Saturday, March 8, 2014
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.
"I kept waiting for it to feel easy, but it never did," Scannell said of his 3:53:27 on Sunday. "I started looking for mile markers at mile 1."
Still, Scannell ran a Boston qualifier without training much, apart from a lot of Nordic skiing last winter. He noted that some other alums who entered "made the mistake of training," which led to injury.
"A lovely course; you don't even need to control traffic. Flat but not boring, with four of five parts where you run along the water. ... (Melton) did a really good job, really making an effort to welcome people back and tie in the race's history to its present. Nicely done."
Like McCarthy, Kelly Bennett Brown, 49, of Lewiston finished feeling better than after any of her previous marathons (her PR is a 3:06 at Sugarloaf) and her 3:30:40 was tops in her age division. At age 20, Brown made her marathon debut here in 1984, running 3:10 while paced by Paul Hammond (a Maine Running Hall of Fame guy since 2002).
This year, she also had the pleasure of seeing running partner Melissa Hebert, 36, of Lewiston, finish in 3:39:16 to nail her Boston-qualifying goal.
"No flashbacks -- I barely even remembered the course," Brown said. "I was just happy and excited that everything felt so good."
Bob Randall of Springvale was among the alumni, and at age 76, the oldest in the group. Due to knee woes he planned to run only 10 miles, cutting down a side street to hop in his car near Walker's Point in Kennebunkport, but ended up continuing on the course and then to his car to cover almost 14 miles.
"A great event," commented Randall. "I had to go, just for the shirt and the memories." Randall ran MC four times in the '80s, in the 3:15-3:20 range; totalled 45 marathons, with a 2:58 PR at Marine Corps; and who "retired" from marathoning at age 59 after running the 1996 Boston 100, his 15th there ...
Duh! Slap me with a bloater. The Downeast Salmon Federation was the organization behind the May 11 Smolt Bolt and Bloater Bash 4-miler, mentioned here last week and incorrectly attributed. Winners were Jon Aretakis of Pembroke in 24:18, and Sarah Mulcahy of Baring Plantation, fourth overall in 24:59.
John Rolfe of Portland is a road runner. He can be reached at 791-6429 or at: