On Saturday, December 8th, Frosty and I headed up to Millinocket for the Millinocket Half Marathon. We headed up early, so that I could have time to check out the artisan fair. The bib pick up and artisan fair were taking place in the Stearns High School gym.
The gym was full of activity. The athletic booster were selling food in the lobby. A bake sale, toy drive, and 50/50 raffle were also taking place in the lobby.
After picking up our bibs, I perused the booths at the artisan fair. A vendor, Bad Kitty Crafters, had posted photos on the Millinocket Marathon Facebook page a couple months ago of some necklaces that she had created. I went around once before finding her. She had made many necklaces commemorating the Millinocket Marathon & Half. She had so many different designs! It took me awhile to select the one that I liked the most. I bought a handpainted Christmas tree ornament of a cute little gingerbread house from Bad Kitty Crafters as well.
At another booth, I bought an octopus necklace crafted from a fork made by Judith Bither of Spoonz in the Sand. She had lots of items crafted from silverware. She had some cool barrettes, but my hair is so fine I think they would slide right out.
I stopped and saw my cousin, Shannon, and Aunt Brenda. They were manning a booth with Brenda’s sister, Linda. They had made lots of crafts in anticipation of the artisan fair. There were two other vendors that I knew, Rachael Rowland, a Millinocket native, who used to work with me. She was selling beach glass jewelry. Also, the mother of a boy K-Pop went to school with from first through 12th grades. She was selling signs, etched glassware, and other items.
Another vendor that caught my eye was the Woodworking Guy. He had some great signs. Among others, he makes signs to commemorate finishing the Appalachian Trail. I hope he’ll be back next year. Frosty should have completed the AT by then.
While in line at the bathroom, I met Paula Lunt from Tenants Harbor. She designed the course for the Blueberry Cove Half Marathon! I’ve run that course twice. It has spectacular views! It was very cool to meet her.
Frosty and I headed out to the car to put on our racing gear and our pre- and post-race warmth layers. After gearing up, we headed over to the bus pick up area. We left the car at Stearns and rode the bus to Veterans Memorial Park where the start/finish line was and the race festivities were happening.
This year we didn’t have to wait in line for a bus. One was waiting with seats available. Last year, we waited in line. We were so far back in line that two buses filled and left before we got a seat on a bus. I’m not sure if our timing was better or if there were more busses running.
When we arrived at the park, the DJ was playing and people were dancing in the street. The road through downtown, Penobscot Avenue, was closed from the light at Central Street to the tip of Veterans Memorial Park where it meets Katahdin Avenue.
The atmosphere downtown was very lively. There was a fire pit warming people. Someone had crafted the fire pit from metal with the Millinocket Marathon & Half logo cut out. I love these special touches! I bought a Millinocket Marathon patch from a nice gentleman from the North Lights Gallery. Sawmill Bar & Grill was selling marathon shirts. There was food vendor at the park. Food was also available close by at eating establishments in the downtown area. One thoughtful person had towed a “warming hut” to the park.
Some high school boys from town dressed as dinosaurs were out pumping up the racers. They were dancing and taking selfies with the runners. Santa was also out and about greeting people.
There was a row of porta-potties at the park, and like a lot of races, a long line of runners were waiting for their turn. The line was moving pretty fast, but it never seemed to get shorter.
As race time approached, Frosty and I stuffed our pre-race warmth layers in bags and stashed them at the bandstand where the DJ was performing. This was the “official” drop bag location.
There was a staggered start for the two different distances. At 10:00, the marathoners took off first. These runners are hard core. To take on marathon distance in Millinocket in December is a commitment. One person I know ran Millinocket as her first full marathon. I can’t even imagine it given the race day temperatures and wind. It’s very impressive to have Millinocket be your first marathon!
Runners were given the option to switch distances at bib pick up, half to full or full to half. I would be shocked beyond belief if any runners upgraded from the half to the marathon distance. I wouldn’t be shocked if there were runners that downgraded because of the cold weather.
Frosty was still adjusting his layers and pack as the starting time for the half was approaching, so I left him to get into place for the start. I situated myself at the back. One runner checked the temperature right before the race started. It was 1 degree, not including the wind chill!
There were so many racers running in the half marathon! Holy cow! It was such a sight to see all those bodies crowded together leading up to the start line. I love how the Millinocket start/finish line banner is stretched across the road supported by two full logging trucks. I love special touches that tie in with the local area.
The race started with a cannon. It was a loud boom and took many of the racers by surprise, including me. I think many people, at least in the back with me, were waiting for some announcements prior to the start. Maybe there were announcements and we were just too far back to hear them. We definitely heard that cannon though. Great idea!
Now from running Millinocket last year, I knew that from the back you could run toward the starting line, but you needn’t bother. As the crowd approached the start line, the space narrows considerably as it funnels between the two logging trucks. Last year I started running, then had to stop completely and wait. This year I just walked the whole time with the group until I passed the start line. I think it took two minutes just to get to the official beginning point.
Frosty wasn’t even ready when the cannon went off. He was still adjusting his layers near the fire pit. He joined the last of the racers crossing the start line.
After leaving the downtown area, the course heads immediately uphill. Soon the course leaves route 11 and heads onto the famed Golden Road. At one time, the Golden Road was an incredible road, like an interstate highway through the woods. But now with the decline and fall of the local paper mill, the road is a pot hole ridden mess.
The Golden Road was ice covered this weekend. Crews did go out and sand it for the safety of the runners. Thank goodness. I still felt my feet slide a few times. But not enough to lose my balance. I didn’t see anyone fall. I think the biggest issue was the uneven footing
Running Millinocket is a fun, social experience. There are some serious runners competing at Millinocket, but there are LOTS of walkers. Many people run Millinocket with friends. You see groups of 2 to 6 people clumped up along the course.
The fun vibe of Millinocket is also on display with the costumes and fun outfits many of the participants wear. There were lots of snowman and elf costumes. Santa hats and reindeer antlers adorned a number of racers, as well as other fun clothes and costumes. The winner of the marathon wore a rubber ducky printed shirt, and at least 3 participants completed the course carrying chainsaws.
I was going back and forth with what to wear. Last year I ran in the Epic Finale and was too warm despite the brutal temperatures. That wouldn’t be good given the distance of this race, but I didn’t want to be cold either. The wind was a factor while on the Golden Road section of the course. It was unrelenting and hitting you head on. My arms, face, and thighs were chilly after facing into the wind for awhile. But, overall, I think my layers were just about perfect. My head and hands were warm the whole time.
The views of Mount Katahdin from the Golden Road were spectacular though, and more than made up for the wind. The sight of the Golden Road stretching ahead of me filled with the colorful runners, the snowy roadside landscape, leading your eye to the looming Mt. Katahdin was spectacular. The mountain was covered with a blanket of snow which accentuated the topographic details.
Frosty and I were together for a little while on the Golden Road, then he went ahead of me. I caught back up to him a little while after the mile 10 aid station. My leg was threatening to cramp up. Frosty walked with me for awhile, then ran ahead.
In running the Millinocket Marathon and Half, the original aim was to be self-supported, so as not to be a burden on the town. When I ran in 2017, runners were told not to rely on there being aid stations. It turned out that there were aid stations about every two miles and they were well stocked.
The aid stations were incredible! I spent longer at the aid stations during this race by far than I ever have before. The first one runners came to set the tone. There was a big bowl of Hershey Miniatures, homemade energy balls, Vaseline and Q-Tips for chapped skin, bananas, orange slices, mylar emergency blankets, Gu for the marathoners, water, maple syrup for energy, granola bars and two different flavors of shots. One aid station had frozen banana chunks covered with chocolates. Another one also had Hershey Miniatures. One had chicken broth. Four of the aid stations had shots. Three of these had Fireball.
Some runners set up Go Fund Me accounts to fund the aid stations and donors could drop off goods for the aid station at the Millinocket Fire Station as well.
It was a good thing that the aid stations were there. When I run a half marathon, I always carry two bottles of Power Ade in my running belt. Well, last year with the warmer temperatures that worked fine for Millinocket, but this year my bottle tops froze. I couldn’t open the bottles!
During mile 11, at the top of the Bowdoin Street hill, was the cookie lady. Last year I got one of the last cookies. This year I was much slower, but there were lots of cookies still left. I had a chocolate chip one, and it wasn’t frozen! Frosty had a peanut butter cookie. He was ahead of me at this point.
I started running again a bit before I reached the downtown. Then I saw Frosty as I got closer to the finish line. I ran up to him. We continued running side by side. As we approached the finish, Frosty grabbed my hand and we crossed the mat together. Shortly after finishing, a lady put a Sea to Summit medal around my neck. Participants who run both MDI and Millinocket can sign up for the Sea to Summit series.
This year the race bibs had the runners names on them. Usually some of the spectators cheer you on by name when you are running in a name bib. This didn’t happen at Millinocket. I think mostly because there were very few spectators on the course.
Last year, spectators lined Penobscot Avenue from Central Street to the finish cheering on racers. This year the downtown area was deserted when I finished. There were a few people at the right next to the finish line. In 2017, I crossed the finish over a half hour faster than this year, so time could be a factor. But I think the real factor was the weather. Last year, the temperature was in the twenties. This year there were single digit air temperatures.
I used my phone camera during the race. I had planned on taking lots of photos during the race. I wanted to capture all the aid stations, many of the mile markers, and the views of Katahdin. But…. the cold zapped my phone battery which had been fully charged before the race. It was touchy for a little while, then completely died.
The mile markers were all unique provided by different groups or individuals. Some were the same as last year; others were new this year. They were great, but last year they were slightly better. One was a giant gear. One had a cut out that you could put your face in for a photo op. One was stacked tires that were in the design of a Minion. Another was an ambulance.
Last year, there was a decorated Christmas tree mile marker, a faux fireplace with stockings, and a cute cow from Stoneyfield Yogurt. Stoneyfield Yogurt was giving out samples last year at the start/finish area, too.
At the finish, there were bottles of water, Kirkland granola bars, and bottles of Haymaker Sports Drink. I grabbed one of each. Then Frosty and I headed over to the bandstand to change into our warmth layers before we had a chance to get chilled. The DJ was still playing and a few people were hanging out by the fire pit. The cold temperatures put a damper on the fun party atmosphere at the finish this year. But the cold and wind added to my satisfaction and sense of accomplishment at finishing.
Frosty and I decided to walk to the high school and pick up the medal I ordered from Moose Drop In (not a typo) along the way. Being a free race, there aren’t any finishers medals unless you buy one. Moose Drop In sells wooden Millinocket medals with a design burned into the wood. Moose Drop In also sells race shirts, decals, and ornaments. They sell non-race items as well.
The race logo for the Millinocket Marathon and Half is shared with local stores and crafts people for free. They want locals to be able to use it to make items, so that they can profit from them. I saw the logo on stickers, shirts, magnets, and patches.
As we walked through the downtown, I noticed that all of the eateries were full. After picking up the car, we headed to the House of Pizza. It was full too. Frosty and I got in just before another rush of people came. We were starving and this filling lunch hit the spot. The hotels and restaurants certainly had a good weekend.
There were other events scheduled throughout the weekend in addition to the artisan fair and race. Friday there was a race supper and a short warm-up race. Saturday morning started with a breakfast and ended with a dance. There was a fun run for kids after the start of the half marathon. On Saturday, four local artists were painting live at the North Lights Gallery. On Sunday, there was an organized short recovery run.
Runners were encouraged to spend money in town at stores, hotels, restaurants, etc. Runners were also encouraged to donate to two different causes, Our Katahdin and the Millinocket Memorial Library. The timing services for the race were paid for by a Go Fund Me account. Groups were collecting donations of toys, money for heating oil assistance, and more.
The Millinocket Marathon and Half is about helping a struggling economy. The atmosphere of giving, not getting, seems to put everyone in a good mood. You feel like you have done something when you finish Millinocket. Millinocket is a very social and fun race with a purpose. The spirit of the Millinocket Marathon and Half connect with the true meaning of the holiday season.
This year there were 1305 finishers. The half had 1121, and the marathon had 184 finishers.
What I Wore:
I started the race with thick merino wool crew socks, liner socks, and my Asics on my feet. For my legs, I had spandex leggings, merino wool leggings, and skort. For my upper body, I had on a long sleeve high neck shirt, a long sleeve merino wool 1/4 zip neck shirt, and nylon wind vest. I had liner mittens and Prima-loft mittens on my hands. I had an ear band and a hat and a merino wool neck gaiter. I had pouches hanging off me in every direction. I looked like a Christmas tree. I thought I might need to stash the outer mittens after running awhile, but I needed them the whole race. I had an extra wool Buff in one of the pouches. I did need to pull that out about half way down the Golden Road.
What Frosty Wore:
Merino wool knee socks, polypro leggings, shorts, a merino wool long sleeve 1/4 zip neck shirt, a short sleeve tech. shirt, Brooks sneakers, an Enlightened Equipment wind shirt, a merino wool Buff, an Enlightened Equipment hooded vest, mittens, a hat, and a Cabella’s day pack. He stashed the hooded vest partway through the race.
About the Photos:
Bangor Savings Bank sponsored race photos from Capstone Photography that participants could download. They caught Frosty and I at the finish! Kevin Morris also provided free downloadable photos. Kevin Morris had some spectacular photos. His vibrant colors and photo composition was impressive.