Some things about the Maine Marathon and Half Marathon may be changed this year, but steady popularity isn’t one of them. The event, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 6, is already 80 percent full toward the registration cap of 3,500 entrants. Relay team runners are not included in that percentage or cap, and the numbers precede the annual late-August surge in sign-ups.
OK, so what’s new? Because of rising expenses, fees have increased slightly, to $85 for the marathon and $60 for the half (early-bird fees through June 30 were $10 lower). The plan is for more live music on the day, with a band every two miles the target, said race co-director Howard Spear.
“There’s a lot of competition from new races — look at all the new half marathons there are around Maine — so you’ve got to kind of stay on top of things, amenities as well as race quality,” Spear said.
The biggest change this year — and it is for 2013 alone, barring some bizarre and unforeseen circumstance — is in the courses.
Construction on the Martin’s Point Bridge, which the out-and-back marathon has crossed at miles 3 and 23, and the half at 3 and 10, prevents use of that section of Route 1.
The solution should please everyone who has found the new-since-2001 courses insufficiently taxing. The races will now cross into Falmouth and back again into Portland via Ocean Avenue/Route 9. Meaning that the good ol’ “Crusher” — Spear’s term for the notorious Mile 22/Mile 9 hill poetically sited alongside Dragon Cement — is once again a factor (although course changes mean it will be closer to miles 10 and 23 this year).
On the plus side, racers will get to cruise down the short-of-a-quarter mile slope heading out. Overall, as Spear pointed out, the out-and-back course is essentially a wash, with downhills compensating for uphills. A look at the course profiles at mainemarathon.com presents the races’ halves as mirror images with rolling hills.
One benefit in the half marathon may be an earlier turnaround point on Route 88/Foreside Road in Falmouth, eliminating the steep up-and-down at Mill Creek.
The course, which Spear said he has driven over to analyze “probably a dozen times,” has been measured, and information seeking re-certification from USA Track and Field will be submitted next week.
So, for its 22nd running the event will be a bit of an anomaly, and possibly unique. Winners can claim course records that will never be broken.
Records now are held by Dan Vassallo of Peabody, Mass., with his 2:21:12 victory last year; and Louis Luchini of Ellsworth, a blazing 1:06:56 in the half in 2009. Eighteen-year-old Cynthia Jerob of Auburn set the women’s record of 1:16:23 last year. And in the marathon, Emily Levan, then of Wiscasset, still owns the top finish, 2:39:54 in 2004.
In 2012, Caribou’s Spencer McElwain, 23, owned the 1,972-finisher half, in 1:10:22; and Eliza Tibbits, 23, was the women’s champion in the marathon, in 3:03:48.
Tidbits from the event’s history: Joan Benoit Samuelson of Freeport has won the half eight times, including 7 of 8 from 1992-99, her fastest was 1:15:59 in 1994 (the women’s old-course record). And Mike Payson of Falmouth is a four-time winner, 2003-2006, with a 1:09:34 in 2004.
The marathon was pretty much owned by Byrne Decker of Yarmouth, with six victories stretching from 1996 to 2006; his quickest, 2:28:14 in 1999. For the event, no one has broken 2:20, although Kurt Lauenstein came close in 1981, winning the old-old course Casco Bay Marathon in 2:20:16.
The all-volunteer race’s beneficiary is once again Strive, which serves young people age 11-24 who are dealing with emotional and/or intellectual disabilities. In 2012, the race contributed $60,000 to Strive, of which $57,000 came from entry fees and about $3,000 from runners’ donations.
RUN FOR THE FALLEN Maine is on for its sixth year, event organizer/creator John Mixon informs, but this year, instead of the long-distance, 47-mile tribute runs of past summers, it’s a 5K race, plus an untimed run and walk looping out of Ocean Gateway on the eastern end of the Portland waterfront. But still, of course, “to honor and remember Maine’s fallen heroes.”
The date is Sunday, Aug. 25. Sign up at runforthefallen maine.org by midnight Sunday for a shirt or before 11:59 p.m., Wednesday to be guaranteed a lobster roll. Event-day registration will begin at 7:30 a.m for the 9:30 a.m. ceremony and the 10 a.m. run/walk.
FURTHER OF RECENT discussion of vintage 5-mile races in the state, Potato Blossom race director Paul Lamoreau noted that the Fort Fairfield event’s course records are held by Judson Cake of Bar Harbor (25:34 in 2008) and Benoit Samuelson, in the Beach to Beacon birthday year of 1998, in 29:12.
“I have been directing the race since 1990, and not being a very technologically savvy person, have kept it pretty ‘old school,”‘ Lamoreau mentioned. “We still use the popsicle-stick finish method and record the times by hand, but people seem to like it.”
The race is “pretty much all uphill for the first half,” included a middle mile through a potato field road, and was once rated among New England’s top 10 toughest 5-milers and 10Ks by New England Runner magazine. Dating to 1975, it’s the County’s second-oldest race, after the Caribou Labor Day 8K (1974).
COOL TO SEE the healthy youthful numbers posted in the 4-mile Casco Days Road Race, whose 561 finishers were led Oxford’s Jimmy Butcher, 27, in 21:11, and Emma Decamp, of Washington, D.C., in 27:31, on July 27. In contrast to so many race results these days, at Casco there was but one master among the top 25 (Patrick Ridlon, 42, of Casco, in 27:27) and only four masters among the top 50 — which included 26 teenagers. Jennifer Blastow, 41, of Otisfield ran 27:54 for the women’s win.
John Rolfe of Portland is a road runner. He can be reached at 791-6429 or at: