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Race Report- Great Cranberry Island Ultra: #bestraceforever

From the moment I read about the Great Cranberry Island Ultra, I was fascinated and knew I wanted to experience this race. The race’s reputation was outstanding, having been voted the “best race ever” by Runner’s World, and the field was small, so I entered the lottery. Filling out the playful and humorous lottery application confirmed that I would enjoy a trip to Maine, and I crossed my fingers. I was elated when the confirmation email arriving informing me that I had gotten into this 50K race, which also served as the RRCA 2013 National Ultra Championship, which was an added bonus. The beautiful epicurean and I had scored two free flight vouchers after volunteering to be bumped from a holiday flight, so it made perfect sense to book a flight to Maine, run a great race on a beautiful Island, and then spend some time visiting some amazing friends. This trip had perfect summer vacation written all over it!

Getting set for a great day!

Getting set for a great day!

Alas, we waited a bit too long to book our flights, so we ended up flying into Boston and renting a car to drive up to Maine. Ultimately, this worked out really well in terms of flexibility, but it still added to our driving time. Luckily, the scenery couldn’t be beat, so we didn’t mind. As the race name indicates, this event is indeed hosted on Great Cranberry Island, off the coast of Maine. This tiny island is home to 38 year-round residents, and accessible only by ferry. We drove up the coast and stayed at a lovely little inn in Southwest Harbor the night before the race, and then walked down to the dock to board the ferry around 8AM. The ferry arrived at 9AM, and the 40 minute ride to GCI was absolutely stunning. After spending so much time surrounded by flat land and corn fields, the natural beauty of New England is something I will never stop loving. We brought along our tent and camping gear so that we could camp on the island the night of the race, and when we arrived, local residents were on hand to help haul our bags and camping gear the half mile up to the clearing that would serve as our camp site, as well as the start/finish area. We set up camp, and then went to packet pick-up to snag by race materials and the epicurean’s volunteer materials. Capping the race at 200 or so participants meant packet pick-up was a breeze, and it was clear as soon as we arrived that this would be an intimate race of sorts. For many runners, it was a reunion and opportunity to see old friends, and for me, a chance to make new friends.

Is it time to run yet?

Is it time to run yet?

At this point, you might be wondering how one runs a 50K race on a tiny island. Good question! There is one main 2-mile long road on the island, and the route took us back and forth on that same road. Although this had the potential to be exceedingly monotonous, the proved to be a wonderful route. When you are going back and forth over and over, and there are only 200 runners to begin with, you get to see everyone frequently, and the opportunity for runner and crowd support was fantastic. More on that later though. The race began at 11:30AM to give folks a chance to get over to the island and get settled. This was definitely the latest race I had run in a while, and it presented an interesting challenge as far as nutrition was concerned. I had a small breakfast when I woke up, and ended up eating again before the race, but not tempting fate with anything more dramatic than a cliff bar and a banana.

Before the 3-2-1-GO signal was given, Gary Allen, the race organizer, welcomed everyone to GCI and explained why this would be the last running of the GCI Ultra after only 7 years. The race has been an amazing success since its creation, and the organizers wanted to go out on top and ensure their spot as the #bestraceforever. With that, and words of encouragement (along with Gary surprisingly deciding to line up for the race himself), we were off! The first out-and-back was a quick 5K that took us a bit further down the island, and then we settled into our first of seven 4-mile repeats along the 2-mile stretch of road.

Race organizer Gary Allen welcoming everyone.

Race organizer Gary Allen welcoming everyone.

It’s honestly hard to describe just how beautiful this race truly was at every point. No matter where I was along the course, I could look to my left or right and see an incredible ocean view, coupled with perfectly quaint New England homes, and the mountains of Acadia National Forrest in the distance. Volunteers lined the course, along with most of the town’s residents, who came out to cheer, offer water, fruit, and salted potato wedges. Since the epicurean was volunteering, I was able to pass by her pretty regularly, and it was great to see her smiling face amidst all of the others so frequently. As with any race, paces and goals varied but this race was different somehow. It had much more of a family feel, as though I was just heading out for a lovely Saturday afternoon run with a large group of friends. The Marathon Maniacs were out in full force as well, and it was great to meet some of the folks I had only interacted with on Facebook thus far.

The weather for the race couldn’t have been more perfect, with temperatures starting in the 60’s and overcast skies that gave way to afternoon sun. The course/road wasn’t terribly hilly, but had a nice rolling feel to it that provided for nice downhill relief to compensate for the brief uphill climbs. In all honesty, I didn’t actually notice the elevation changes that much because I was so busy soaking in the views and chatting with people along the route. Ultimately, my actual race was more a story of two races.

Could you ask for a more beautiful setting?

Could you ask for a more beautiful setting?

After my 51-mile RAGBRAI “training run” the previous Tuesday, I wasn’t entirely sure how my legs would be feeling by Saturday. I made sure to rest my legs and foam roll them often prior to GCI, but I was in a bit of uncharted territory. I had only ever run one other 50-mile race, and had taken considerably more time to rest after that race. However, by the time we got to GCI, my legs were feeling strong and relaxed, and I felt confident. I didn’t have any goals for this 50K, mainly because I was simply so excited to be there in the first place. So, before the race began, I decided that I would just go out hard and see how long my legs could handle the increased pace. This ended up being a great decision and an excellent test of my endurance.

I began at an 8:30 pace, which felt comfortable, as it normally does for shorter runs. I knew this pace was far faster than the 8:54 I had averaged in Little Rock for my most recent marathon PR, but I figured I’d see how long I could maintain it. As it turns out, the next 20 miles simply flew by, and my legs just kept moving. The small hills did get a bit bigger, but my quads handled the push beautifully, and I maintained that same 8:30 pace for the first 20 miles. This left me feeling really pleased, and that’s when the PR thoughts started to creep into my head. I try my best to curb those thoughts, especially when I still have a considerable distance to go, but I couldn’t help it.

Still looking strong on my last lap!

Still looking strong on my last lap!

However, the mileage earlier in the week did finally catch up with me and I felt my pace slowing a bit. Still, I was perfectly happy with where I was at, and feeling strong. I kept pushing myself, and to my surprise, I crossed the marathon checkpoint in 3:51, which was a new PR for me! I was elated, took a moment to do a happy dance in my head, and then got back to the business of the next 5+ miles. I gave myself permission to walk the hills during the last 5 miles of the course, and was perfectly happy with that. From a strategy standpoint, I probably should have been doing that even sooner, but the adrenaline just kept pumping. As I headed into the final leg, though, I was still feeling strong and excited about my time and the race as a whole. I crossed the finish line in 4:45, which meant I had shaved 21 minutes off my previous 50K PR in Kansas City! I could not have been happier, and must have had the biggest grin on my face as a volunteer placed the amazing medal/ belt buckle around my neck. #bestraceforever indeed!

I quickly (ok, so I wasn’t really walking “quickly” but you get the idea) showered and changed, and then walked the 1.5 miles or so down to the aid station where the epicurean was volunteering. I hung out, helped hand out water, and cheered on the other runners, and it was just as motivating to see others out there going strong as it was when I crossed the finish myself. On top of everything, the view from the aid station was a beautiful ocean scene, with Cadillac Mountain in the background. Once things wrapped up, we walked back for dinner. A local fisherman had been catching fresh lobster for everyone during the day, so we returned to a traditional lobster boil with fresh corn on the cob! Have I mentioned that this was an amazing race?! This was my first time cracking a whole lobster, and the epicurean, herself a native New Englander, was happy to teach me all the tricks. It was a delicious treat and a perfect way to refuel after a long day. Following dinner, there was a giant bonfire, as well as a DJ spinning into the night. Everyone spent the evening chatting, dancing, and reliving the experience of the race.

How does this work exactly?!

How does this work exactly?!

We woke up the next morning, took down our campsite, and headed to breakfast. Oh yes, there was breakfast for us as well! Local residents prepared a home-cooked meal that served to perfectly bookend our race weekend. The ferry ride back to the mainland was a bit longer than on the way out, but the views of the ocean and surrounding area, combined with the recent experience meant our minds were blissfully floating. This was hands down the best race experience I’ve ever had, and the Great Cranberry Island Ultra 2013 can definitely lay claim to the title of #bestraceforever!


Forward Progress: Amazing Tales to Come!

This continues to be a whirlwind of a week! I am proud to say that yesterday’s RAGBRAI run was an amazing success 🙂 Without giving too much away quite yet, I’ll simply say that I stretched my Garmin further than ever. I’m now packing for our east coast adventure to Maine and the final running of the Great Cranberry Island 50K. The organizers of the #GCI2013 have decided they would go out with a bang, so this will be the last running of the race. It will be known as the #bestraceforever.

I'm out enjoying the world on there any better way?!

I’m out enjoying the world on foot…is there any better way?!

The above is my version of an “Out of Office” message 🙂 When I return next week, you can expect a full recap of both the RAGBRAI run, as well as GCI 2013, along with a few surprises along the way! It’s amazing how you never really feel busy when you are doing what you love, isn’t it? I hope everyone has a great week, filled with runs, rest, and plenty of other things that bring you joy. I’d love to hear about your running and non-running plans for the upcoming week, so leave a comment and tell me about your forward progress!

My 2013 Endurance Goals

It’s easy to avoid committing to something when it only exists as a series of passing conversations with friends. Over the years, I’ve had the best intentions to complete quite a few things, but they’ve never gotten much further than a passing comment or an adrenaline-fueled pronouncement. Now, this is not to say that I haven’t kept myself busy, because I certainly don’t have any empty time just lying around waiting to be picked up by another great adventure. However, I’ve shared before that my race goals for 2013 have been a bit up in the air following the Little Rock Marathon, and I knew I needed to get things set in stone before the heat of the summer set in. Otherwise, the reasons to avoid the heat would begin to overwhelm my desire to run. As such, I am considering this my official “no turning back” endurance announcement.

My first commitment is returning to the scene of the crime for RAGBRAI 2013. You may be wondering how often I’ve gotten out on the bike this year, what with all the running miles I’ve been logging (I’m sitting at around 1100 right now). The answer is…none. Well, I suppose I can count the handful of rides I’ve done on the trainer in the basement, but that’s about it. That’s why I’ve decided to pick one day of RAGBRAI (Tuesday, July 23rd) and run the route instead. This particular leg weighs in at about 50 miles, and is close enough to home that I won’t have any of the travel and lodging concerns that typically come with a longer race. I’ll be running from Perry, IA to Des Moines, IA.


While riding RAGBRAI last year, I saw several folks throughout the week that were running portions of the course, and I was extremely impressed to say the least. Over the past year, my passion for endurance races, ultra-marathons, and other crazy running adventures has exploded, so this seemed like a logical challenge! At some point in the future, it would be amazing to attempt to run the entire RAGBRAI course, but I’m not quite there yet. It’s never actually been successfully done in the 40 year history of RAGBRAI, but there is an amazing guy attempting it this year, and I wish him the best of luck. Hopefully I’ll even see him out there on the road. By running, I’m guaranteed to see pretty much the full scope of riders, and I’m sure to have some great interactions with people throughout the day, which I’m really looking forward to as well. In addition, it’s the closest leg to home, so many of my friends will be riding as well, so I’m sure to run into them.

ragbrai spandex (flat small)3

Interestingly enough, this happens to be the same week that I’ll be traveling with the beautiful epicurean to Maine to run the Great Cranberry Island Ultra. Not only will this be an amazing and challenging week of running, but it will be a good training benchmark as I prepare for an even more significance 2013 endurance goal. After my first 50 mile race last fall, I was completely hooked on ultra distances and wanted to continue pushing my body. Running a 100k race seemed like the next logical step. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a race that worked with my fall schedule and didn’t involve a significant financial commitment. However, we were already planning a trip to Phoenix during the holiday season again this year, so I thought I’d scan the race schedules and see if anything was being held while we were there.


As luck would have it, I found a race. At this point, I should mention that I’m pretty good at rationalizing just about any decision I have my heart set on making. So, although I had initially been looking at 100k races, I knew I had found the perfect fit when I saw the Across the Years  6 day & 24, 48, & 72 hr Footrace. Now, I don’t have any experience with timed races, but this truly seemed like too amazing of an experience to pass up. Although I wish my body was capable of running for 6 straight days, I was immediately drawn to the 24-hour option. After doing the math, running for 24 hours straight seemed to be the training equivalent of a 100-mile race. This is certainly a jump past the 100k mark I had initially set, but I have six months to train, and already have an excellent base to build on. The race itself is going to be as much mental as it is physical, and that challenge excites me even more. I’ll be spending 24 hours running a 1 mile loop over and over again…perhaps Einstein’s definition of insanity is coming to mind at this point?


I’ve finalized my training plan and began week 1 this week, leading to the December 28th race. I am certainly not naive enough to think that this is going to be an easy task, or that I have plenty of time. I know that I will need to focus on my training and nutrition as much, if not more, than I ever have before. Ultimately, that’s what excites me about both of these challenges. My mind thrives on being pushed to extremes and testing what I’m capable of, and the next 6 months are going to do just that. I’ll be experimenting with a lot of different nutrition and gear options, so you can look forward to those reports as well.

It's nice to have company when you are running for 24 hours, right?

It’s nice to have company when you are running for 24 hours, right?

So, I am putting these goals down in writing not because I have any interest in a pat on the back, but to make them real. Each of us has goals we want to achieve and things we’d like to accomplish that we maybe think are just out of reach. However, unless you really stretch yourself, you’ll never know! Feel free to share your goal…put it down in writing…make it real!

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