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One hilly, tough 13.1-mile trek

Rare in-person race: Waldoboro Half-Marathon set with 30-runner field

There is waiting list for 'no frills, just hills' Sept. 26 run, or one can participate in social-distancing event
By Ken Waltz | Aug 30, 2020

Waldoboro — The typography of this historic lumber-harvesting and shipbuilding town includes some of the most difficult hills for a runner, but that has not stopped the second annual Waldoboro Half-Marathon from being filled to capacity and creating a waiting list to boot.

Despite the pandemic, the race, at this point, will be held, with a cap of 30 qualified runners for Saturday, Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. at 1885 Atlantic Hwy., said event director/organizer Lucas McNelly.

Billed as New England's "hardest half-marathon," McNelly said, "If you finish, you get a beer."

The winning male and female will receive a $50 gift card from Moody's Diner and finishers will earn a beer at Waldoboro's Odd Alewives Farm Brewery.

The race day event has sold out, but there is a waiting list, along with a social-distancing version, with a $20 entry fee.

The social-distancing version can be run Monday through Saturday, Sept. 21-26, but it is not a virtual event, it has to be on the same challenging course.

For more information, go to

The race day waiting list registration ends on Friday, Sept. 18.

The overall course record holders, established in year one, were Bryan Lamoreau for men at 1:30:19.9 and Catherine Huang for women at 1:54:23.1. For masters runners, Jason Bigonia holds the men's course standard at 1:38:40.8 and Barb Daggett for women at 2:09:28.

Need to keep going

"When all the races in the state of Maine started dropping like flies this spring, we realized it'd be important to make sure the Waldoboro Half-Marathon wouldn't be one of the casualties," said McNelly. "As the hardest half-marathon in New England, the Waldoboro Half-Marathon is as much a mental test as a physical one, so we wanted to make sure we did everything we could to reach the finish line."

He said the race has been capped at 30 runners to be sure "we'd be able to stay under any state-wide mandates and implemented a strong COVID-19 policy, including wave starts, no water stations, virus-proof bib pickup, and mandatory masks at the start, finish and anywhere else you can't be distant from your fellow runners."

McNelly said the event has teamed up with Boco Gear to provide runners with custom-performance face masks.

"We also added what we call the 'social-distancing edition' where you run the course on your own in the days leading up to the race," he said. "This allows you to appear in the results, earn a finisher's medal, and also earn the black bib all runners who've previously finished the race get to wear in future years."

Like last year, runners have to qualify for race day and the social-distancing version by having run a 2:15 half-marathon in the last two years, McNelly said.

"This is partly to protect you from yourself and to give us piece of mind, but this race has a qualifying standard — like Boston, but easier," McNelly said. "In order to run this, you need to have run a half-marathon in 2:15 or less in the last two years. This is not so much to keep people out as it is to make sure everyone who starts the race can finish it. This should absolutely not be your first half-marathon. We just want to be confident that you'll be OK. We won't have people on the course ready to call a medic."

The qualification standards for 2020 are: Half-marathon: 2:15. 15-miler: 2:35. 30K: 3:20. 20-miler: 3:35. Marathon: 4:40.

If one finished the race in 2019, that person automatically qualified for 2020.

Hills — and more hills

McNelly said Waldoboro is built on hills. So many hills. The Waldoboro Day 5-kilometer, traditionally held in June (but not this year due to the pandemic), generally is considered one of the most challenging 3.1-mile treks in Maine.

"But that doesn't have any of the hard hills," he said. "To truly run Waldoboro, you have to run the big hills. Thus began the Waldoboro Half-Marathon: the hardest road half-marathon in New England (and, we would argue, the Eastern United States). We think it's one of the hardest in the country and probably has the hardest finish."

McNelly said event organizers "fit in as many hills as we could in 13.1 miles without having to cross Route 1. Are we missing some hills? Yes. But we don't think [the runners will] mind."

He said the event has crammed roughly 1,400 feet of elevation into 13.1 miles — and 550 in the final 3.5 miles — to take it to the limit. There are seven hills with a gradient of at least 10 percent, including two in the final mile. Forty-five percent of the course is uphill. It is the perfect tune-up for a fall goal race. "We always say that if you can do well in Waldoboro, every where else is easy," he said.

McNelly said following the lead of the Millinocket Marathon, "we're embracing a DIY ethos for this half. Hence our motto: 'No Frills. Just Hills.' There's no bands on the course. There's no expo. There may or may not be volunteers along the course. There aren't even any water stations. Let's repeat that: There are no official water stations.

"If you need fluids (you'll need fluids), you need to either carry them yourself, stash them along the course, or station people along the course to hand them to you. If you need Maurten every two miles, then you should find someone to do that. We strongly encourage you to game-plan the course and figure out what hydration you'll need and then make that work. Collaborate with your fellow runners. Work together. Having said that, you can have people hand you stuff mid-race. If you want to hire a food truck to serve you a burrito at mile 10, you can absolutely do that. Just don't disrupt your fellow runners or park it on someone's lawn."

McNelly said last year, locals set up impromptu water stations in their driveways. So there might be some water stations, but you should still plan ahead.

"You don't have people at a folding table handing you paper cups during your weekly long run. We're confident you can adapt," he said.

McNelly said pacing for runners is tricky because the final four miles, especially the mile finish, "will not be fun."

Pandemic protocols

"Fall races around the country are struggling with how to adapt to a COVID-19 world," he said. "Many of them are canceling their races outright or going to a virtual model. We are doing neither of those things. The Waldoboro Half-Marathon is a small race that’s both a test of your running ability, but also your ability to keep going. So canceling wasn’t really an option. We’re also uniquely positioned to handle this, as we were already doing many of the changes larger races are now struggling with."

There will be wave starts based on what the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention tells event organizers.

McNelly said he hopes to put all “contenders” for first place in the same wave so they can run a traditional race, but the winner will be determined by chip time if runners take off in waves.

The social-distancing option allows one to run the race in the days leading to the event. "We’ll give you your medal and bib and all that fun stuff and your results will be in the official results," he said. "It’s better than a virtual race, because it’s on the actual course. There is no virtual option. We’re not giving you a finisher’s medal for the hardest half-marathon in New England just for running laps around your driveway."

Perhaps the most important element of the event masks are required at the start and finish areas. McNelly said there are no exceptions.

"We don’t care what you saw on Facebook," he said. "We don’t care what they’re saying on Fox News. We don't care if it's infringing on 'your rights.' If you’re walking around the start area without a mask on, you will be disqualified and asked to leave. If you make a scene, you will be banned from any of our future races."

Race organizers also ask runners to have masks handy — on their person — to put on if needed during the actual race.

McNelly said if one who has registered falls ill or has COVID-19 symptoms on race day, they should say home, email event organizers and their entry fee will be refunded or deferred to 2021.

"Trust us, you don’t want to run this course with COVID. It’s hard enough with 100 percent of your lung function," he said.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Charlotte Davenhill | Aug 31, 2020 11:42

This is GREAT NEWS! Also love the "topography" of this article. ;D

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