Early on last summer, I decided it was time to finally register for my first marathon. After running a few halves it occurred to me that the only thing left to do with 13.1 miles was to (gulp!) try to run them faster. That didn’t sound like much fun so an inaugural 26.1 it was.
I live in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire so choosing a race wasn’t the problem – it was which one to choose. I considered Bay State in Lowell, MA (a notoriously flat and fast marathon) but it quickly occurred to me that the pressure to try to qualify for Boston on such a course would be too great! Instead, registered for the 9th running of the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Bar Harbor, ME. After reading Runner’s World’s accolades for this beautiful, well-run race (it was voted ‘Most Scenic’ and was runner-up for ‘Best’ Marathon in 2010), I figured I couldn’t go wrong. I was right!
My training for the race was pretty straightforward. My husband, and coach, assured me that running three times a week was all that I needed (he had to assure me of this on a regular basis) so I ran short and fast on Tuesdays, longer and a little less fast on Thursdays, and loooooooooong on Sundays. That was it. My longest training runs were a 20 miler and then 23 miles three weeks before the race.
As the race approached, I did start to get a little nervous. I was (still am!) a rookie and here I was registering for a challenging first marathon. I received my final instruction package that started with a paragraph that read like this:
‘This even has been organized and directed by experienced marathon runners. We have run this course and portions thereof many times. Our best advice is to treat this race as a ‘mini-ultra marathon’. Unless you know the route well and have trained extensively on hills we suggest starting more conservatively than usual. Be certain you can cover the distance OVER THIS TERRAIN.’
The race weekend did not start out as I had imagined it might. A concert in Boston the Thursday night left me with my first hangover in three years, and the rain and wind were steady and strong off in Bar Harbor all day Friday and Saturday. I had tapered SO well that I had begun to wonder if I would even remember how to run. Oh. And then we drove the course. At about mile 6 I had gotten used to my husband’s audible sighs and ‘hmms’ from the front seat. I finally said what everyone in the car was thinking. ‘It’s hillier than you thought, isn’t it.’ My husband paused, then replied ‘Yeah. But seriously. Wouldn’t you rather run THIS than all flat for 26.2 miles? This is going to be great!’ Easy for him to say.
Fast forward 16 hours to race day. The morning of October 17th was clear and cold. The forecast had it warming up to the high 40s/mid 50s so I decided on shorts with a s/s tee and a l/s, and some goofy gloves that cost me $2 at the race expo and could therefore be discarded at any point on the course.
The MDI marathon starts on Main Street in Bar Harbor with Cadillac Mountain on the horizon when you set off. It is quite a sight! The voice of MDIM’s race director can be heard over the loud speaker as runners make their final preparations. Gary Allen is passionate about his race and his excitement is infectious. You can tell by his enthusiastic tone that he has a true love for Acadia and Mount Desert Island, its breathtaking scenery and its kind and welcoming people. This race has a real local flavour and really makes you feel ‘a part’ of it – local or not! Perks at this race were race bibs WITH your timing chip adhered to the back (no fiddling with laces) AND a colour coding system on the front of the bibs to indicate who was running a relay, who was an experienced marathon runner and who was running their first marathon. Oh, and the local run group – Crow Athletics – also makes available a mile-by-mile breakdown of the course on the race website complete with suggestions for taking in the sights while you are in and around Bar Harbor.
As it got to be about 3 minutes to the start, ‘Thunderstruck’ came on over the speakers and runners bounced in line waiting for the cannon. There really is nothing like a little ACDC to get you fired up and ready to go.
So the race part is short and sweet. No mile-by-mile break down and blow-by-blow description of the painful last 6 miles.
This race was picture perfect from start to finish for many reasons. Firstly, winding your way from Bar Harbor to Southwest Harbor along the Atlantic and through the little towns and villages is the perfect backdrop for a race – always something beautiful to look at. Racing TO a destination is so much nicer than running a loop or worse, an out and back. From the first mile, you are running TO somewhere. I stuck to my race plan which was more or less the same strategy for my last 23 mile training run. Get to 13.1 in two hours and try to do the second 13.1 faster than that – reach for a GU every 30 minutes and use my hand-held for electrolyte replacement until mile 6 (where I pitched it to my mother) and start using the fuel belt for more of that drink then fill empty bottles with water at water stations. I don’t walk at water stations because I can’t walk and drink from a cup, no matter who slow I go. I slow down enough to pour water from the cup to my little fuel belt bottle then carry on. It seems to work. So I was at mile 13.1 at 2:02 and ended up finishing in 3:57. I felt great at the finish and even had some left in the tank. Some would say that I didn’t push hard enough but this was my first attempt and I wanted the experience to be a positive one. My husband liked to drive by and yell ‘hammer it those last three miles, babe!’ at various points along the way but I never totally opened it up for fear that I would hit that wall that I had heard so much about. With all the hills leading up to the end, that was a very real possibility.
An aside about the hills: turns out my husband, experienced ultra-runner and IronMan, was right. Yes, the course is hilly but for every climb there was a downhill or at the very least, a plateau for recovery. Not so bad, as it turned out.
So – there you have it. I cannot recommend this race enough! I am considering registering for 2011 and it is my hope that Sven will join me next year. I can think of some recruits who might join us for the relay option. Or maybe even the full. Stranger things have happened. Who’s in?!
Watch the video!
[image img=”http://runbydesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/MDI-Marathon.png” url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-KvZL2Iklc” rounded=”all” alt=”MDI Marathon 2010″/]
Cost: $70 USD