2015-03-20 / Front Page

Marathon weekend nearing a sellout

Maine Coast Marathon has grown from modest revival two years ago
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Charles Melton of Biddeford, who revived the Maine Coast Marathon in 2013 and directed it to continued growth, which includes the addition this year of an already sold-out half marathon and a 39.3 Challenge, stands outside Kennebunk High School, where 1,000 runners will hit the marathon starting line May 10, bound for a picturesque trek along the coast to the finish line, located on the campus of the in University of New England Biddeford. 
(Duke Harrington photo) Charles Melton of Biddeford, who revived the Maine Coast Marathon in 2013 and directed it to continued growth, which includes the addition this year of an already sold-out half marathon and a 39.3 Challenge, stands outside Kennebunk High School, where 1,000 runners will hit the marathon starting line May 10, bound for a picturesque trek along the coast to the finish line, located on the campus of the in University of New England Biddeford. (Duke Harrington photo) Befitting the sport it promotes, the Maine Coast Marathon is an event that’s come a long way in a short time.

Founded in 1980 under the auspices of the Marathon Sports Runners Club, based out of a long-extinct athletic store in Saco, the Maine Coast Marathon had a bright but brief history. In 1983, Rhode Island resident Roland Davide finished the course in 2:15:13 — a result that stands to this day as the fastest marathon ever run in Maine.

That year three runners, including Davide, used their Maine Coast times to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. But by 1987 the race was gone, the apparent victim of politics, in both local running clubs and the U.S. presidential race.

“At the time, then-vice president George H. W. Bush was making a bid for the White House and the Secret Service said, ‘We don’t think we’re going to be able to let you run by here anymore.’ So, from a combination of things it just went away,” current Race Director Charles Melton explained.

But the legend lived on, and it was about five years ago that Melton began to hear stories about the Maine Coast Marathon in local running circles. Intrigued, he turned up an old course map and, from a blog post about one runner’s experience in the event, made contact with the original race director.

“I started looking at the course and realized that in various races and training runs, I’d done almost the whole thing. I thought, this would be a beautiful race,” he said, explaining his desire to bring the race back to life by seeking the blessing of founding organizers to use the “Maine Coast Marathon” moniker.

“I knew using the old name would give the race instant credibility,” he said.

Reviving the venerable event was a huge logistical challenge, but one for which Melton was well qualified. A North Carolina native, Melton came to Maine as operations manager of the FedEx facility at the Portland International Jetport, a job he held for 16 years. Offered an early-retirement buyout in 2003, Melton availed himself of the opportunity to become a stay-at-home dad to his two young children.

But he stayed active in the community as well, partly by volunteering at the Biddeford YMCA, where he began working out, and easing into Ironman Triathlon competitions. In 2007, at about the same time Jen Small was looking in the mirror and resolving to make a change, Melton got roped into helping out with a 5K race at the Y. He ended up running the event the following year and it wasn’t long before Melton was organizing 5K races and triathlons across the region.

Then came the idea to restart the Maine Coast Marathon.

“It took a little while to get approval from the University of New England and I wasn’t able to open registration until November for the race in May 2013,” Melton recalled. “But we still got about 350 runners and it went great.”

The revived event traces the classic route, with the exception of a few small alterations on the UNE campus, prompted by its evolution during the intervening years.

Last year, Melton upped available entries to 750, all of which were snatched up three months before the race. This year, he’s set the cap at 1,000 runners — on par with the race’s heyday — and it is nearly sold out again.

Melton expects the last few race bibs to be claimed by month’s end, and while that’s a later sellout than last year, it’s fairly amazing, he says, both because of the increased field size, and because he “cannibalized” entries by adding a half marathon, making the Maine Coast a twoday event for the first time.

The half marathon, which attracts many runners less confident of completing a full 26 miles, sold out all 1,200 available entries on Monday, March 9. The event already has more the 50 runners signed up on a wait list, hoping an early entrant drops out before the starting gun goes off.

Also new this year is an event sponsor, Shipyard Brewery, brought in by new event owner, South Portland-based GiddyUp Productions. Melton sold the race to GiddyUp, he said, in exchange for a job with the company.

GiddyUp also stages the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon and 5K, held in Portland each July, and the Solomon Trail Running Festival at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, May 23-24.

Although he now runs just three events — he’s dropped all of the other events he started before re-launching the Maine Coast Marathon — the logistics involved keep him busy full-time, year-round, Melton says.

That’s partly because of the growth in the Kennebunk-to-Biddeford race. In addition to the main event, the new half-marathon also includes a Bosom Buddy Relay to benefit Southern Maine Health Care’s Center for Breast Care. The relay allows two runners to split the distance on the 13.1-mile half marathon.

This year’s event also features the 39.3 Challenge, in which runners will attempt to complete the half marathon on Saturday, May 10, and the full marathon on May 11.

Nearly 100 have registered for the 39.3 Challenge.

That’s the event Small, of Biddeford, has entered. As recently as 2007, Small tipped the scales at 265. Since then she’s lost nearly half that weight and turned her workout routine into a career as a personal trainer and professional triathlete. Although she’s done the Maine Coast as trainer to entrants during each of the past two runnings, this is the first time she’ll wear a number of her own.

“I entered for the medal,” she said, with a laugh. “It sounds silly, but when you do a lot of races, sometimes you’ll do one just because the medal is cool, and this medal is super cool. There’s also a finisher’s jacket you get for completing all 39.3 miles, and I really want that, too.”

But another reward for running the Maine Coast Marathon, Small says, is the view.

“This is a great race. It’s got a really nice vibe to it,” she said. “And best of all, the course is gorgeous — absolutely gorgeous. I mean, who wouldn’t want to run along the ocean in Kennebunkport and Biddeford?

“I think Charles [Melton] has done an amazing job with this race,” said Small. “I love what he’s put together.”

Melton, meanwhile, declares himself “thrilled” with the growth of the Maine Coast Marathon since its comeback, but says he’s really not too surprised, apart from the rapid sale of bibs.

“It’s just such a beautiful course, one that people remember very fondly,” he said. “In fact, I got a phone call from one of the 1980s alumni the first year I brought the race back. I thought he was going to come through the phone and hug me. He was practically in tears.”

That runner, from Massachusetts, has vacationed in the Kennebunks every year since his 1980s sojourns to be in the Maine Coast Marathon, and is one of at least half a dozen veterans from the old race expected to compete this year.

“So much of the race is along the coast, with great views,” Melton said. “It’s really just a very memorable day, whether you’re running in the marathon, or watching as a spectator.”

One of those spectators, depending on his health, may be former president Bush. Melton says when he first informed the Secret Service of the race revival, they were very cooperative, even enthusiastic, and gave him the president’s office number to call with viewing details.

It all just goes to show that attitudes change. So, too, can waistlines, said Small.

But the Maine coastline — well, that’s forever.

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