An oldie but a goodie. I signed up for this race because running a marathon was on my bucket list. I had read a book about running a marathon in high school and it was a challenge I wanted to conquer. I really knew nothing about running long distances, or road races in general. In fact, I completed my first ever 5K road race when training for Sugarloaf. And, of course, I completed my first ever 20-mile training run while training. I will always remember that run. My husband supported me, stopping every five miles to make sure I had Gatorade and was feeling okay. He went a little too far on the third leg however, stopping somewhere around mile 15.5. I wanted to strangle him. He figured that if I had less than 5 miles to go after my last stop, it would be mentally much better for me. (Turns out he was right!) To this day, whenever we pass by the place where I reached 20 miles and he picked me up (I did a point to point run) he announces the spot to anyone riding with us, regardless of whether they’ve seen it 3,000 times already. I’m pretty lucky to have such a fan!
This marathon was pre-kids and I was 27; a lot has changed in 14 years. I am not sure, however, that a lot has changed about this particular race. I’m also not sure why I picked Sugarloaf, except that it was in Maine and I am a Mainer. It also starts at Cathedral Pines Campground, which seemed very appropriate, as I had grown up camping there every summer with my family. In fact, my parents camped there the night before the marathon (I chose lodging with a bed).
You will probably find more comprehensive reviews written by folks who completed the course more recently (including this great write up from maine. the magazine: https://www.themainemag.com/features/milestone-miler/), but this is what I remember:
I had recently been diagnosed with celiac disease. Back in 2005 and up in Eustis, Maine, there weren’t a lot of good dining options. So my pre-race TV frozen dinner of Amy’s Gluten Free Mac and Cheese sticks out in my mind! So do my pre-race jitters. I had driven the course earlier in the day with a co-worker who was also running and I marveled at how long 26.2 miles is, even in a car. You sort of lose track of how far you’ve gone when you are up there. It is absolutely beautiful but the road just goes on and on. I’ve only driven a marathon course one other time since Sugarloaf and candidly, I wouldn’t recommend driving the course. It can be a little overwhelming, just seeing how the road stretches on.
Sugarloaf is fairly flat course for about 5 miles. There are then a couple of miles of rolling hills, followed by a decent climb of around 400 feet between miles 8 and 10. It’s all downhill from about mile 10, however. Having never done a marathon before, I had no idea what running downhill for 16 miles would do to my legs. I distinctly remember not being able to go down a set of stairs for several days after this race.
Because I live in Maine, I know a fair number of people who have run Sugarloaf. They have all said that it gets lonely. In fact, a very experienced runner told me that he was on track to qualify for Boston when he started to hit a wall and just stopped. There was no one out there but the birds to keep him going.
Because Sugarloaf is a small race in a remote area, there can certainly be times when you might not see very many, if any, other runners or spectators. That said, it is a point to point race and the road is open to traffic. For me, this was ideal. I thought this was going to be my one and only marathon, so everyone came out to support. My team included my husband, my brother, my parents, my husband’s parents, and my husband’s brother and sister. I was never alone. (Even when I wanted to be.)
I’m not sure if finishing this marathon sparked my love of running. It did, however, teach me a few important lessons about persistence and introduced me to the running community, which I found welcoming from the get-go. When I announced my intention to run Sugarloaf, I immediately had the support of all of the runners in my law firm. I distinctly remember one 8-mile training run where a senior partner took me through hill repeats on Portland’s Munjoy Hill. Tough love, I guess. It’s a funny thing – running is an individual sport in a lot of ways, but it connects you to a community of kindred spirits – a community that I have found to be incredibly supportive and uplifting.
If you are looking for a spring marathon and enjoy a quiet run in gorgeous country, consider Sugarloaf. The visit to Carrabassett Valley is worth the trip and given the overall downhill conditions, you could have a very good race. Give me a shout before you go, as I’m looking to return for the 15K that they hold at the same time.
Until next time, go for a run!
“Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness has something to do with struggling and enduring and accomplishing.” – George Sheehan