OK, pretend you’re planning to run a 100-mile trail race. Knowing that energy and will might flag a bit toward the finish, you would like someone to help out by pacing you in. For like 30 miles. Hilly miles that vary from steep to steeper. Through the dark of night.
It’s not every runner-friend who would be capable of or willing to undertake that mission, but Bob Dunfey is not your everyday runner or friend. Last weekend at the Vermont 100 Endurance Run at Silver Hill Meadow, Dunfey joined Bob Kennedy of New Hampshire at the 70-mile mark at 8:20 p.m. Saturday, and shortly before 7 a.m. Sunday was there to share in the joy of Kennedy’s cruise to the finish.
Dunfey, 63, is an experienced and accomplished runner of ultras (races longer than the 26.2-mile marathon distance), and he knows about enjoying finishes. Especially finishes of events in which one previously “dropped” (figuratively or literally), as had happened to Kennedy at Vermont the previous year.
Dunfey, who lives in Cape Elizabeth and whose day job is chief operating officer of Wayfinder Schools, has been competing in ultras for about 12 years. It all started when he was living in York and became friends with a pair of Maine long-distance inimitables, Craig Wilson of Kittery Point and Joe Hayes of York. They finally convinced a skeptical Dunfey to race beyond the marathon. “I had a weak moment,” he jokes.
As embarking on 100-mile ultras is not “weak,” neither is dropping out of them. Dunfey calls his finish rate “better than some people’s, worse than others.'” He has started a dozen 100s and finished five. (It would be six, had a timer’s error not made him miss a cutoff point in one event.)
On a hot Saturday in early June at the TARC 100 in Massachusetts, Dunfey was among 75 people who started. Fifty-seven dropped, mainly because of dehydration. Dunfey made it to a weigh-in/aid station around mile 40. He had lost 13 of his 163 pounds along the way, and speaking of dropping, his blood pressure was “79 over 50 or 60.”
Ultras can be tricky. Dunfey remembers one in which he was “about to drop at mile 57,” but recovered over the course of a couple hours – the cooling effects of nightfall can be helpful – and ran his strongest, 10-11-minute pace, for the last 12 miles. “That would have been unimaginable hours before,” he said.
Dunfey’s fastest 100-mile time came at Vermont in his first race there in 2003. “I did it on impulse, entered six weeks out,” he remembers. He did not have the 50-mile race prerequisite, but Wilson and Hayes vouched for him. The result was an impressive 23-hour, 21-minute finish, and the rewards included the coveted silver belt buckle for sub-24.
“I hardly knew what I was doing,” Dunfey reflects. “Now, I know what I’m doing and what risks I’m taking.” These days, Dunfey’s usual adversary seems to be “a stomach thing. It was like a rock, before. Now it’s more sensitive.”
Training back in York, he used to run on the “just gorgeous” conservation land around Mount Agamenticus, building from 60 to 100 miles per week. Now, mostly on Cape Elizabeth Land Trust trails such as Robinson Woods, he’s doing 30-40 mile weeks but building up to 50-60 pre-ultra, including a 30-miler that might take six hours.
“I don’t know if it would work for others, but I’m not putting in crazy mileage, and my body is fine,” he said.
Dunfey has paid his dues over the years. A rower and cyclist, he took up running when he turned 40 and hit 195 pounds and his life insurance adviser – Gene Waters, a marathoner now in his 70s – suggested that he run. The Boston Marathon. As a bandit. So he did.
Today, Dunfey has a streak of 24 straight Bostons (in Maine, that’s second only to Steve Reed’s 25) and has broken 2:50 there three times. His marathon PR is a 2:49 at Columbus, his best 5K an 18:18 at Eliot. He has 130 marathons to his credit, and more than 70 ultras.
“Just the usual 100-mile stiff legs after sitting,” he described his condition after completing the Massanutten Mountain 100 in Virginia last year. He credits biking for the new-found resilience of his quads, and “mainly, listening to the body” for his quarter-century and counting of racing distinction.
“His durability, times, the record he’s put together approaches that of the legends of Maine running,” in the words of Portland’s Orlando Delogu, a fellow multi-marathoner. He added that Dunfey is “right up there” as a worthy Maine Running Hall of Fame candidate.
Possibly the most alliteratively named road race in Maine, the Pound the Pavement for Postpartum Depression 5K, makes its debut at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, out of the South Portland Boys & Girls Club at 169 Broadway.
The course, the same as Race 4 An Angel, is a loop down Broadway into the Southern Maine Community College neighborhood, back out around Meeting House Hill, then back down to Broadway via Mussey.
Coastal Women’s Healthcare is the sponsor, and all proceeds benefit Jenny’s Light (jennyslight.org), whose purpose is to “improve and save lives by increasing awareness of all perinatal mood disorders including postpartum depression.” Race director Becky McHugh points out the appropriateness of an exercise-focused benefit event, because the activity of running is known to help against PPD symptoms, which screenings have shown to afflict one in seven Coastal patients.
There is useful prize money, too: $300, $200 and $100 for the top three men and women, and age-group prizes. T-shirts go to the first 150 to sign up. The entry fee is $20 early, or $25 on race day.
Online registration – go to coastalwomens5K.com – ends at 4 p.m. Aug. 8. For more info, contact McHugh at 885-8421.
John Rolfe writes about road racing for the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be contacted at 791-6429 or at: