May 19, 2013

Running: Coast Marathon makes pleasant, fast return

By John Rolfe

Maine's rich running tradition was enhanced on Sunday with the rebirth of the Maine Coast Marathon. Originally held from 1980 to 1987, the event was recreated by race director Charles Melton of Biddeford.

A marathoner whose career extends, with gaps, from New York City '81 to Sugarloaf '12 (a 3:28 PR at age 51) Melton in recent years had been constantly hearing runner-talk of Maine Coast. He listened, he looked into the history, he examined the map to figure out how you got 26.2 miles by going from Kennebunk High to the University of New England in Biddeford, he realized he'd run every step of the course at one time or another, and he met original race director Dick Roberge.

"A very nice guy," Melton said Thursday. "The first question he asked was, 'Why would you want to do this?' "

Race directing is no day at the beach. But having taken an early buyout from managing Fed Ex at the jetport, Melton was taking care of two kids and not working full-time, so he reasoned he had time. Mother's Day was not a first-choice day, but the original Sunday before Memorial Day was not an option. As it turned out, runners were favored last weekend by light rain and cool temperatures, and all went smoothly, with 262 finishers.

The winner was Steve McCarthy, 26, of Greene, running 2 hours, 47 minutes and 13 seconds, a 6:23 mile pace. Of his 11 marathons, it was a four-minute PR, McCarthy said, and the only thing he minded about running solo (he led the whole way) was the possibility of getting lost, which he mentioned he has done in races. (Fortunately there was a biker trailing.)

Aiming for a good seeding at Boston 2014, McCarthy said he focused on each mile as a unit ("I didn't want to think too far ahead") and finished feeling "the best I ever have in a marathon."

In second and third were a pair of Colby College runners who took the spring season off to run their first marathon, Melton said. David Murphy, 21, and Williams, 22, ran together to finishes of 2:54:14.3 and 2:54:15.1, respectively. The top female was Jennifer Sawyer, 37, of Buxton, running her first marathon for an excellent 3:07:07.7, 14th place overall.

While the overall times -- only four runners under three hours -- appear soft compared to those of bigger, prize-money-offering event, Melton was pleased that 26 percent of the field ran Boston Marathon-qualifying times on the very fair course, which he was careful to describe as "fast" but not flat. (Although it must be noted that Maine Coast hosted the fastest marathon ever on Maine soil, Roland Davide's 2:15:13 in 1983.)

"The first five miles are basically downhill, with some very slight inclines in the next few miles, and rolling hills along the water once you get ito Kennebunkport, and up to mile 20, before the course becomes flat again," Melton said. "Runners mentioned that they started to "feel" the course around mile 14-15."

The only course change was a left turn instead of a right over the last 0.2 miles inside the UNE campus.

A key component was inviting 1980s "alumni" back, for a bargain $15 entry fee. Twenty-seven registered, and among those glad to retrace the familiar terrain was Gordon Scannell, 60, of Pownal. Running his first marathon since Boston in 2008, and his 25th overall, Scannell was returning to an event he raced in 1981 and 1984-86, in 1985 running on the day of his graduation from Maine Law. His PR is at Sugarloaf, but he regularly ran Maine Coast in the mid-2:40s.

(Continued on page 2)

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