Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sugarloaf Marathon 2016

Kingfield, Maine
Sunday, May 15, 2016

After a full year hiatus from the marathon in 2015, it was time to re-enter the waters.  I studied a number of marathons in the northeast, and in the end, on New Year's Eve clicked on the "Register" button for Sugarloaf Marathon.  A snippet of Sugarloaf's description:

"The setting for the race is breathtaking as it follows the Maine Scenic Highway, winding through the beautiful mountains of Western Maine. The first 5 miles of the marathon are flat, miles 5-10 are rolling hills with a steady two-mile climb at mile 8. The last 16 miles have an elevation loss of 980 feet. The weather in the mountains this time of year is ideal for running. Normal morning temperatures range in the 40's at 7am and rise to the 70's by 11am."

Hilly country
[Fast forward from December 31 to May 15.]  I'm staying overnight near the finish line at the Grand Herbert Hotel, which may have been grand in the 1800s, but today, well ... not so much.  Anyway, just before my alarm goes off at 4:40am, I am awakened instead by a thunderstorm.  Oh no!  Time to get up.  Up and dressed, I go downstairs to get hot water for my oatmeal and granola breakfast.  A man is speaking French to me as I descend the stairs and then when I get closer, he switches to English and says, "Sorry, I thought you were my wife.".  O-K.  Does your wife look remotely like me?  Scary thought.

Everything set out the night before at "The Grand Herbert", and ready to go.

I think it's the first bib I ever had with my name printed on it!

By 5:15am, the rain has abated, and I walk the two blocks to the finish line, where buses await transporting runners to the start.  During the bus ride, the rain picks up again and we arrive to a pouring rain at the starting line at 6:05am.  Just fantastic.  48 degrees and steady rain with almost an hour to the start.  So much for ideal weather.  The first woman about to disembark asks the driver if we have to get off the bus, and the Maine driver dryly responds, "No, you can stay on and return back to Kingfield [finish line] with me".  Into the rain we go.  My shoes and socks are quickly soaked, but my running clothes stay dry under my hooded waterproof jacket.
Just before the start of the marathon, the rain has let up!
(Well, for a few minutes ...)

As at Nipmuck Trail Marathon,
an inauspicious start on a quiet country road in the woods.

Start to 5 Miles:  The rain miraculously stops 15 minutes before the start, as I take off my jacket, check my bag, and line up.  I am in my typical garb of short shorts and a singlet, but I am in the vast minority, and the few others in singlets seem to have on hats and gloves.  A shotgun goes off, and we cross the makeshift mats at a campground, and we're off!  True to the course description, the first 5 miles are indeed flat (the only part of the course that would be flat) and I try to resist the urge to run faster than 6:30, with my watch tempering me.  Splits:  6:33, 6:30, 6:25, 6:30, 6:30.   Consistent, eh?

Well, that explains why I heard a lot of runners speaking
French.  We're closer to Quebec province than to the border of
any US state.

Miles 6 - 10:  A steady climb slowly but surely begins and we leave the flats and lakeside run.  The The rain has returned in full force, and by Mile 7 I am officially a drowned rat running in streams in the road.  The uphills seem OK at first and are more rolling for a while, but by mile 9 I am sucking wind despite dropping to a 7:14 pace.  What gives?  Oh yeah, I'm running a Cat 3 climb with an elevation gain of 450' over the last few miles.  Splits:  6:34, 6:38, 6:46, 7:14, 6:56.
What goes up ...

... must come down.
Yikes, steep drop ahead.
(Don't let this dry picture
fool you; I took it the
night before)

Splashing through the rain
and wet streets
Miles 11 - 15:  Sharp, sharp downhills.  We lose 263 feet in 0.7 miles, as I'm running a 5:44 pace for this section, temporarily passing quite a few people. Despite the rain, there are quite a few spectators in umbrellas at the Sugarloaf Mountain entrance that we pass at Mile 11 to AC/DC blasting.  Cool!  After two miles of explosive downhills, the course levels out a bit.  Splits:  6:18, 6:09, 6:31, 6:33, 6:28.
Passing by Sugarloaf ski area, there is actually still some snow
on the mountain.

Miles 16 - 20:  The next two miles are sharp downhills again (184' and 112' foot loss).  I usually love to gazelle the downhills, but my quads are screaming by this point.  Very fast two downhill miles (6:11, 6:19), before the course levels out a bit for the next three (6:35, 6:33, 6:46).

Miles 21 - 25:  The rain has completely stopped and the course is pretty much flat.  Sounds pretty good, right?  It should be, but (are you ready for this litany of excuses?) ... I'm still soaking wet, I'm cold, especially my hands, and the hills have left me on empty.  There is actually still a small net elevation loss in every mile, but by now even the small inclines are daunting to me.  I try to just motor through, but it's in this section, especially after Mile 22, that the wheels really come off the cart.  Increasingly slower paces, as I can no longer keep it under 6:45:  6:51, 6:46, 7:08, 7:17, 7:39 (yikes!).
It sounds like it would have done me some good to have
seen a moose about now!

Finish:  The finishing mile was quite a blur to me.  At one point, I remember hearing someone yelling "One mile to go!", which temporarily snapped me out of my stupor.  What?  Huh?  Mom, is that you?  I looked left to see a woman in an SUV driving next to me with the windows down.  She repeated "One mile to go!  Keep it up!" and pointed beyond me, so I looked and saw a big sign next to me, "One mile to go".  Oh.  Good.  Thanks.  She must have thought me to be a quart low, which I think at that point I was.

The next thing I remember hearing is someone yelling "If you're going to fall, lean in to me, and I'll catch you".  I was thinking someone must be having a really tough time, so I looked to my right to see what was going on and I see the man who spoke is a race official shoulder-to-shoulder next to me talking to me.  And we're walking together in a muddy field?  What the?  Next someone on my left says "I highly suggest you get some of the hot soup right away".  I looked left, and there are two of you race officials apparently escorting me to the food tent?

Inside the food tent, one race official stayed with me a while longer and the other went back to his post.  After consuming various food and drink, I was starting to feel a little better and walked first to check electronic results (they weren't ready yet) and then to look at the awards (nice sets of clay mugs and saucers with Sugarloaf emblazoned on them).  Unfortunately, I was told the awards ceremony wouldn't be for a while, and by now I was acutely aware of my shivering and knew I needed to abandon my award quest and get out of there.  As I walked through the muddy parking lot towards the road that would bring me to my hotel for a hot shower and dry clothes, an elderly woman volunteering came up to me and asked me to come into a warming shelter.  I explained I was going to walk to my hotel, which was just 1/2 mile away.  She said she would get her car and drive me, which I ended up politely declining as well.  Either race officials and volunteers in remote Maine are the kindest and most thoughtful people I have ever met, or perhaps I didn't look very good to her in my condition.  Yeah, probably the latter.

That hot shower and dry clothes were to die for!  And now begins the 6-hour drive home.  Ugh.  My final time was 2:58:44, so at least I pulled out a sub-3.  Marathon #18 is in the books.  A very humbling experience for me.


  1. "Sorry, I thought you were my wife."
    I going to decline to comment on that – saving it for the appropriate time

    Congrats a great race

  2. And you drove home after that, with the heat blasting, I'm assuming? What an adventure. Congratulations on a sub 3 and not passing out and terrifying the race officials!

  3. Nice job, Jeff! Sounds fun but awful at the same time -- exactly what any real marathon SHOULD be.