Read it. Run it. Sugarloaf sweetness

The race: Sugarloaf Marathon

Location: Sugarloaf, Maine

Distance: 26.2

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.


About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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2 Responses to Read it. Run it. Sugarloaf sweetness

  1. Trevor M. says:

    On the theme of “misery loves company”, I too am dealing with a running injury. I have signed up for this marathon, but I’ve been struggling with a calf issue the last few weeks (physio appointment tomorrow!) and it’s looking like it won’t happen this year. Maybe next year … Also, this isn’t the first account I’ve read that paints a hillier picture of the marathon than the organizers would have you believe, but I’m ok with that!

    • subthree says:

      Trevor: My most recent post must be for you. As you wrote, I was just finishing it up. I’m sorry to hear about your calf. It sucks to be injured. Keep your training up though. I’m cross-training through mine. You’ll come out stronger on the other side.

      Sugarloaf is a good marathon. I really enjoyed it and I’d actually like to do it again, but it’s a little tougher than they’d have you believe.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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