Maine virtual race with medals connects long-lost friends

As Gregory Emerson of Topsham strolled through a local ArtWalk this summer, logging miles for a virtual race to benefit Acadia and Katahdin area charities, he struck up a conversation with an artisan whose wood carvings of freshwater fish he particularly admired.

virtual race with medals

Gregory Emerson, left, encountered a long-lost college buddy, Ray Chase, while logging miles for the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run. (Photo courtesy of Gregory Emerson)

“I quickly realized it was a college buddy, Ray Chase, from Rumford, Maine,” said Emerson in an e-mail, in recalling the surprise real-life connection he made as he participated in the Cadillac to Katahdin virtual race with medals that’s going on until Dec. 9. “Ray and I hadn’t seen each other for at least 20 years.”

As Julie Grindle of Hancock undergoes cancer treatment, she’s been walking as part of her recovery, entering her miles online and getting encouragement from others in the Maine virtual race with medals, even though she’s never met most of the participants. “This virtual race has been a motivator and a bright spot thanks to you guys!!” she wrote online to those who’ve been cheering her on. “Thanks for all of the support virtual race friends!!”

In reply, Bryan O’Keefe of Billerica, Mass., wrote, “Keep doing what you are doing! You are doing an awesome job!”

virtual race with medals

The Cadillac to Katahdin Medallion is made by Ashworth Awards, the same company that makes the medals for the Mount Desert Island and Boston marathons. Registrants for the virtual race also have the option of adding a collector’s edition of the Acadia Centennial Medallion. (Photo courtesy of Ashworth Awards)

United by some connection to Acadia or Millinocket, or the real-life Mount Desert Island and Millinocket Marathons and Half Marathons, more than 120 participants have been logging miles from around the world on a virtual 200-mile Cadillac to Katahdin route, to help raise funds for the nonprofit Friends of Acadia, Our Katahdin and Millinocket Memorial Library.

Although many of them have never met, they’ve made connections online, watching each other’s race avatars make progress on the virtual map with each day’s mileage entry, from Cadillac to Katahdin, and including the real-life routes for the MDI and Millinocket races. They offer words of encouragement and advice, sharing their training regimens if they’re competitive runners, weather reports from wherever in the world they may be, trip updates to the Acadia or Katahdin regions, real-life race results, and photos of their travels.

As the Cadillac to Katahdin virtual race with medals approaches its halfway point, and as the real-life MDI Marathon and Half is set to run on Oct. 15, the connections between virtual and real life are converging, and the links between racers and community are deepening.

Racers can sign up for the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run until Dec. 9, and they can backdate their running, hiking or walking miles anywhere in the world, to Aug. 15. While the real-life MDI Half is at capacity, the MDI Marathon is still open for registration as of this writing, and volunteers are welcome too. Participants or volunteers in the real-life events get special pricing for the virtual race with medals.

virtual race with medals

Race avatars for more than 120 participants in the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run stretch along the virtual 200-mile route, from Cadillac to Katahdin. Sign up now. Race goes until Dec. 9, and you can backdate mileage to Aug. 15. (Image courtesy of racery.com)

Virtual race with medals makes real-life connections, helps charity

What’s a virtual race, you ask? It lets people from anywhere in the world sign up to run, hike, walk or log other forms of miles, whether to raise funds for charity, earn a finisher’s medallion or just set a fitness goal. Races can include technology-driven virtual routes that allow participants to see their progress, get a Google photo of their virtual location and check out the competition online, such as in the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run. Or it can be as simple as allowing people to record their mileage via the honor system in order to get a medal in the mail. There are different themes for virtual races, and even Disney runs them. Check out what a Cadillac to Katahdin virtual racer experience can be like in this short video by Racery.com, which hosts the race on its online platform.

virtual race

Announce your participation in the first-ever Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run by sharing this social-media friendly graphic. (Image by racery.com)

Co-sponsored by Acadia on My Mind and organizers of the real-life MDI Marathon & Half and Millinocket Marathon & Half, the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run is also the virtual edition of the first-ever Sea to Summit Series, where runners who participate in both the real-life MDI and Millinocket races can earn a special Sea to Summit finisher’s medallion.

Gary Allen, director of the real-life MDI and Millinocket races, and Sea to Summit Series, likens the impact of the races he’s launched as “a pebble tossed into still water,” with ever-widening rings of positive influence and inspiration. The rings have spread so far and wide, especially with his starting the free Millinocket Marathon & Half in December 2015 to provide an economic boost to the old mill town, that Allen has been profiled in Runner’s World, Down East Magazine and elsewhere. He received Bangor television station WLBZ’s 2 Those Who Care Award this week, for the boost his races have given to communities like Millinocket.

Emerson, the virtual racer from Topsham who is also signed up for the Millinocket event, has found the races, both real and virtual, to be not only positive influences, but also reasons for reflecting upon, and deepening connections, to people and place.

“The connection that I have to Acadia is very strong,” said Emerson, who is a fourth-grade teacher in Woolwich and goes by the virtual race name of @gemerson67. Four years ago, when he weighed 275 pounds despite having been a long-distance runner in college, he decided to visit Acadia at least once a month for a year, hiking, running, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing the trails with his wife Kim and their kids, and otherwise getting in shape. “I ended up at 206 pounds,” said Emerson, who chronicled his Acadia and fitness journey at gregshikes.blogspot.com, and has a YouTube channel of race videos he’s done for Crow Athletics, the organizer of the MDI and Millinocket races.

virtual race with medals

Gregory Emerson as a little boy, in the middle, looking to his left, with his family at a parade, in the heyday of Maine’s paper mill towns. His participation in the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run and real-life Millinocket race helps remind him of those days, and is a way of giving back. (Photo courtesy of Gregory Emerson)

The connection to Millinocket dates even further back, to about 1962. “My uncle Bill Milliken was the recreation director there and started a drum and bugle corps called the Katahdin Rangers. We would travel to their parades and concert and my brother and I actually had matching uniforms we would wear.”

His father worked at Pejepscot Paper Company in Topsham for 42 years, and he worked three summers at the same mill during college. “I get what that life was like,” Emerson said.

Here are more examples of the ever-widening rings of positivity and deepening connections, from both real-life races and the virtual race with medals:

  • Charity fundraising – So far, the fundraising page for the MDI races shows more than $240,000 raised for more than 2 dozen charities, ranging from the Friends of Acadia to Special Olympics Maine. The Millinocket Marathon & Half fundraising pages show $8,000 raised for Our Katahdin so far, and more than $5,600 raised for Millinocket Memorial Library. The Cadillac to Katahdin virtual race with medals is donating at least 5% of gross registration fees to Friends of Acadia, Our Katahdin and Millinocket Memorial Library – the more racers registered, the more funds raised, so sign up now! – with additional contributions being made above and beyond that.

    virtual race with medals

    Julie Grindle of Hancock, who’s participating in the virtual race as part of cancer recovery, gets encouragement from fellow virtual racer Bryan O’Keefe, although they’ve never met. (Photo courtesy of Julie Grindle)

  • Virtual cheerleading – O’Keefe, the virtual runner from Billerica, Mass. (virtual race name @Keefa), is one of the most prolific “likers” of fellow participants, not only cheering on Grindle (virtual race name @Grin) in her cancer recovery, but practically every racer who logs miles for the day. “It is always nice to like people’s posts,” said O’Keefe in an e-mail, whether they’re logging 0.05 miles or 20. “It is always good ‘cause it might help encourage people.” A member of the Greater Lowell Road Runners, O’Keefe will be running the MDI and Millinocket Marathons, and is already onto the second lap of the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run.
  • Journeying from Acadia to Katahdin regions, and vice versa – Rebeccah Geib of Bar Harbor (virtual trail name @DreadedRunner) won the 200-mile virtual race with medals in a speedy 15 days, and then won the real-life Caribou Marathon last month, allowing her to qualify for the Boston Marathon. She’s signed up for both the MDI and Millinocket marathons, and while she hasn’t climbed Katahdin in real-life yet, she hopes to do some trail running in Baxter State Park soon. She’s just one virtual runner who has been back and forth in real life between the Acadia and Katahdin regions while logging miles, helping to bolster both economies. Among the others who have already done so, or will be before the virtual race ends Dec. 9: Holly Todd (@Honeybee), a beekeeper, massage therapist and Maine Guide from Millinocket who’s signed up for the MDI Half and the Millinocket full; and Maureen Fournier (@RangerMo), an Acadia National Park ranger who’s hiking the trails not only near home as part of the virtual race, but also in Baxter State Park and the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
  • Keeping MDI or Millinocket in mind wherever in the world you areJessica Jourdain (virtual race name @JessicaJ) left Millinocket when she was only 4, but she’s keeping her hometown in mind by participating in the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run and the Millinocket Half Marathon. Clear across the country, in Oregon, virtual racer @bgizzi bemoans the fact that this will be the second year in a row that she hasn’t been able to visit Acadia in the fall, and posted in the group message board: “Someone go hike Sargent for me and tell me how great it was!” And @RangerMo obliged: “Believe me, Sargent is still great and always will be in my book.”

    stephen king

    Margie King, a volunteer at the Millinocket Memorial Library, shelves a Stephen King novel. There is a real-life connection between the novelist and the library, as the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation donated $10,000 to the Friends of Millinocket Memorial Library to help keep the doors open. (Photo courtesy of Margie King)

  • Staying connected with family and friends wherever they may be – Mother and daughter, Margie King (@mak321) of Millinocket and Tracy King Daniell (@TD17) of Orono, cheer each other on with messages on the virtual race message board. “Great job, MK! Let’s do this!!!” wrote Daniell to her Mom, on the start of the race on Aug. 15. “This will be a good motivator for both of us,” replied King. And just the other day, as King’s mileage entry for the day placed her in Orono on the virtual route, she wrote a message to her daughter, “Look where I am on the map today! Woohoo!” And we, as @AOMM and @4000footer, get to keep up with our nieces in New York, @blustarzsk and @Elle, whom we’ve hiked the trails of Acadia with for our hiking guides, and hope to again one day soon.

Whether you’re looking to make new friends or reconnect with old ones, keep in touch with family members no matter where they are in the world, deepen your relationship to the Acadia or Millinocket regions, or support area charities, joining the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run is a great way to accomplish those goals, and more.

As part of our blogging about the virtual race with medals, we’ll be putting together a Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run page that will allow area businesses and organizations to post information about their services, to deepen the connections even more, between people and place, from the Acadia to Katahdin regions. So stay tuned!

It’s easy to join the Cadillac to Katahdin virtual race with medals

    1. Sign up with your name and e-mail at this registration page
    2. The race starts on Aug. 15 and ends Dec. 9
    3. You can track your daily miles any way you like, and can backdate them to Aug. 15
    4. Log your miles on the race page
    5. Racery will keep track of fun stats like your total mileage and miles per week
virtual race with medals

Cadillac isn’t only connected to Katahdin via the virtual race. On a clear winter day, you can see the tallest peak in Maine from the highest point along the US Atlantic seaboard, according to this series of photos from Cadillac. (Photos by Gregory Emerson)

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