LAMOINE, Maine — Isaac Wallace admits long-distance running isn’t his athletic forte.
But the 17-year-old senior at Mount Desert Island High School, where he competes on the Trojans’ football, basketball and tennis teams, was out Saturday morning supporting more than 200 runners from throughout Hancock County and well beyond — runners who perhaps unknowingly were reciprocating with a show of support for Wallace and his family.
They were all gathered for the eighth annual Flattop 5K road race, an event that since 2006 has honored Wallace’s late grandfather, Bill Pinkham.
Pinkham, a longtime distance runner and fixture in the local community as the former chief of the Maine Marine Patrol, a state representative and Lamoine’s harbor master, died while cooling down after competing in a Fourth of July road race in 2005. He was 62.
Since then his family, friends and running cohorts have joined forces annually to create one of the more popular events on the region’s early season road-racing schedule.
“Having this event means such an incredible amount for me,” said Wallace. “I had my grandfather for 10 years of my life, and I’m 17 now and approaching the point when I’ve spent half my life without my grandfather, and to do this every year really helps us hold onto his memory.
“It gives us a good chance to think about him, and I love to help bring everybody together to do this because he had so many friends and so many people who loved to run with him.”
Wallace estimated that 10 to 15 family members and 30 to 40 close friends were on hand for Saturday morning’s race, staged on a nearly perfect late March day under a bright blue sky and temperatures in the mid-40s.
“The family has been a key part of this, as have the runners,” said Stu Marckoon, administrative assistant to the Lamoine Board of Selectmen for the last 20 years. “The older runners knew him well and he was a big part of their community, but he’s a big part of our [Lamoine’s] community, too. It’s really a good mix.”
That contingent of runners who knew Pinkham through their shared athletic passion included Bangor’s Adam Goode, who won the Flattop 5K for the second straight year and third time overall with a time of 15 minutes, 56 seconds.
“Bill was the kind of person that when you saw him as a high school kid had a distinct haircut, a distinct style and demeanor and was always ahead of you for a bit,” said the 29-year-old Goode, “and when you’re younger it’s always fun to race with people who are different than you.
“Bill was at Cabot Trail [a relay race held annually in Nova Scotia] the first two years I went, but at the time I was 16 or 18 or so and when you’re real young you’re scared to talk to somebody who’s been running races since before you were born.”
Goode and Pinkham also shared another bond, that of working in the Maine Legislature. Pinkham served four terms as the state representative for House District 132, which covers Eastbrook, Gouldsboro, Hancock, Lamoine, Osborn, Sorrento, Trenton, Waltham, Winter Harbor and No. 8 Township.
Goode currently is in his third term representing House District 15 in Bangor.
“It’s neat to see somebody that shares that same commitment to public service, and I think there are consistent elements to running and serving in the Legislature where you have to focus on a goal and work toward it every day,” said Goode. “There are good miles and bad miles, and days when you think everything’s going backward in the Legislature and days when you think everything’s going forward, and dealing with those ups and downs are somewhat similar between those two things.”
Two-hundred-twenty-three runners finished this year’s 3.1-mile Flattop 5K, staged along a relatively flat out-and-back course that begins and ends at the Lamoine Consolidated School on State Route 184.
It was an eclectic field befitting of Pinkham’s many interests, with the leaders leaving the starting line in a sprint while others jogged, some walked and at least one mother pushed her child in a stroller.
“The first year we pushed over 300 entries but we advertised it as a walk-run,” said Tom Kirby of Ellsworth, who organizes the race with Robin Emery of Lamoine. “We started the first race at Lamoine Beach and ran back to here, and it was a nice run but the logistics of getting 300 runners to the start and back was just chaotic so we moved it here after that and it’s been going this way ever since.
“A lot of the people here today didn’t know Bill. He was 62 when he passed away and a lot of these people were in grade school and many of them weren’t running. But it’s one of the few early spring races around and we’ve been lucky with the weather almost every year. For a lot of people it’s like the end of winter, they come out and the sun feels good to them.”
One of the competitors less familiar with Pinkham’s legacy was the women’s race champion, Jennifer VanDongen, who two months ago moved with her family from Bath to Bar Harbor.
VanDongen, primarily a trail runner, warmed up for the race by accompanying daughters Amelia (age 6) and 4-year-old Cora in the 1-mile kids’ run that preceded the main event, then recorded a 5K time of 18:56 — the second-fastest winning women’s time in Flattop 5K history, trailing only the 18:02 turned in by Susannah Beck of Sedgwick in 2006.
VanDongen was appreciative of the spirit surrounding the event.
“It’s great to see all the community get together, enjoy this weather and have some fun,” said VanDongen, “and to run for a good cause.”
And little did many of the runners know that the inspiration for the race was not far away, his cemetery plot located on top of a hill overlooking the course barely a tenth of a mile from the start-finish line.
“Bill’s right over there on the hill, looking down. We run right by him at the 3-mile mark,” said Kirby. “I’m sure he’s proud.”