Whether you ran the MDI Marathon to set a personal record or just to finish, or whether you prefer easy jogs along carriage roads and village connector trails, Acadia National Park and surrounding communities offer a runner’s paradise.
Where else can you carve out a personal running route that could include a jaunt along the ocean, through piney woods and even up a small mountain, all within the borders of a national park?
And where else can you be cheered on to the finish by a person in a lobster costume (Acadia Half Marathon in June), or earn a finisher’s medal in the shape of a lobster claw (Mount Desert Island Marathon and associated races on Oct. 19)?
Runner’s World magazine recently listed Acadia National Park first out of “10 Can’t-Miss Running Adventures,” and has previously called MDI Marathon the “most scenic” and runner-up for best overall marathon. And in 2012, MDI Marathon was selected as one of the 100 best races in North America by www.bestroadraces.com.
Beyond the magnificent scenery and the fun lobster themes, there’s a community-minded purpose to races on Mount Desert Island, as well as a sense of history.
Running for a cause
The only two races that have been officially run within the borders of Acadia National Park – the Acadia Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in June and the Fall Half Marathon in September – raise funds for the MDI YMCA.
The Fall Half, the Y’s largest fund-raiser, includes 9 miles of carriage roads in its route, and has been in existence for so long, it pre-dates current Acadia National Park limits on number of participants, according to Stuart West, chief ranger. Such limits help to protect the park experience for all visitors.
“The long-standing event,” said West, “has been so well-managed and the tradition entrenched in the community, that we have allowed the event to continue for 37 years.” The current limit on road events, whether for a foot race or a bicycle ride, is 250 participants, while the Fall Half has historically been capped at 400, West said in an e-mail.
The MDI Marathon (26.2 miles), which began in 2002 and now draws nearly 1,000 runners, and associated races, have helped scores of local non-profits raise more than $125,000 over the years.
This year, 26 charities, ranging from Friends of Acadia to MDI Historical Society, College of the Atlantic to the MDI High School Music Boosters, were part of the “Beyond the Finish Line” fundraising program. (Might the 26 charities be one for every mile of the marathon, stretching from Bar Harbor to Southwest Harbor, or one for each of Acadia’s 26 peaks? The biggest amount pledged was for the high school music boosters, more than $28,000, but some of the charities hadn’t had anything pledged as of this writing.)
Rooted in history
While the MDI Marathon hasn’t been around as long as the Y’s Fall Half, there’s still plenty of history associated with it.
For instance, Gary Allen, the founder and race director of the marathon and an elite endurance runner, is an 11th-generation Great Cranberry Island native, with his family dating back to the first settlers. He got his start as a youngster running back and forth on the island’s only road – all 2 miles of it.
Allen has been profiled in Island Journal, a publication of the Island Institute, as well as in Runner’s World and elsewhere, for some of his running feats and charitable contributions. He has a Facebook page where he shares updates – like just being named one of the most dedicated runners of the New York City Marathon, among only 1,018 runners from 24 countries who’ve finished the marathon 15 or more times in a row – or a new idea for running for a cause – like his Maine to Superbowl run, from Cadillac to the Superbowl, 500 miles in 10 days, raising more than $20,000 earlier this year for the Wounded Warrior Project.
While Allen may make the history books for his running, another supporter of the MDI Marathon has run for history.
MDI Historical Society executive director Tim Garrity, who biked the route this year because of an injury but has run it before, aims to raise funds to help students celebrate the richness of Mount Desert Island’s history.
And in helping to publicize his organization’s participation in the “Beyond the Finish Line” program, Garrity recently shared on Facebook a College of the Atlantic GIS Laboratory map that superimposed the MDI Marathon route on the outlines of the Great Fire of 1947.
That fire is why Acadia’s fall foliage is so spectacular, turning what had been primarily an evergreen forest into one made up of deciduous trees. That map by the College of the Atlantic, another non-profit in line to benefit from the marathon, shows where runners can expect to see the best color.
Whether you’re running the MDI Marathon during foliage season, or a recreational jogger visiting during the summer, there’s something magical about running in and around Acadia, with each run leaving an indelible impression.
Acadia as a runner’s Eden
Here have been some of our favorite runs:
- Duck Brook Connector, a village connector trail on ME 3 next to Acadia Inn, up to the carriage road around Witch Hole Pond – we knew about this before Runner’s World Magazine just featured the 3.3-mile carriage road loop around Witch Hole Pond in its “10 Can’t-Miss Running Adventures,” and have run right out the door from the Atlantic Oceanside as well as the Bar Harbor Motel
- Early morning low-tide run across the gravel bar to Bar Island – did this a couple of times, most recently on Easter Sunday
- Shore Path to ME 3 to Compass Harbor – did this while the family hung out at the pool of Bar Harbor Inn
- Kebo Road to Great Meadow Loop to Jesup Path to Sieur de Monts – done this several times soon after daybreak, right out the door of Quality Inn
- Acadia Half Marathon route along Ocean Drive – running the Park Loop Road by the Precipice, Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, and down toward and around Otter Point, is something you never forget
And among some of the Acadia-area runs on our wish list:
- Schooner Head Path down to Schooner Head Overlook – we’ve hiked it, but look forward to running it, especially since the historic vista at the overlook has recently been reopened.
- Asticou & Jordan Pond Path – now that it’s been regraded with help from the Acadia Youth Conservation Corps, it’s even better for a run. We saw what looked like a high school athlete in training using it on our recent hike there.
- Ocean Path – too busy during the summer unless you run this 2-mile trail (one way) real early or real late, or maybe during April or May, or late October into November
- Great Cranberry Island – the 2-mile road where Gary Allen first got his start in endurance running, and the rest is history
- Entire 26.5 miles of the Park Loop Road, including one way up the 3.5-mile Cadillac Summit Road, as measured by “A Guide’s Guide to Acadia National Park” – a tad longer than a marathon, best done during the spring or late fall when fewer cars are on the road, or perhaps even in early or late winter, when the road is closed to cars and not much snow or ice around. This is a route we’ll probably only dream about, although we like the idea of a runner’s high by running Cadillac! We bet Gary Allen, who’s run up the highest mountain on the US eastern seaboard, has already done the entire marathon-plus-length Park Loop Road route.
- Any of Acadia’s 45 miles of carriage roads – has Gary Allen or any other ultramarathoner done all 45 miles?
- MDI Marathon or Half Marathon – especially if they bring back the lobster claw finisher’s medal in future years!
What’s a rave run you’ve done in and around Acadia? Or one you’ve only dreamed about? Let us know!
Nothing like running down a dream in Acadia.