By no means is the Reach the Beach Relay, run the third weekend of September in New Hampshire every year, an easy race.
The sometimes flat, sometimes downhill, and other times steep and elevation-changing course is a 36-leg, 203-mile stretch from Franconia to Hampton Beach which can test the endurance of any runner.
The Maine Road Hags, who traditionally run in the Cabot Trail Relay in Nova Scotia every spring, conquered the challenging, placing first among women’s teams and 29th overall at last Friday and Saturday’s event, posting a time of 25 hours, 48 minutes, 8 seconds.
The Road Hags consist of Bangor-area athletes Katrina Bisheimer, Samantha Matoush, Kathleen Bell, Marilyn Hintz, Johanna Szillery, captain Janie Smith; Portland runners Kristin Barry and Sheri Piers; and Jenny Johnson of New Hampshire.
Unlike at the Cabot Trail Relay, runners here are running at different times, with a staggered start in place.
“In Cabot there’s basically 17 different races, the group of runners move around like moving communities,” said Bangor’s Smith.
Smith added the purpose of the staggered start is to have the slower teams start before the faster teams do, with a vision of having the faster teams finish in prime time.
“The goal is to get people to finish between noon and 6 [p.m.],” Smith said. “We started at 11 a.m. [on Friday], we were the last women’s team to start.”
Perhaps the only thing that the Reach the Beach and Cabot Trail relays have in common is tough courses.
The toughest leg of the race is the 7.7-mile third, which features a tough, steep climb and the elevation rises from 1,050 to 2,550 feet.
“It’s just one steady uphill,” Smith said. “Samantha ran that, she did a really beautiful job.”
Also, unlike in Nova Scotia, the nighttime legs can be spooky on the rural roads, with very few ways to see in the dark.
“It was very rural, very foggy and very spooky because you’re on a very rural road,” Smith said. “Kristin couldn’t see any runners ahead of her.”
The Hags got stronger as the race went on, particularly Piers of Falmouth and Barry of Scarborough. Piers averaged a 6:20 mile in the 6.8-mile 32nd leg and Barry posted a solid 6:05 pace in the four-mile 34th.
Smith brought the team home in the final 4.3-mile leg, which she said was rewarding.
“I had the privilege and opportunity to be the last runner. I had only wished that the rest of the team was running that last mile or two [with me],” she said.
Bears’ home opener Friday
The University of Maine cross country teams will kick off their home schedule Friday with a dual meet against the University of New Hampshire at 2 p.m.
Friday’s meet is the second of the young season for coach Mark Lech’s Black Bears, who opened the campaign last weekend against Massachusetts and Vermont in Amherst, Mass.
The UMaine women, who won the three-team meet, are led by sophomores Jessica Belliveau of New Brunswick, who won the individual title with a 17:39 last weekend, Elonnai Hickok of Pennsylvania and former Bangor High standout Jolene Belanger of Glenburn.
The men, who finished second at UMass, are led by senior Donny Drake of Portland, sophomore Miles Bartlett of Casco, junior David Englehutt of Nova Scotia and sophomore Brendan Carr of Brewer.
Ryan McLaughlin can be reached at 1-800-310-8600 or firstname.lastname@example.org