• 2022 Millinocket Marathon & Half

    Not even that much rain could dampen our spirits.

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Become a Patron! Yes, it was raining that hard.

Millinocket Marathon & Half is where my running family kicks off a month of holiday celebrations. It's not just about the early December timing of the race; it's about the spirit of the race. Millinocket is free, but the expectation is that every runner will spend money in the struggling local economy, at least as much as they'd spend on a typical road marathon entry fee. This translates to hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for a remote town that has lost its paper mills due to the collapse of the industry that Millinocket was intentionally built around. 

It also translates to an incredibly festive, welcoming and inclusive race. You run Millinocket in the spirit of generosity and community. You also can't take anything for granted: Mother Nature will not make this race easy and there are no official aid stations along the course. Any support you find out there is organized and donated by community members or by the friends and families of the runners. 

I love the challenge of this and I love how these expectations make this road race feel so much more like a trail race. You get folks who want to see if they're tough, not if they're fast (although there are fast runners too!). You get folks who have never seen themselves as "real runners" but want to do something to help, and who often have a life-changing experience in the process. And you see so many of the same running friends every year that Millinocket feels like a kind of homecoming.

That community glow started early, when I kept bumping into folks at the bib pickup, which doubles as a local craft fair. Don't expect to get in and get out of this part of the race quickly. Make plenty of time so you can enjoy the scene. 

The party spilled out into the streets, where as I waited with Bea and John Q. for the marathon to begin, a running friend I was looking for found us first. Then, after the marathon started and we were ready to line up for the half, the Ginger Amazon suddenly materialized out of the crowd. I did not expect to see her at all, but she had a low-key race plan so that she didn't have to miss it. And I get it--Millinocket is so special that you'll walk it if you're not prepared to run it, like when I was injured in 2019

This joy continued onto the race course, and not even the rain could keep it in check. And holy shit, did it rain?!?! The forecast was for temperatures in the mid-40's with light rain starting 60-90 minutes into the half marathon. Instead, we stayed in the low 40's and the rain began barely five minutes into the run. It was gentle at first, picking up intensity as the miles passed. I felt bad for the person who volunteered to sand Golden and Huber Roads (private logging roads that do not receive municipal maintenance) because the rain washed away their efforts, reexposing the ice and making the course pretty adventurous in the first half.

I started with John Q, but parted ways in the fourth mile. He needed to keep moving and I needed to get a rock out of my shoe. Then, instead of catching up, I enjoyed some cocoa by a firepit. This is the quality of aid station that folks spontaneously assemble! Normally I'd have had a gorgeous view of Mt. Katahdin from this aid station, but the clouds and rain hemmed in the views. 

I was grateful that I'd chosen waterproof trail runners for my footwear, especially on Huber Road, which folks were calling Ice Hill. I screamed up a slushy ditch, avoiding most of the hazards except rocks: there are always rocks on Huber Road. I reeled John back in during the later miles. He'd found the Ginger Amazon out there and the three of us got to share a lovely stretch of road. 

As the rain got worse, I converted my gloves to mittens and contemplated putting my neck gaiter and windbreaker back on. My dexterity was hampered by the cold, and I'd need at least a mile for my hands to warm up enough to dress while running. But then, I'd only be a mile or so from the finish. If I'd been running the full, I'd have taken time to stop my race and layer back up, but I was close enough to finishing the half and comfortable enough to push through.

It was a rare and lovely chance to finish next to John. We usually stay separated out there, but managed to come in together after enjoying several miles together and maple syrup shots near the top of the last hill. The photographers, also all volunteers, do a spectacular job of capturing each individual runner. A few of those individualized shots do show us together-ish, and the one I like best includes the directional signs that my running family made for the 2019 edition of the race, and that John and Bea bring back every year. 

It was too wet to take many photos along the course or at the finish, but at Millinocket, you can rely on the kindness of strangers. Capstone Photography, Kevin Morris Photographer and a group of generous amateurs shared their work with us all. It's thanks to them that I have a few photos of the event at all. 

We've already secured lodging for next year, thanks to Bea Q's talent for logistics. I'm glad too--this is the kind of race that you always look forward to for next year!



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