August 18, 2013

Running: Maine Marathon: 22 years old and going strong

By John Rolfe

Some things about the Maine Marathon and Half Marathon may be changed this year, but steady popularity isn't one of them. The event, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 6, is already 80 percent full toward the registration cap of 3,500 entrants. Relay team runners are not included in that percentage or cap, and the numbers precede the annual late-August surge in sign-ups.

OK, so what's new? Because of rising expenses, fees have increased slightly, to $85 for the marathon and $60 for the half (early-bird fees through June 30 were $10 lower). The plan is for more live music on the day, with a band every two miles the target, said race co-director Howard Spear.

"There's a lot of competition from new races -- look at all the new half marathons there are around Maine -- so you've got to kind of stay on top of things, amenities as well as race quality," Spear said.

The biggest change this year -- and it is for 2013 alone, barring some bizarre and unforeseen circumstance -- is in the courses.

Construction on the Martin's Point Bridge, which the out-and-back marathon has crossed at miles 3 and 23, and the half at 3 and 10, prevents use of that section of Route 1.

The solution should please everyone who has found the new-since-2001 courses insufficiently taxing. The races will now cross into Falmouth and back again into Portland via Ocean Avenue/Route 9. Meaning that the good ol' "Crusher" -- Spear's term for the notorious Mile 22/Mile 9 hill poetically sited alongside Dragon Cement -- is once again a factor (although course changes mean it will be closer to miles 10 and 23 this year).

On the plus side, racers will get to cruise down the short-of-a-quarter mile slope heading out. Overall, as Spear pointed out, the out-and-back course is essentially a wash, with downhills compensating for uphills. A look at the course profiles at presents the races' halves as mirror images with rolling hills.

One benefit in the half marathon may be an earlier turnaround point on Route 88/Foreside Road in Falmouth, eliminating the steep up-and-down at Mill Creek.

The course, which Spear said he has driven over to analyze "probably a dozen times," has been measured, and information seeking re-certification from USA Track and Field will be submitted next week.

So, for its 22nd running the event will be a bit of an anomaly, and possibly unique. Winners can claim course records that will never be broken.

Records now are held by Dan Vassallo of Peabody, Mass., with his 2:21:12 victory last year; and Louis Luchini of Ellsworth, a blazing 1:06:56 in the half in 2009. Eighteen-year-old Cynthia Jerob of Auburn set the women's record of 1:16:23 last year. And in the marathon, Emily Levan, then of Wiscasset, still owns the top finish, 2:39:54 in 2004.

In 2012, Caribou's Spencer McElwain, 23, owned the 1,972-finisher half, in 1:10:22; and Eliza Tibbits, 23, was the women's champion in the marathon, in 3:03:48.

Tidbits from the event's history: Joan Benoit Samuelson of Freeport has won the half eight times, including 7 of 8 from 1992-99, her fastest was 1:15:59 in 1994 (the women's old-course record). And Mike Payson of Falmouth is a four-time winner, 2003-2006, with a 1:09:34 in 2004.

The marathon was pretty much owned by Byrne Decker of Yarmouth, with six victories stretching from 1996 to 2006; his quickest, 2:28:14 in 1999. For the event, no one has broken 2:20, although Kurt Lauenstein came close in 1981, winning the old-old course Casco Bay Marathon in 2:20:16.

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