Mount Desert Island: The Way Marathon Running Was Meant to Be
Like everything else in life, marathon running goes in cycles. Years ago, 26.2-mile races were held on courses of all kinds: some hilly, some flat, some in between.
Posted Wednesday, 11 June, 2003
By Don Allison
Somewhere along the line, as runners tried to improve their times, race organizers tried to outdo each other to create the fastest, flattest courses possible. The result was a lot of fast marathon courses in some not-so-scenic locations.
Last year however, a new event popped up, one that featured a breathtaking setting. Sure, Maine's Mount Desert Island Marathon featured a hilly route, but race director Gary Allen found that many runners more than welcomed the challenge, as well as the stunningly beautiful backdrop of Acadia National Park.
We advertised our course as hilly and tough
Says race director Allen of the philosophy behind his new marathon, "We advertised our course as hilly and tough, as opposed to the "come hither and qualify" mentality of many race directors. The times posted seem to prove the point, that hilly courses can also be fast courses. I feel that marathon running and easy don't even belong in the same sentence.
"My question to any runners that may read this is: where are your fastest races often run? The flat, fast, downhill sales pitches often used today are again in my opinion not what marathon running was originally intended to be. Most runners' personal bests come on rolling terrain anyway. If runners want to have a flat fast experience I'd say hit your local high school track and run 105 laps."
The small details that make the difference between a great marathon experience and a disappointing one were important to Allen. "I have attended (all kinds of marathons), from mega marathons to 'backyard scratch a line in the dirt' affairs. All I've learned about this sport was used or not used to help make the Mount Desert Island Marathon a quality and well-planned event. I personally felt that details are what ultimately make the difference and we tried to cover them all."
We set out not to dilute our race by adding relays or other shorter distance events
As an example, Allen cites the need not to dilute the races with ancillary events. "We set out not to dilute our race by adding relays or other shorter distance events. In my opinion these events do not belong with marathon running in the first place. I feel they distract and do not pay respect to the athletes that are running the classic and entire 26 miles, 385 yards. Nothing is more discouraging to be in a pack of runners and have half of them turn off on another course or to have a relay participant fresh as a daisy sprint past at the 25 mile mark. The Mount Desert Island Marathon will never add these secondary events to our field as long as I have anything to do with this race. We're dedicated to holding a race where everyone wearing a bib number is covering the same distance."
The beauty of the course is a huge draw, one Allen is more than happy to talk about. "We pass through six separate towns and villages on our route much like the little race held to our south each Patriots Day (the Boston Marathon). We pass the only fjord, Somes Sound, in the Eastern U.S. Our course features ocean vistas, stunning forests, tranquil lakes, quiet harbors, the rugged mountains of Acadia National Park and busy and quaint main streets all at peak fall foliage time. By our inaugural editions comments and the excitement we generated we are right. We also have the distinction of being the marathon that is held geographically the furthest east in the entire U.S."
In essence, the Mount Desert Island Marathon is attempting to offer a true marathon experience, hills and all, something that has been sorely missing on the racing scene in recent years. Allen summarizes that experience, saying, "We are attempting to bring back what we feel is the true essence of marathon running, where the clock isn't all that matters. Athletes will be surely tested at Mount Desert Island. Runners thrive on setting goals and then achieving them. We feel Mount Desert Island is a perfect venue for being tested, enjoying a flawless event all coupled with a tremendous and beautiful location for a family vacation."
Comments from 2002 Mount Desert Island Marathoners:
"It doesn't get much better that this! What a spectacular marathon: ocean, mountains, a rainbow, sun, a light rain to awaken the senses, friendly and exuberant volunteers, hills, a challenging course, and a blanket feeling of camaraderie from fellow runners. You have captured and executed the epitome of what a marathon is. Thank you and to all the volunteers!
Kim Picard, Wakefield, RI
To Gary and all who sailed in the inaugural Mount Desert Island Marathon: Congratulations on creating an event that was brilliant in every respect, from the posters to the brownies at the finish line! As for the mind-boggling course, you have redefined "marathon" (this was number 29 for me) in a number of ways, including but not limited to beauty and general cussedness. Can't wait until next year! Sincerest thanks to all.
John Rolfe, Portland, ME
The Mount Desert Island Marathon was perfect. Having organized and promoted road races in the past, I have an appreciation of the level of effort needed for such a large event. The most important thing to strive for is a technically perfect race. It should start on time, be accurately measured and marked, plenty of water available, course monitors where needed and quick and accurate posting of finishing times. The Mount Desert Island Marathon did all of this exactly right.
Nick Kanaracus, Worcester, MA
Outstanding race organization! Thank you to all you helped and especially those inspiring water stop people. The course was amazing: rainbows, deer, peak foliage, and the ocean! A huge thank you for having support for those of us mid to later in the pack; we were working hard and having a great time. Thank you for all your encouragement. We will be back next year!
Danielle Dillman, Swampscott, MA