Amid the spring 5K road races proliferating across the Maine landscape comes the Salomon Trail Running Festival at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.
The two-day event on May 24-25 includes off-road races at distances of 5K (both shod and unshod) and 10K on Saturday, and 25K, 50K and 50 miles on Sunday.
Among those running the 50-miler, or 80-plus-K if you like, will be Amanda Gervasi, 25, who lives in Portland and whose nascent racing career has shown great potential, if an unusual trajectory when measured by distance.
At last May’s Pineland mudfest, Gervasi ran the 10K in 47:18, winning her age group. Two months later, she raced the Old Port Half Marathon in summer heat at 1:34:57 (7:15 pace) and again won her age group, finishing fifth among woman and 26th overall among 1,841.
And then in October she returned to the trails for the Big Brad Ultra 50K at Pownal and won the women’s race in 5:46:58, finishing 13th overall.
“That day was fantastic,” Gervasi remembers, but she means the experience more than the victory – she finished not even knowing she had won.
“A lot of what I like about ultras is that despite the distance, they’re less grueling and a lot less stressful (than road races). It’s you and the trail, and much more relaxed.
“My pace (11:20) wasn’t impressive, but you can’t take pace too much into account on a course with lots of rock and crazy ups-and-downs.”
Trails and long distance – Gervasi had pretty much discovered her true running/racing metier. But it seems that she only now has come to fully realize it, after a few “wilderness” years.
She had an athletic background, in track and cross country at Hampden Academy, but a combination of shoes-and-mechanics-related injury and racing-induced stress turned her away from competition after high school.
Since then, Gervasi has attended St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, worked various jobs around Portland, including writing for Dispatch magazine, and has done extensive volunteering abroad. She brought her guitar while working at a school for children with HIV in Kenya, began writing songs there, and has since released two highly regarded albums, one as vocalist with Gypsy Tailwind and one solo, “Merry the Ghost,” in 2010. She’s recorded a third but hasn’t wanted to release it yet.
“Music hasn’t inspired me for a couple of years,” she reflected. Trail running has, “even if it’s less convenient, making the drive out to soft, quiet wooded areas with some rugged hills,” in solitary splendor apart from her mixed-breed rescue dog Bruce (a female) or her boyfriend, Matt Burrell, an ex-Marine and fellow ultrarunner.
Pacing Burrell the last 20 miles of the Idaho Ultra Mountain Trail 100-miler last August and witnessing the racers’ toughness and resolve proved another inspiration. It also led to Gervasi’s adventure in February, when she undertook the Lost 118-Mile Endurance Run, all around Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.
On or off trails, most runners ascend through the racing distances as they lengthen. You may have noticed that in the Big Brad 50K, Gervasi raced longer than the marathon (which is 42K) without troubling to do a marathon along the way. In similar fashion she (and Burrell, though with more ultra experience) attacked the 118-mile race, beginning at 7 a.m. on Feb. 14.
Having signed up only in December, Gervasi hadn’t had time to train properly, but she again exceeded the marathon distance. Three times, actually, one after another, and then she added a half marathon on top of that, plus a little more, for a total of 94 miles at which point “I could not lift my left leg anymore. Everything just seized up.”
Burrell had to drop out, too, just a short distance ahead. It was about midnight by then, the temps had dropped to the low 30s, and it took the pair a couple hours just to get back to their car. Runners can well imagine the misery of the next few days.
Almost three months later, approaching the 50-Miler at Pineland, Gervasi says, “My legs are still feeling a little sensitive. No more roads. Pretty much ever. Pavement aggravates every little ache I might have.”
She also prefers trails because on the flatness of the Florida course, “working the exact same muscles over that time really got to me.”
Strength training, foam rollers, massages and in-race nutrition are all part of Gervasi’s Pineland prep. “The Florida race taught me that a tough-it-out attitude can only take you so far,” she said.
John Rolfe writes about road racing for the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be contacted at 791-6429 or at: