November 4, 2012

Running: Maine races, not just runners, worth the renown


Several years ago, the Maine Running Hall of Fame began inducting races as well as people, and this year two excellent events are being honored: the July 4 L.L. Bean 10K in Freeport, and the fast-approaching Portland Thanksgiving Day 4-miler.

"These Maine races were nominated for longevity, number of participants, race organization and monies generated to support a local program or community organization," the Hall said in its announcement.

Like the L.L. Bean race -- which had 1,441 finishers this year, and whose event records are held by a pair of U.S Olympic marathoners, Steve Spence with 29:57 in 1991 and Joan Benoit Samuelson with a 34:03 in 1988 -- the two-loop tour of intown is notable for a number of reasons, including but not limited to its size -- 1,566 finishers in 2011 -- and its storied history of high-profile winners.

As for the Thanksgiving Day race, online registration is available at portlandthanksgiving

Since it was born in 1982, with just 50 runners covering the pre-1993 course that looped out from the Expo on Park Avenue, the 4-miler has had prominent women repeat-winners. As race director George Towle points out, no one has been more successful than Christine Snow-Reaser of Dayton, whose nine victories include the women's old-course record of 22:28. Next is Kristin Barry of Scarborough, a six-time winner, including last year in 23:04.

Other female winners include Benoit Samuelson (2003), fellow Olympic marathon qualifier Jane Wetzel (1987) and national standouts Lois Brommer (1988) of Pennsylvania and Terry Hersh (1989).

As for the men, whose record is Matt Lane's 19:04 in 2001, no one has dominated. Since Lane won back-to-back in 2000-01 and Byrne Decker did the same in 2002-03, there's been a different winner every year -- Sam Van Volkenburgh, Kirby Davis, Brendon Mahoney, Jeff Caron, Nick Wheeler, Mike Griffin and Ethan Shaw and Jon Wilson. Wilson won last year in 19:56 (he won the L.L. Bean 10K this year, too, in 31:40).

In fact, if anybody's "dominated" the Thanksgiving event, it's the self-effacing Towle, who coaches women's track and cross country at the University of Southern Maine. He's been the race director for all the race's 31 years, a fun fact he called "an oddity" rather than newsworthy. I asked Towle whether anybody else in Maine had directed a race for that long, but he thought probably not. "I mean, why would they?"

Towle remembers that after initially "we were happy with 200-250," the numbers suddenly doubled in one late 1980s, yikes-we're-out-of-bibs year. Longtime volunteer Donna (Hubert) Bernard stepped up to create bibs from fliers and such. Towle also credits John Gale for devising the present course. The race has seen bitter cold, but significant snow only once, in 1989, when 7 or 8 inches fell and people raced in the tracks of the police car.

Towle likes the race's identity as "a homecoming of sorts" for so many high school and collegiate runners. He notes runners' generosity in supporting the food drive -- this year, for the Project Feed emergency pantry. The race also benefits St. Patrick's Secondary School in Iten, Kenya, and Portland Trails.

Among the runners' benefits is a rocket finish down Congress Street to Federal. "I've never raced it, but that must be fun," Towle considered. "I think on the 50th anniversary, I'll break tradition and jump in. I'll run it every 50 years."


CONTINUING OUR alphabetical-order look at this year's Maine Running Hall of Fame inductees, following Ron Hall, Jeanne Hackett, Ron Paquette and Brian Pettingill, is the late Michael James Ryan, born in New York City on New Year's Day in 1889, the eldest of 10 children of Irish immigrants.

(Continued on page 2)

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