asking yourself, why do I run anyway, why do I live in Maine, why do I bother, what’s the point of being alive, etc.? Here, overlooking the fjord, such questions are answered forcefully and all at once.

Near the two-mile mark there stands a solitary, weathered prizefighter of a pine that may be the most photographed tree in the world, speculated David Fitz of Cumberland, as we rumbled along. This same iconic tree nods to runners at the mile 15 mark of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, which like the 5-miler is directed by Gary Allen.

In fact this portion of the NE race is in reverse of the marathon course, whose halfway point is Northeast. And even past the stunning water views of the 5-miler, as it dips and winds the last mile or two past gardens and fields and 4,000-square-foot cottages and such back to town, is always pretty.

The finish is classic small-town, Main Street, beneath-the-banner stuff, exactly the kind of Maine race Allen cherishes and works to perpetuate.

There were 148 finishers on Saturday, not that numbers mean much, unless they are course records like the above-mentioned Palmer’s 24:11 in 1985, or the race’s cool, black Crow Athletics bib numbers.

A few other good-kind numbers: Five-miler winner was Joshua Shaffer, 23, of Wisconsin in 26:54, ahead of 56-year-old Reno Stirrat of Dorchester, Mass. (28:30).

Stirrat was racing for the first time in Maine although like Allen he belongs to the highly exclusive five-decade sub-3-hour marathon club, having debuted, as he told me after the race, with a 2:40-something at the inaugural Marine Corps in 1976, after doing a 10-mile run to prepare.

Women’s winner was 25-year-old Elizabeth Brunton of Birch Harbor, in 31:07. Women’s field notables included former Olympic marathoner Cathy O’Brien of Durham, N.H., (40:34, 6 seconds behind son Patrick, 11). She and husband Mike, 50 (34:11 at Beach to Beacon) were staying nearby. Maine Running Hall of Famer Robin Emery (63, 49:12), of Lamoine, also graced the field, as did Austin Townsend Jr. of Perry, running a course PR of 29:44 at age 56 to finish fourth overall.

Emery, please note, is the course record-holder, her 28:42 from 1982 still untouched. And here’s a cool fact, courtesy of Ryan King, who timed the race: She’s the only woman to have swept the three storied and ancient Maine 5-milers of Northeast, Machias Blueberry Festival, and Bangor Labor Day, in a season, from 1980-84, and again in 1988.

Two guys have done it: Tim Wakeland in 1995 (Blueberry 26:42, Northeast Harbor 26:25 and Bangor Labor Day 26:30); and twice by Judson Cake, in 2005 and 2008 (Blueberry 25:28, Northeast Harbor 25:43 and Bangor Labor Day 25:29; then Blueberry 25:26, Northeast Harbor 26:02 and Bangor Labor Day 26:50).

Brunton is the only other woman to have won both Machias and NE; Hall of Famer Mike Gaige, Machias record-holder with a 24:45 in 1982, did it, too.

John Rolfe of Portland is a staff writer and a road runner. He can be reached at 791-6429 or at:

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