PORTLAND — The 22nd running of the Maine Marathon started with a muted air horn, a hesitant lurch by runners unsure if that had truly been the signal, and official timer John Burke yelling, “Go! Go!” in confirmation.
A race for elites, this is not.
On a cool and cloudy Sunday morning that saw temperatures barely break 50 degrees, a pair of 30-year-old Mainers won $500 each as the first man (Rob Gomez of Saco) and woman (Leah Frost of Round Pond) to run the 26.2-mile route from Portland’s Back Cove to Cousins Island in Yarmouth and back.
Gomez earned a $1,000 bonus for finishing in less than 2 hours, 25 minutes – he needed only 2:24:22 – but prizes aren’t the point of this race, which had an altered course this year to avoid construction on the Martin’s Point Bridge connecting Portland and Falmouth.
An abundance of volunteers, well-placed water stops and a diverse assortment of bands sprinkled throughout the course make the marathon – and its concurrent half-marathon and marathon relay – an attraction not only for local runners, but for those with bucket lists. Autumn foliage and ocean views add to the ambiance.
“It’s the premier marathon in Maine,” Gomez said.
Nearly 1,000 runners attempted the marathon, and twice that number turned around an orange traffic cone on Route 88 to run the half-marathon. Among those stopping after 13.1 miles were Mike and Kristin Kiss of suburban Chicago, who had previously run the same distance in races in 49 other states.
Yes, they shared a smooch after finishing in 1:45:23. They managed to break two hours in all 50 races, an odyssey that started in the aftermath of their first half-marathon after previously having run a marathon.
“It was night-and-day different from (the full marathon and) not being able to walk down the stairs,” Mike Kiss said. “I said, ‘Wait a minute. This is fun.’ ”
Moninda Marube, 34, of Auburn won the half-marathon in 1:08:13, and Sarah Mulcahy, 28, of Baring Plantation in Washington County was the first woman to finish, in 1:23:42.
Frost, the women’s marathon winner, had been chasing Mulcahy through the early miles, thinking she was running the full marathon.
“She was the one lady I could see in front of me,” Frost said. “So I was trying to keep her in sight and maybe gain on her a little and then she turned around at the half. I was mad at myself, because I didn’t mean to go out that fast. I definitely slowed after that.”
Even so, Frost completed her first official marathon in a time of 3:00:52, more than three minutes ahead of runner-up Erin Nixon, 24, of Boston.
Gomez enjoyed an even bigger cushion. More than 10 minutes passed before Adam Goode, 30, of Bangor crossed the line in 2:34:38. Cape Elizabeth’s Matt Rand, 22, a recent graduate of Tufts University and due to start a new job Tuesday for U.S. News & World Report in Washington D.C., placed third in his first marathon attempt, at 2:35:14.
A year ago, Gomez invited his friend Dan Vassallo to run the marathon, and Vassallo, a Colby College graduate who lives in Massachusetts, wound up setting a course record.
“I didn’t invite him back,” Gomez said with a wide smile. “I wanted to get a little redemption this year.”
Conditions might not have been ideal for spectators – the sun never broke through clouds that spit out a few intermittent sprinkles – but Gomez was certainly grateful.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “I was worried it was going to rain again, for the third year in a row, but the rain held off and it was perfect.”
Away from the leaders, stories of inspiration were everywhere. The nonprofit race distributes proceeds to a host of charities, including at least $50,000 to STRIVE, which helps young adults with disabilities. Smaller but still-significant amounts go to worthy groups in Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth.
The Maine Army National Guard, for the eighth year in a row, organized a tribute march of service members carrying 30-pound rucksacks to honor 56 comrades who have died while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jen Hawley, 27, and Matt McAvoy, 32, of Lewiston spent more than six hours on the course, wearing matching white running shirts that read BRIDE and GROOM. They ran the marathon side-by-side to symbolize the journey of their marriage, which became official after the race with a ceremony at Pedro Field, adjacent to the finish line.
Ten years ago, Grace and Lucy Tumavicus of Portland surprised their mother, Amy Hewitt, with T-shirts reading “Go Mommy Go” and “Go Amy Go” during this same race, which commemorated Hewitt’s completion of the Boston Marathon a decade earlier as a 28-year-old.
Hewitt finished that 2003 Maine Marathon in a little over four hours. The next day, the sixth of October, she died of a heart attack. This weekend, more than seven dozen friends and family members gathered to remember Hewitt.
“We had 85 people come in from California, Michigan, Washington, D.C., all over,” said Ed Tumavicus, with an arm around his daughters, now 12 and 14 years old. “Probably a dozen people ran officially, actually more like 15 with the half and the relay and the marathon.”
Grace and Lucy joined their father for the final 2.2 miles of the race, along with a raft of others wearing white T-shirts bearing an artistic portrait of Hewitt’s face on the front and “Go Amy Go!” on the back in purple lettering.
“Our whole goal was to have a really fun party (Saturday night) that left everybody crying at the end,” Tumavicus said. “And that’s what we got. She was just a great person. We miss her a lot.”
With similar emotions, Chris Grover of Cumberland Center ran the marathon in memory of his brother Kevin, a second-grade teacher from Falmouth who died of a heart attack after a run last Thanksgiving. Kevin Grover was Maine’s 2010 Teacher of the Year.
“It was the most mentally challenging thing that I’ve ever been faced with,” said Grover, who ran with a good friend, Jason Lewis. Both began feeling the effects of nagging injuries with two thirds of the race still to come.
“We stopped four or five times to stretch from between 30 seconds to a minute, and it was just enough to get us through the finish line,” Grover said.
That, plus the support from dozens of friends and family members wearing red – Kevin’s favorite color – and from strangers who had heard his story or simply saw two runners in need of a boost.
“That was a huge part of why we were able to get through it,” Grover said of the 4:07:24 ordeal. “There were many, many times that I didn’t think that I could do it. I just thought of Kevin and hopes that there were more red shirts coming so I could get my mind off it for a bit.
“It was tough, but we made it.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: