Wow, I’m still on a high after my races and extended stay in Portland, Maine. This is why it’s been over a week and I’m just now doing my recaps. Since I did two races as part of the 39.3 challenge, I’ll have a second recap for the marathon soon. For now, here’s all about the Shipyard Maine Coast Half Marathon!
Prior to this trip I had never been to Maine. I have an ongoing quest to visit all 50 states and I had yet to complete New England. I was able to knock out my final two New England states with this trip to Maine with not only a drive through part of Maine on the way to and from, but also a hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Two longtime friends of mine are currently calling Portland, Maine home. I’d been wanting to get up to visit them before they moved again so when I started researching I thought it might be fun to have the trip coincide with a race. In my search I found the Shipyard Maine Coast Marathon, Half Marathon, 39.3 Challenge and Busom Buddy Relay. I decided to go all-in and sign up for the 39.3 challenge, running the half on Saturday, May 14 and the full on Sunday, May 15.
This race has a pretty interesting history. It was ran from 1980-1987, but took a hiatus until 2012. It’s grown steadily each year since. Both courses are USATF certified and the full can be used as a Boston qualifier.
Several aspects drew me to this event. First, it’s on the smaller side of races. The half had 1,500 runners, while the full was just under 900 runners. Both races did sell out several weeks ahead of time. I also appreciated the fact that through the years they’ve surveyed their participants and made adjustments based on what runners want/like most. For example, a shirt is not included in registration, but race photos, a mobile tracking app, personalized video from the half, two complimentary beers (after each race), medals for both races, and more are included. 39.3 finishers even get three medals and a jacket once they complete the challenge. I opted later to buy a shirt because I loved the race logo, it was a nice tech-t, a unique color, and only $12. Other merchandise was also available including finisher’s jackets for both the half and full, beer mugs, and more.
The race offered a small expo starting Friday and going all through to Sunday. I grabbed a new pair of socks and arm warmers at a nice discounted price while picking up my bibs and shirt. They also had an awesome woodcarving at the race location where multitudes of runners stopped to grab their picture.
Leading up to the event and during, race officials were very knowledgable and communicative about the events and all details relating to it. Parking for the half marathon was at the start/finish and was very easy to find. The race officials were also very upfront about the weather. You just don’t know what’s going to happen on race day until you’re there, especially during springtime in Maine.
On Saturday morning, the race started at 8 am on the campus of UNE Biddeford. The sun was shining and you could tell it would be a warm day. Since Portland is about 30 minutes north, I arrived at 7 am to allow time to park, stretch, and warm-up. I had no trouble parking and relaxed while setting up their free runner tracking app. More on the RaceJoy app later.
Runners were seeded into waves based on expected finish times. Since I was running another 26.2 miles the next day I didn’t want to push it too hard in the half. I was seeded in Wave 1, but opted for Wave 2 so I’d be less likely to go out too fast. The “gun” was actually a conch shell, so that added something unique to the start of the race.
Wave 2 started 3 minutes after the first wave. The course headed out onto Rt. 9 before we eventually turned to head toward the coast.
The course was mostly flat, with just a few minor hills here to there. The course was not closed to traffic, but for the most part it was relatively quiet on that morning. The scenery was simply stunning. I stopped early to take a photo, but soon realized I’d just have to drive back afterwards to take photos because there was just so much to see. Maine’s coast is truly a sight to behold. My pictures just don’t do it justice.
The volunteers and aid station workers were all great, as well as the local police who helped with traffic. The relay exchange seemed to be pretty smooth when I passed through that area, which was also the start of a looped section and had an aid station. It was a lot going on in a small area, but no one seemed confused.
Mile 11 has a long, gradual hill but nothing overly taxing. There’s another hill near the end of mile 12 when you’re back on campus. The last .1 has you running through a tunnel under Rt. 9 onto a blue painted track to the finish. I was really impressed with the number of spectators throughout the course, but especially at the finish line. Everyone cheered for you even if they didn’t know you. Thanks to names on the bibs, they could even cheer for you by name. It was a nice plus!
I finished in 1:54, which I was certainly pleased with on such a warm day. At the finish the volunteers hand you your medal and offer you a reusable branded water bottle already filled for you. I thought that was a uniquely sustainable idea. From there it’s a short walk to the food tent where there was VitaCoco, pizza, KIND bars, fruit, bagels, pretzels, cookies, and more. I personally loved the fresh cut watermelon!
I hung out to stretch in the sun on the grass watching people finish for a bit. I didn’t want to drive out on the course when it would still be crowded with runners.
Eventually I made my way to my car (a short walk) and headed out on the course to grab some photos.
As mentioned earlier, the race provides free race photos. It’s always an added bonus when you actually like some of them.
After day 1 I was thrilled with how things had gone. They really just did an outstanding job with the organization and flow. I would definitely recommend this event to someone looking for a vacation race. I was a bit more sore than I was expecting, but it was nothing a foam roller and some more stretching didn’t help with. Despite a relatively active afternoon after the race, I was able to rehydrate and refuel well.
One big positive about being in the Maine Coast area in mid-May is that most tourists don’t start arriving until Memorial Day so it’s like the calm before the storm! After the race, I joined my friends for lunch at the Portland Lobster Company in Old Port and grabbed ice cream at Beal’s, a local favorite.
One other thing I wanted to touch on that I mentioned earlier was the RaceJoy app. The app allowed your supporters, whether on site or not, to track your progress on the course thanks to their timing mats. However, if you chose to carry your phone and activate the gps tracking, they would get progress updates almost every mile. I decided to test out that feature on Saturday in the half and it worked well so I used it again during the full. Your family and friends can also send you “cheers.” While I had my volume off, I was able to listen to the cheers after the fact. It was pretty fun. My friends all really enjoyed the updates too!
I’ll be back soon with my recap of the marathon. Stay tuned!