It was Memorial Day weekend in 1995 and the speedy, Bangor-based Maine-iacs team was making its debut at the storied Cabot Trail Relay. Brewer’s Ed Rice, then a sprightly 47, was hauling up a long incline on Leg 5 when team captain Peter Millard drove up alongside.
“We’re in third place, Ed,” Millard informed. “And you’re blowing it for the entire team!”
Who doesn’t like to hear that while racing a 10.9-mile leg of a 172-mile event including many of Maine’s finest runners, among them the Maine Running Hall of Fame’s Millard. Rice knew “my dear friend Peter – he’s the only person who could get away with that” – was only kidding. But Rice does add emphatically, “we did finish third!”
Rice, at 66, is not the competitive runner he was 19 years ago. But last weekend, in his final appearance at Cabot, he did the 8.5-mile third leg and thereby joined the exclusive club of those who have run all 17 legs, all 172 miles, of the hilly and sometimes mountainous relay.
At the postrace banquet, the Maine-iacs honored Rice with an official Cabot Trail road sign (“the kind kids love to steal in college”) as given to the event’s winning team every year by the equivalent of Canada’s Department of Transportation.
Other Mainers, including Katrina Bisheimer and Rick Chalmers, have done the Cape Breton Trail, as did Rice. Bisheimer and Chalmers did it faster, and in fewer years, thanks to doubling up on legs in a single event.
But Rice’s deed is a bit different because he’s older and comparatively broken down. In 2010, he had his long-hurting left hip replaced. On Monday, he will have surgery to repair a herniated disc. Both procedures were timed to allow him to enjoy a slice of Cabot cake.
Rice no longer runs with the elite Maine-iacs, but with the Maine Running Fossils, a less competitive bunch first assembled by another Maine Running Hall of Fame member, the late Fred Merriam of Bucksport. (Rice credits Merriam, another “dear friend,” as one inspiration who propelled him through the final leg.)
Rice has accepted that he is “the old guy who can’t make the mat.” Because Cabot is a stage relay, the computerized mats must be moved ahead by a certain time each leg, with the result that anyone who doesn’t run a leg under 9:30 pace simply doesn’t get there in time. The runner is DNF’d and his or her team penalized accordingly. Rice last “made the mat” several years ago, on Leg 16.
“I fought my way to get there and practically threw myself across,” he remembers. Erik McCarthy, a Maine-iacs elite, was an approving witness. “That was positively operatic,” he complimented Rice.
In non-running life, Rice lives in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, with his wife, Susan, and travels to Bangor to teach writing and communications at UMaine-Augusta’s satellite campus and at Husson University. He is known for “Baseball’s First Indian,” his 2003 biography of Maine Penobscot Louis Sockalexis, and for campaigning against stereotyping of American Indians by sports teams. Rice stays active with tennis and biking and hiking, but life will be pretty much non-running here on out.
Unlike many longtime runners, Rice can bow out gracefully. He earned his 10-time Tour du Lac finisher’s plaque, a Merriam creation, at Bucksport last year, and once ran “65 and change” on that hillacious course. He has PRs of 36:36 for 10K at Kingfield in 1984 and 2:57:55 at the Maine Coast Marathon the same year. But he’s probably even more pleased to have conquered the entire Cabot Trail course.
“THE SUN will rise, the sun will set and I’ll have lunch. “So former Red Sox GM Lou Gorman once said in reference to life’s certainties. He could now add, “and the Maine-iacs will win the Cabot Trail Relay.”
It was a four-peat for the Maine elites, whose time was 16:39:15 – 23 minutes faster than last year, as they won by more than an hour.
Louie Luchini of Ellsworth, Rob Gomez of Portland and Colby grad Dan Vassallo set leg records on legs 1, 2 and 4. But Gomez, after turning to congratulate the second-place guy, was the only one to kneel. His proposal was accepted by Breagh Macauley. And Jesse Hugo, Falmouth High ’07, set a Maine-iacs team record on Leg 11.
The Road Hags were second female team and eighth overall of 70 teams with a time of 20:44:43. Kristin Barry of Scarborough and Sheri Piers of Falmouth ran double legs. The Hashing Hogtown Harriettes were top females in 20:08:43. The Hags own the course record of 20:03:06, set in 2010.
The other Maine teams: Rhino Redux, a mixed group, finished 20th in 22:39:06, and the Fossils, also a mixed team, placed 66th, in 26:21:55.
John Rolfe writes about road racing for the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be contacted at 791-6429 or at