CAMDEN — Plans are underway for a September athletic event that is anticipated to draw an elite running crowd to the rugged trails of Camden Hills State Park, while also serving as the first-ever official running races to use the park’s land.
Saturday, Sept. 12, a maximum of 200 runners will tread the trails in two distinct races: the Megunticook 50K (31 miles) and the Wicked Tough 10, a 10K race (six miles).
Neither one of them is intended for the casual jogger, and though locals will be volunteering with the event, those volunteers who wish to run the route themselves are encouraged to do so the weekend before. That “pre-race race” will include T-shirts and medals for the volunteers, but no aid stations or timing.
"We're trying to draw folks from outside the area who will use motels and restaurants and shops," said race organizer, ultra-runner, and Point Lookout owner David Hirschfeld, who has been in the area since 2009, and has run every trail multiple times.
“I run all over the country,” he said. “But, there are few places I enjoy running more than that park. It’s a spectacular place.”
Two years ago, Hirschfield and Bill Elliott, manager of Camden Hills, began talking about bringing a 50K to the Camden Hills. Last September, that idea gained traction. Five months later, with Hirschfield’s background organizing races, combined with support from the state-owned park, his family, Northern Region Parks Manager Mark DeRoche, a Lincolnville church, and local trail runners, the event is unfolding. The official website launched this week, and out-of-state promotion is filtering forth.
Hirschfeld knows his hills and his ultras, as well as organizing running races. While in Montana, his family started the Grizzly Marathon in the city of Choteau, expanding tourism into that small part of the state. Fifteen years ago, Hirschfield raced his first 50K. Gradually he increased the miles, leading to his most recent ultra accomplishment – 383 miles in the Arctic.
Ultras – rare as they are – are more known to the west. But Hirschfeld wants to bring more opportunities to the east with this niche.
“The Vermont 100 is one of the premier ultra races in the country,” he said. “I’d like to see this Megunticook 50 become a premier 50K race in the country. I think it’s got all of the attributes. One of the things ultra runners don’t like to do is to do out-and-backs or loops, where you are just doing laps on a course. This one is really nice because there are very few out-and-backs, and it’s almost all different terrain.”
For Camden Hills features, Hirschfeld lists the difficulty of the trails, the many uphill climbing opportunities, the relatively minimal number of people on the trails as compared with other state parks, and the views at the top acting as final rewards.
“Compared to where I’m used to running, back in Montana – out there you have to carry a gun and bear spray,” he said. “It’s so nice to run here because you don’t have to worry about a grizzly jumping on you, or a mountain lion tracking you.”
The winner of the 50K won’t finish in less than four hours, though four hours is an extremely quick pace, according to Hirschfeld. On the flip side, a cut-off time of 10 hours is being considered. Although the races are referred to as running races, walking at times is expected, if not encouraged. Even still, the cut-off time will be tough for some participants.
“It is a brutal course,” he said. “The 10K is nothing to sneeze at, too. There will be no personal bests.”
With the full encouragement of Maine State Parks – especially after seeing that the event’s rules are stricter than regular park rules – Hirschfeld and his team are building the inaugural races without corporate sponsorship, though some have offered, “which is wonderful,” he said.
“This first year – and this is from my experience in Montana – I really don’t want to have any sponsors. If something happens, if the race is a flop, if not any people show up, I don’t want to have sponsors sitting there with their names hanging out there, associated with something that wasn’t successful.”
With that in mind, this year’s entry fees will be used to purchase the necessary event materials. If, in the future, the event thrives, sponsorships and charitable beneficiaries will be considered.
Some event details already determined are: the park will be kept open during the races for other tourists to enjoy, minimum participant age for either race is 18 years old, and an ambulance will be on site.
An estimated 30 volunteers will be needed for running aid stations, to help with start/finish, and setup/take down.
“I really want this to be a success,” he said. “It’s a community deal. It brings the community together, which is nice. Hopefully we’ll get some top-flight runners this year – certainly in years to come – who will go out there and just really impress volunteers. They even impress me – to go out there and run 8 or 9-minute miles for the whole thing. It’s just incredible.”
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org