Last year, one of my favorite summer memories was running the Great Cranberry Island 50K in Maine with my friends. This year, I was lucky enough to be one of the 150 people selected to run the final edition of this race (“Best Race Forever” was the tagline) in one of my favorite places in the world! Race Director Gary Allen wanted to end the race on a high note, since he was hosting the RRCA National 50K championships.
I drove out to Maine with Shane’s family (I didn’t do the driving, since I’m a city girl…), and we stayed in Bar Harbor the night before the race. It was a long drive, about 7 hours from Central Massachusetts. We stopped along the way at my favorite spot from last year, Fishermen’s Grill in Portland for lunch. There was a long line this time, since people apparently came far and wide for their massive lobster rolls. Was it worth the wait? Emphatically, yes!
I ordered the New England clam chowder (just the right amount of flavor and salt, with massive chunks of clam) and the lobster roll. The lobster roll was $15.95 market price for a “mini,” which was 1.25 pounds of lobster instead of 1.5 pounds of lobster. There was nothing mini about it. The lobster was so fresh and flavorful I could practically taste the ocean. I will never look at an NYC lobster roll the same way again–I have been spoiled for life.
For pre-race dinner the night before, Shane and I went to an Italian spot called Mama DiMatteo’s near Main Street. We had the all-you-can-eat pasta (of which I only had a plateful, haha) with meatballs. It was pretty good; I’ve had better, but it was perfect for carbo loading. I also tried the panna cotta with blueberry sauce. The panna cotta was a bit firm (more like cream cheese and less like flan) but the sauce was good.
The best part of our food tasting in Bar Harbor was, hands down, Mount Desert Island Ice Cream co. It has a really cool logo and even from the flavor list you can see it was a legit ice cream shop. They had really cool flavors like coconut, salted caramel, and flavor combos that include cookie crumbs. Tasty! I would give it 5 out of 5 stars–that’s how good it was. There was even a photo of Obama visiting the shop, but that wasn’t the only reason why it was good.
I was full of ice cream, lobster rolls, and pasta. I was ready for my 50K!
The race started at 11:30am on 7/27, which allowed runners more time to get to the ferry in Northeast Harbor. The only way to get to Great Cranberry Island (GCI) was via ferry from two locations off of Mt. Desert Island. We opted for the 9am ferry, which would give us plenty of time but allowed us to sleep after an exhausting car trip. Shane’s family was taking a later ferry to come and cheer.
We lugged our bags, tent, and camping gear onto the dock, and luckily the ferry came as scheduled. I ran into my friends Kristen L and Kristen P on the boat, and it was great seeing them because we were both GCI 50K veterans from 2012!
The ferry ride over was gorgeous and relaxing. The weather felt perfect–we were going to have an awesome day.
We got to the island around 9:40am, and awesome locals helped us drive our luggage 3/4 mile up the road to the campsite. The GCI 50K is famous for its post-race lobster boil and camping, and if you skip out you miss a big part of the race experience.
Shane and I picked up our packets at the fire station, and I ran into one of the most inspiring Marathon Maniacs, elite runner Leah Thorvilson from Little Rock, AR. I had met her at the 2011 Little Rock Marathon and she has won numerous marathons!
The swag bags were nice–they had a New Balance tech shirt, a commemorative mini lobster claw pin (a mini version of the medal), a metal water bottle, and some Clif bar and gel samples. We pitched our tent on the field behind the community center and got ready for the race.
There were many noteworthy ultrarunners at this race, and I knew it would be awesome running among them. I already mentioned Leah, and the other person was Leigh Schmitt, the course record-holder at VT100. My personal goal was to beat my time from last year (6:10:06) and there’s no better inspiration than to avoid being lapped too many times by the elite runners!
I was also running in my Team Refuel jersey, and I had my X-1 headphones from my new sponsor, X-1 Audio. I knew I had to represent well! I needed my headphones for this race, since we would be doing 16 laps of the 2-mile stretch of road running down the full length of the island. I was using the X-1 Flex All sport waterproof headphones, which were small and lightweight, and I could stash them in my waist pack if I needed a break from using them. I would still cheer on my fellow runners, but the music would be a huge motivation for me.
After the national anthem was played by Mary Ropp (race co-director), we were off! Shane and I ran the first mile together, then I told him to go ahead without me, since I knew I would see him many more times on the out-and-back course. It was great seeing my friends Kathy, Dave, Anna, Hideki, Mary, Julia, Kristen P and Kristen L out on the course. I also met Jennifer from Runner’s World and saw many other Maniacs. When the race progressed, I started talking less and started to wave and smile more. I needed to conserve energy!
The race course is beautiful, with views of the mountains of Acadia National Park and quaint houses, but it is repetitive. The rolling hills also seem to get steeper with every repeat. The best part of the GCI 50K is the people. The fellow runners are friendly, the locals set up their own (unofficial) aid stations with boiled potatoes, cookies, and water, and they are a godsend. The official aid stations were staffed by awesome volunteers in bright pink shirts, and they told you that you looked great even when you felt your worst. At the start/finish line, there was also room for drop bags, so I kept one full of bananas, gels and Clif Bars, just in case. There was cola and Gatorade, and everything was kept ice cold. The support was fantastic!
I felt pretty good at the beginning, but I was a little frazzled when the gun went off because I was getting ready for the race up until the last minute. I relaxed after the first lap though, and I told myself to be patient and save some energy. Despite the nice weather, the sun was still wearing on me, and so I concentrated on my form and eating enough foods. Shane’s family reached the island after my 3rd lap, and by then Shane was already 2 miles ahead of me. It was relief to see them cheering–it helped a lot. I also took advantage of the potatoes and cookies at the aid stations.
The race director also puts everyone’s name on a personal laminated sign along the course, along with funny and inspirational quotes. That helped keep me entertained.
My marathon split was around 4:55, so I knew that I was on track to break my PR. The 2nd to last lap was the hardest, because so many people were finishing up and I still had one lap to go!
I took down my name plaque/sign and ran with it the last mile. My legs were super tired from pounding the pavement and I willed them to go faster. I had a smile on my face, because at that point I knew I was going to run a PR! I finished in 5:53:38, 17 minutes faster than last year. I was stoked! I have definitely earned my lobster (in medal form and boiled form). I congratulated Shane on his PR as well, and I made sure to pick up my finisher’s granite rock along with my medal! It was a great day with awesome racing conditions.
The race provides rustic showers on the campground, and it was a nice amenity. Before that, though, Shane and I decided to walk to the dock and dunk into the Atlantic Ocean. The water was freezing so I only went in partway, but Shane decided to swim a couple hundred feet out. Yeah, no big deal. It was a good cool-down, at least?
As the sun set, the bonfire got started, the lobsters were cooked in waves, and the bugs came out in full force.
The only bad thing about Maine is the mosquitoes. The little buggers are vicious. I got bit through layers of clothing! However, I had such a good day that I blocked out the pain.
Each runner was served a boiled lobster with butter, corn, and everyone gathered around the bonfire to chat. There was an awards ceremony, and one of the runners, Doug, served as the DJ. It was a perfect night and you could see the stars very clearly. Although my body was tired, my mind was in awe of the beauty of this island. The people are what make it special.
The next morning, we enjoyed a breakfast put on by the Ladies’ Aid Society, strolled on the main road to the Whale’s Rib gift shop (shopped for souvenirs), and chatted with a runner from Paris at the Cranberry General Store. I almost didn’t want to board the ferry to leave so soon!
Thanks to Gary Allen and Mary Ropp for putting on such a special race. Thanks to all the volunteers, Shane’s family, and all the spectators for cheering! It truly is the best race forever, and I was glad to be a part of it.