I’m not sure how I found the Millinocket Marathon and Half, but it had free registration, so I jumped at the chance to do it! I also somehow convinced my friend CS to join me. Originally, I registered for the marathon but eventually dropped to the half marathon (dropping down has basically been my running theme of 2019). CS stuck with the marathon and trained like a beast! But, uh, it turns out the course was much hillier than either of us realized and since it was a loop, he had to do twice the hills than me. I’m not 100% sure we’re still friends.

This run began as a way to support the economy in Millinocket and the region. Registration is free, but runners are asked to pay it forward and spend money at local businesses. Definitely not a hardship! Everything we ate was delicious and worth every penny. Everything I bought was top-notch quality.

If you need a run with community support, this is the one. Everywhere in town are signs welcoming runners. Returning participants only had positive things to say about the course, the community, and everything! When we were outside of town, people knew about the run and were excited for us. The course support/aid stations, which is entirely volunteer-created, is apparently legendary enough that shirts have been made referencing the available “water.” We didn’t meet a single person who wasn’t thrilled to be there.

But be warned, this course is rough. As I mentioned earlier, the course is a loop. Miles 1-6 are uphill on the Golden Road, a private road that stretches from Millinocket, Maine, to the US-Canada border. I, as per usual, didn’t realize the course had this much hill until much closer to the day. Cocky me assumed I’d be fine because I live in a hilly state and I’ve been mostly fine on hilly courses! I even assured CS: it can’t be that bad! We’ll be fine!

Reader, it was that bad. I was not fine.

For one, these were not gentle, rolling hills. There was at least 3/4 of a mile that was just upward and onward. It had snowed earlier in the week, and the Golden Road was covered in this sand-like snow.

Still feeling cocky about those hills, I told myself that I would run up the hills and walk down them; in previous runs, I found that this made me faster than doing it the other way around. However, any time I tried to run, I could hardly find any traction and slipped around a few times. Then, as the hills got steeper, I just gave up on the notion of running altogether and huffed and puffed my way up.

Even though I was initially embarrassed about walking so much (I really had trained!), I wasn’t the only walker. I felt less bad as the miles went on, even chatting with some people whose plan was to walk the half. I learned that Millinocket is off the Appalachian Trail and that the mountain on the horizon, Mount Katahdin, is the Northern terminus of the AT!

I’d love to post photos I took when I reached mile 6, with Mount Katahdin a vision ahead of us. But my phone died due to the cold so I couldn’t take photos, and I had to shove it in my bra to get it warm enough to turn back on. Also at this mile marker was the first of many aid stations. This isn’t to say there weren’t any earlier — there was at least one, but it wasn’t like this. This one had water and Gatorade and shots of Fireball and cherries and banana slices and chocolate — this station was fantastic. At packet pickup, so many past participants talked about how great the stations were because of all the alcohol. I thought they were joking!

Miles 7 and on are more downhill (with the occasional uphill), but I couldn’t find it in me to run. I made a friend who I stuck with for basically the rest of the half. I don’t think I could have done as well as I did without her — the miles flew by (relatively). We passed more alcohol-supplied aid stations, though I had had enough and snagged only hot chocolate from one of the last stations.

When we were maybe a quarter of a mile from the finish line, my new friend suggested we run it. And I hesitatingly agreed. And had to stop immediately. Charley horses in both calves! I almost collapsed! She stuck with me though and I walked it off as much as possible so that when we were much much closer, we jogged across the finish line together. Champions!

Anyway, Helen: You were the true MVP, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate you letting me stick to your side!

After, I waited with CS’ significant other for CS to finish the marathon. We stood by this amazing fire pit that the race founder kept adding wood to. I was freezing and burning up, and it felt horrible and amazing. I bitched about the hills while also going on and on about how beautiful the course was.

As the sun was setting (because the sun sets absurdly early in Maine winter), CS crossed the finish line with us cheering him on — I’m sure we’re still friends.

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