The race: Sugarloaf Marathon
Location: Sugarloaf, Maine
Why do it: Going for a personal best
Swag: Long sleeve tech shirt. If you win your category, cool pottery bowls, plates and cups with moose on them
Mention you’re running Sugarloaf and everyone will start guaranteeing you the best time of your life, meaning personal best. The course boasts that it is among the 15th fastest in the United States. Don’t worry about that two mile hill at mile eight. It’s nothing, right?
And after that, the final 16 miles are all downhill – in a good way – according to organizers.
Sounds great, but it’s not quite true.
Don’t get me wrong: Sugarloaf – celebrating its 30th anniversary – is a terrific regional marathon that does nearly everything right. It’s set in the immensely photogenic Carrabassett Valley, a region of modest mountains, winding roads (one of which you’ll run) and a easy-going, back-to-the-land hippie vibe.
The marathon is point-to-point, beginning in a forest of tall pines (aptly named the Cathedral Pines Campground) full of runners who, at the last moment, have dashed into said piney woods to relieve themselves. It doesn’t take long to clear the woods and suddenly find yourself in a postcard of the ideal Maine: wetlands run out toward moody mountains crowned with wreathes of gray cloud. You’re pumping along a flat road along which early on the pace can get quite hot.
That two-mile hill dampens some of the early enthusiasm, however. Cresting the top, that’s where it’s supposedly downhill. In reality, for a long, long – very long time – it’s flat…and not too thrilling. For some reason, the race is run on the right-hand side of the road. Over on the left is a twisty scenic river opening up to views of the mountains.
You don’t get to see that.
Remember? You’re running on the right-hand side. Cue long, endless views of road and trees. They go on. And on. And…well, you get the idea. Want to check how mentally tough you are? Now’s the time. That straight stretch of trees seems to go on forever.
Oh, and that 16 miles of downhill to the end? Sure – if you don’t count the last four or so miles of rolling hills. They’re not severe, in fact, hardly noticeable, but you are running up and down and coming in to the finish, with about a two miles to go, the grade is enough that it makes runners suffer. The finish is, thankfully, flat.
Sugarloaf is an old school, casual marathon. At the start, they call everyone over with a megaphone and you line up and they just call go, and everyone’s off. At the end, they skip the awards hoopla. You check your name on the stats and if you won or place, you collect your swag. In between, it’s very well run, with plenty of water stations and, at the finish, lots of food, water and a massage station.
Sugarloaf itself is, of course, a well-known ski resort centered around the mountain that gives the area its name. The Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel is comfortable, modern, but not stuffy and a short drive to the start line. One thing you should be prepared for: if you check around you’ll see a ton of restaurants in the area. But when you arrive, only a few, and they’re quite good, are open. It’s a ski resort and you’re coming in on shoulder season, just after skiing is done and before the summer tourism starts. Most of the places are closed during that time.
Don’t let that deter you from what is billed as a fast, downhill course, but in reality will still throw plenty of challenges at you as you run for the PB.