Virtual runs from Acadia to Katahdin mark amazing journeys

In memory of her husband Michael, who died in a kayak accident off the coast of Maine in 2016, Jennifer Popper journeys north from New Jersey to Maine, raising more than $15,000 for charity, and logging her miles on a virtual race route from Acadia National Park to Katahdin along the way.

jennifer popper

A surprise welcome party greeted Jennifer Popper, second from the right, in Boston last week. On the far right is her friend Rachel Hanks, carrying the handmade sign. And from the far left, Jennifer Petruccelli, Tim Hillier and Larry Kelley, who all worked with Michael Popper at CDM Smith (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Popper)

As she arrived in Boston last week, more than halfway through her 800-mile walk, she was surprised and overjoyed to be greeted by an old friend with a handmade sign, three former co-workers of her husband’s, and two fellow virtual racers she’d never met before. “It’s overwhelmingly awesome,” Popper said.

Like so many of the participants in the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run and other virtual runs, Popper has found meaning and camaraderie in logging walking, running or hiking miles. Popper, who goes by the virtual race name @jennsjourney, has appreciated comments on the race message board from fellow virtual racers, especially @Keefa and @FL2ME.

“I don’t know who Keefa is, or Flamethrower,” Popper said, but the support has meant a lot as she’s on her trek to raise funds for the two nonprofits that have meant a lot to her and her husband, the East Coast Greenway Alliance and FreeWalkers.

Since last August, the more than 150 participants from around the country in the Cadillac to Katahdin race have helped raise $800 for three official charities benefiting from the race: Friends of Acadia, Millinocket Memorial Library and Our Katahdin. At the same time, they have collectively logged more than 59,000 miles on the virtual race route, back and forth between Cadillac and Katahdin; made real and virtual friends along the way; and accomplished other personally meaningful goals, whether raising funds for other causes or meeting a health and fitness goal.

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The more than 150 participants in the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run have collectively logged more than 59,000 miles. You can still sign up through July 16 to try out a virtual race, backdate miles to August 15, 2017, and get the collector’s edition medal featuring buffalo-plaid ribbon. At least 5% of gross proceeds go to benefit Acadia and Millinocket-area charities. (Image courtesy of

The Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run is winding down this month, and to mark Acadia’s 102nd birthday on July 8, we’re announcing a new race, the Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race, that will include the 26 peaks of Acadia, the Schoodic section of the park, parts of the Down East Sunrise Trail, and other new features.

We’re proud to once again co-sponsor the race with Mount Desert Island Marathon & Half and Millinocket Marathon & Half, as the virtual edition of the 2018 Maine Sea to Summit Series, to help benefit charities in the Acadia and Katahdin regions. Details of the new race and registration information will be available here later this month, as the finishing touches are put on the new virtual race route, and the new finisher’s medals.

Even if participants in the virtual runs never meet, they are bound by some connection to the Acadia or Katahdin regions or the Mount Desert Island and Millinocket Marathons & Half Marathons, or by a charitable impulse or interest in health and fitness.

Among the virtual racers and some of their stories:

Racers make special journeys, charity fundraisers part of virtual runs

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Joelle Ingalls (@Joelle), left, gets a hug from real-life race director Gary Allen, as she was the last runner to finish the Millinocket Marathon in December. (Photo by Alisha Chaney)

  • @Liberty Penguin (Darryl W. Perry of Keene, NH), who ran for President as a Libertarian Party candidate in 2016, and is running the NYC Marathon in November in real-life to raise funds for the nonprofit Innocence Project
  • @Lishie (Alisha Chaney of Scarborough) and @TomZot (Thomas Zotti of Wolfeboro, NH), who are both running the Run2Respond Relay in August in real-life to raise funds for the nonprofit Firefighter Five Foundation
  • @Joelle (Joelle Ingalls of Surry), who has a streak of at least 181 days of logging at least 1 mile of walking or running, and was featured in Down East Magazine for her doggedness in being the last to finish running the Millinocket Marathon last December
  • @KDW (Kathleen Dixon-Wallace of Milo), who has a personal streak of at least 195 days of logging at least 1 mile of walking or running, and hiked the Owl in Baxter State Park in May as part of the nonprofit Summit Project, to honor fallen Maine veterans
  • @Grin (Julie Grindle of Hancock), who’s battled cancer and logged miles on virtual runs as part of her recovery, and participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser in Ellsworth in June

And of course, there’s @jennsjourney, who started her 800-mile East Coast Greenway trek near her hometown in New Jersey on June 2, and plans to finish in Gouldsboro on Aug. 1, near where she and her husband had summered in Maine for more than 10 years, and near where they started that fateful kayak trip in June 2016.

Michael and a veteran kayak tour guide died when their kayaks capsized in 52-degree waters off Corea during a surprise front that caused high waves. Jennifer Popper’s kayak also tipped over but she survived after being found by a lobsterman who was among those searching for the kayakers.

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Jennifer Popper includes this photo of her and her husband Michael in a video to raise funds for charity in his memory. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Popper)

Chris Popper, Michael’s cousin and director of sports programming at WDEA AM 1730 in Bangor, who first shared the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run with Jennifer, will be on hand to welcome her in Gouldsboro. He had met her at the hospital after the kayaking accident and provided support in other ways.

Perhaps there will be a welcoming party in Gouldsboro as there was at the Boston waterfront last week, when Jennifer Popper got off the ferry from Provincetown to continue her walk. Rachel Hanks, who went to college with Popper, held a sign that said “Jenn’s Journey North” and also hosted her for a couple of days at her Wayland, Mass., home. She and Hanks were sorority sisters at Syracuse University.

Three former co-workers of Michael’s at CDM Smith, an engineering and construction firm headquartered in Boston and with offices around the world, also greeted Popper at the docks to show support: Jennifer Petruccelli, FEMA resource coordinator (who walked some miles with Popper in Rhode Island); Tim Hillier, vice president; and Larry Kelley, information manager.

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Jennifer Popper is so happy to see her friends in Boston, more than halfway into her 800-mile East Coast Greenway walk from New Jersey to Maine.

“Everyone loved Mike,” said Hillier. “He was a well-respected man.”  The three are based in Boston and they all worked with Michael, an engineer who was based in Edison, NJ, for CDM Smith.

Popper said she appreciated everyone’s support – family, friends and co-workers, and walkers she’s met in real-life through the East Coast Greenway Alliance and FreeWalkers, or only virtually through the Cadillac to Katahdin race – as the journey north has been a difficult one.

“It’s tiring,” she said. “There is a little bit of homesickness but I have made this commitment and I will follow through.” She will finish her journey, citing “the inspiration of others…and my feet are holding up.”

To find out more about Jenn’s Journey North and the charities she’s fundraising for, or perhaps to walk a few miles with her or send an encouraging message, go here. Aside from meeting her for the first time in Boston last week, we as virtual race directors @AOMM and @4000footer are adding a portion of the East Coast Greenway to the new Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race route as another measure of support. So even if you can’t walk real miles with @jennsjourney, you can perhaps join her on one of the virtual runs.

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An interactive mapping tool shows the portion of the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway that Jennifer Popper is walking, from New Jersey to Maine. (Image courtesy of East Coast Greenway)

Virtual runs a growing fitness and charity fundraising trend

What are virtual runs, you ask? They let people from anywhere in the USA or the world sign up to run, hike, walk, snowshoe, cross-country ski 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 with medals, and even Disney runs them. Check out what a virtual racer experience can be like in this short video by, which hosts our races on its online platform.

The Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run was also the virtual edition of the first-ever Sea to Summit Series, and the virtual edition of Crow Athletics Club’s 2018 Streak-100, where club members aim to run or walk at least 1 mile a day for 100 days in a row. To learn more about virtual races, check out this page we recently added.

Gary Allen, director of the real-life MDI and Millinocket races, Sea to Summit Series and Crow Athletics, 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 last year, for the boost his races have given to communities like Millinocket.

virtual races with medals

This is the buffalo-plaid-beribboned Cadillac to Katahdin Medallion virtual racers can earn, whether or not they complete the virtual race route. At least 5% of gross proceeds from virtual race registration fees go to help support Acadia and Katahdin-area charities.

As Cadillac to Katahdin race ends, new Acadia to Katahdin race starts

As of this writing, leading the Cadillac to Katahdin race in total mileage is @Bradcrazy (2,120.4 miles since last August), with @JohnT not too far behind (2,020.4 miles). Here are the rest of the top 10:

Congratulations to all!

And here are the results so far of the Team #lumberjack vs. Team #hipster friendly competition that began on Jan. 1, to go with the buffalo-plaid beribboned version of the Cadillac to Katahdin medal that became available in 2018:

#lumberjack – 18 members with a total of 14,445.2 miles logged, or an average 802.5 miles per racer

#hipster – 4 members with a total of 3,209.1 miles logged, or an average of 802.3 miles per racer

Exercising our prerogative as virtual race directors, we declare it a virtual dead heat between Team #lumberjack and Team #hipster! (In the interest of disclosure, we are members of Team #hipster – thanks to @CoastWalker for singlehandedly keeping #hipster in the running!)

If you haven’t finished logging your miles for the Cadillac to Katahdin race yet, you have until at least July 16 to do so. (And if you’re new to the concept of virtual runs, and want to sign up to try it out, you can backdate miles to Aug. 15, and get your buffalo-plaid beribboned medal in the US mail. At least 5% of gross proceeds go to benefit the race’s official charities.)

Here’s a preview of some of the details of the new Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race set to begin the day after the Cadillac to Katahdin race ends (final date to be announced soon, as it may be a little later than July 16, depending upon final details):

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The medal for the Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race will feature a raised Bubbles and Katahdin, and red satin ribbon. (Image courtesy of Ashworth Awards)

Race registrations ($38) include a digital bib; a digital finisher’s certificate; and a newly designed medal in the shape of the state of Maine, featuring a raised Bubbles and Katahdin and a red satin ribbon, designed by Ashworth Awards, the same company that makes finisher’s medals for the Boston and MDI Marathons. Special price ($33) for participants and volunteers in either MDI Marathon & Half or Millinocket Marathon & Half. US postage included, extra fee for international shipping of medals. At least 5% of gross proceeds go to benefit Acadia and Katahdin-area charities.

  1. Sign up with your name and e-mail at the new registration page to be added here
  2. The race ends December 8, the day of the Millinocket Marathon & Half
  3. You can track your daily miles any way you like, and can backdate them to the start of the race
  4. Log your miles on the race page
  5. Racery will keep track of fun stats like total mileage and miles per week

Stay tuned! And in the meanwhile, enjoy some of these Cadillac to Katahdin photos shared by virtual racers on the race message board and elsewhere.

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@Liberty Penguin (Darryl W. Perry) and @KDW (Kathleen Dixon-Wallace) meet for the first time in real life at the Shipyard Maine Coast Half and Full Marathon. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Dixon-Wallace)

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Seanna Macomber (@Seanna) of Blue Hill, ME, shows off her Cadillac to Katahdin medal. (Photo courtesy Seanna Macomber)

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Thomas Zotti (@TomZot), standing, second from the left, helped raise funds through the NH Special Olympics Torch Run while logging his Cadillac to Katahdin virtual miles. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Zotti)

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Alisha Chaney (@Lishie) always seems to be smiling while running, as seen here during last year’s Millinocket Marathon & Half. (Photo courtesy of Alisha Chaney)

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Julie Grindle (@Grin), a cancer survivor, helped raise funds and awareness through the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life , while also logging miles on the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run. (Photo courtesy of Julie Grindle)

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