The Millinocket Marathon. A true Northern Maine Experience

Running a marathon in Northern Maine in December? Yes, that is my type of event. I have heard great things about the Millinocket Marathon, an event that truly brings what is best about Maine and New England all together on 1 day.

The Millinocket Marathon, started by Gary Allen was created out of generating a cause that the town, that the state and runners from outside of Maine could rally behind and do some good on a day in December. Runners are a generous group, often donating money to local charities and also running for causes through fundraising. Millinocket a lumber town in Northern Maine up near Mount Katahdin, the finish of the Appalachian Trail, has gone through tough times like many communities in New England as industry has left the areas. Mainers are a tough bunch though, and that strength and resilience is something you “feel” when you run Millinocket.

The race is “free” to enter, as the purpose of this is to spend your money in the town and surrounding communities of Millinocket as a token of thanks and support to the community in-place of that standard entry fee. It is a brilliant idea and one that I deeply respect from the RD. A local grass-roots event that has spirit and is really special. Where most races continue to become more-commercialized, Millinocket does not. Instead, it offers a top-notch event because of the generosity of the local community. Local artisans make the race medals that you can purchase in-advance from the actual craftsman that makes them. The mile marker signs all hand-made and some done in wood, and pop-up aid stations that are like ultra running aid stations full of incredible food. That is why you spend as much money as you can for the community because their generosity is contagious and it only makes sense to return that generosity.

For me, this race was a draw because the course is challenging with almost 2,400 feet of elevation gain in a marathon, and half the race run uphill on a dirt logging road, it felt like my type of marathon. A true strength course and one that considering I have not run a speed workout since April, this course best-suited my abilities.

As I made the 5 and a half hour drive from Providence to Millinocket, the race weather looked to be cold and rainy but warm in terms of the history of this race. Once I arrived to the packet pick-up, it was amazing seeing the whole school gym absolutely filled with vendors. It was like a Maine-themed Christmas/Holiday Extravaganza! With 2,500 runners in total with both the Marathon and Half-Marathon combined, this was on the level as one of the largest marathons in the state of Maine. I had fun talking with the vendors and even bought a little snack before heading to my hotel. I personally did not get to take-in all of the vast line-up of festivities at this race, but I surely hope to do so the next time. They had concerts, a 2k night run, business specials and so much more.

When race morning rolled around, I felt ready to see what I had in the tank. This year, I have wrestled with some IT band tightness, knee pain on and off associated with when I smashed my knee on a rock during the 2021 Hellgate 100k++. I taped my knee using KT tape hoping this would help alleviate any pressure. With the rain forecasted to fall in the second 13.1, I wanted to make sure I had as much warmer gear as possible. I elected to wear a hydration vest to carry additional fuel and have a place to store hat and gloves. I also wore my Adidas Running Jacket I purchased from the World Snowshoe Champs in Japan in 2020 as it is a little thicker and warmer than a light rain shell and plus it looks cool.

I spent the morning fueling on Ucan Energy, had 1 Spartan Hydrate Tablet, 2 Glazed doughnuts, a protein milkshake, and some scrambled eggs from the hotel. I would take a Ucan Edge gel every 45 minutes of the race along with a bottle of water and Ucan Energy. I also decided to wear the Hoka Tecton Carbon Trail shoes as the conditions would merit having some extra Vibram traction and I am glad I wore them.

Once you park at the High School, where the packet pick-up was, you can either take a bus or walk the .4 miles to the start. I elected to jog to the start. I went to the Elks club which is a warming station for the race and was able to stay warm and relax until the race would go off. 15 minutes before, I headed to the town square where they had a Native American song that was performed by local tribal members and really was special and reminiscent of my time in Native American studies classes while at the University of Oklahoma.

We all soon lined-up at the start and it was funny to see a guy come up to the RD and ask about where he could drop off his duffle-bag just minutes from the start. Sometimes they do not learn.

The race set-out and I went with the first two guys. I soon found I was running with Matt Cheney who worked at the Princeton Running Company when I was a Tech Rep for Nathan, now lives in Portland, Maine. We settled into a nice pace going up a steep first hill before turning onto the dirt road. I really did not focus on my pace but rather effort. I could see we were going fast. 6 minutes flat on the sharp uphills, and 5:45’s on the flat or downhills. In 2018, Derrick Hamel set the Course record in 2:40 and I expected to run around 2:40-2:50 given the course has a lot of uphill. We were already running under course record pace, but it felt relaxed and controlled. After running some short races and 5k’s the past month, it felt more at home running 5:40-6 minute pace.

The course was muddy in spots and icy too. What impressed me was seeing these pop-up aid stations and hand-made mile markers. I expected the race to be primarily self-supported which is why I wore my hydration vest. People telling you about fireball shots and full spreads of fruit and food. So amazing. The Asics Matt Schafer pushed hard as himself and Cheney separated from myself by 10 seconds around mile 9 or so as we hit an icy patch. The course is one big loop and on the backside back into town, the rolling nature was a nice break from the continuous uphills of the first 8 miles. Cheney shot ahead and opened up a nice gap. I eventually surged and caught Matt Schafer and kept pushing after a 5:35 mile and some more 5:45 miles. It felt good until soon, a slight rain began to fall. As I ran into town at 13.1, I was in at 1:17 which was a 2:34 finish time. I was hurting a little bit feeling soaked going up the steep hill to the dirt road again but still felt in control. I really did not worry about time but feel again. I was working hard but still within my ability. I hung onto second place and felt if I could hold this effort, I would have a spectacular day.

Credits to Capstone Photography.

As the rain intensified and the wind picked-up, I struggled. It felt like running in a freezing cold car-wash. The wind chill was in the low 30’s and I was starting to slow-down. It was by mile 16-18 that I truly started to hemorrhage time. My soaked 9inch shorts froze my quads, my hands froze, and soon everything went numb. I grunted as I pushed up every incline knowing physically, I was getting too cold too fast.

I was passed by two runners before the last back stretch of the course around mile 18 or 19, maybe it was mile 20. All I know was that the last stretch was a run for survival. I could feel my body seizing up and I was border-line blacking out as my vision would get foggy in spurts. I was at a tipping point and experiencing hypothermia before, I knew I was very close to being a liability out on the course. At this point, I slowed down big time but all I wanted was to move my body to that finish so that I could get warm. I could care less about my time and place at that point. I was now in 4th. The runners I was running near were so awesome cheering for me as I grunted my way forward. The type of cold I feel when hypothermic is a brain-freeze on your entire body. Everything burns but also is stiff, and is almost impossible to move. I could not even speak, I was so cold. Not the best way to feel finishing-out a marathon right.

Near the finish, I chugged some maple syrup from a local Millinocket water stop outside of their house and shuffled to the finish. Matt Shafer passed me heading into the finish as hit the finish line in 2:45.

That time would have been the second-fastest time in the history of the race.

Credits to Capstone Photography

I was so happy to grab some hot chocolate and try to warm up before I sprinted back to my car to change into dry clothes. That I froze and still ran the way I did was awesome. My knee felt fine and held-up in the race and the community of Millinocket was what helped get me through. As an ultra runner, I felt like the conditions and challenge was a true December test that I needed.

Millinocket was truly an incredible experience. I was lucky to be a player in making the race the fastest in history even if I did become a human icicle. New England is an amazing region and Maine and Millinocket is incredible. This is one reason why I love to run. To experience a different place and challenge myself among others all while doing my part to help positively impact others.

Thank you Millinocket, all the Mainers, Gary the RD and the whole entire community for providing such a special experience. I hope to be back!


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