FORT KENT, Maine — Kale Poland’s five-year track record of a 50-percent finishing rate for his annual Aroostook Dirty Thirty remains unbroken.
Two weeks ago six intrepid souls were at the start line at Mojo Sports in Presque Isle for the 30-mile run and torture fest. Nine hours later, the last of the three remaining racers crossed the finish line.
Frankly, if anyone ever tells me I have to run 30 miles all at once, I think I’d just sit down and cry.
But to run 30 miles while carrying rocks, sledgehammers and various plastic halloween decorations with all manner of obstacles thrown in? Never in a million years.
Following along on my mountain bike darn near did me in, and no one asked me to tote a sledgehammer or plastic skull.
“We stayed at our 50 percent rate and it was fun,” Poland said this week, looking back at the race. “The turnout was a bit of a disappointment but, when there are less people to keep track of, we can focus on putting attention on the others.”
And the attention that was lavished on those racers.
A crew of volunteers followed, harangued, barked orders and trash talked as they dogged the racers’ steps every one of those 30 miles.
And, while a bit shameful to confess, I’d be lying if I said I did not enjoy taking part in developing the on-the-trail “pain stations.”
Take the trestle bridge on the old rail bed leading into Washburn, for example.
At roughly the 10-mile point, racers crossed the bridge and turned around for the return run back into Presque Isle, but not before — per my suggestion — they completed that traverse in a series of calf- and quad-cramping deep leg lunges.
Poland had designed this year’s course in a series of loops that brought runners back to Mojo several times, where volunteers awaited with various challenges for the racers.
Challenges included “the farmers walk” (carrying two cinder blocks around the parking lot), push ups or — my personal favorite — dragging a large Dumpster from one end of the parking lot to the other before heading back onto the racecourse.
“That [the racers] are willing to do this is a total trip,” Poland said. “The best part is, you know they hate you while it’s going on but that night sitting around a fire and swapping battle stories they are laughing off everything you did to them.”
Lillian Porteus, this year’s winner who drove up from Albany, N.Y., to take part in her first AD30, was certainly not laughing during the race.
“This is the most difficult race I have ever completed,” she said. “This is the first race I have come in first place and by far the most proud I am of all the races I have completed.”
A big part of Poland’s strategy to make the AD30 a mental race, as well, is never letting the racers know where they are as far as distance.
“When you’re racing, not knowing your miles is really bad,” Poland said. “Knowing how many miles you have left lets you mentally prepare, but not knowing puts that twinge of doubt in the back of your mind.”
And Poland likes nothing better than playing on those doubts.
“Kale would periodically tell me that I could quit if wanted,” Porteus said. “That made me laugh to myself because there was no way in hell that I was quitting.”
This year the race claimed its first victim about five miles in after the racers slogged through mud, brambles, blowdowns and the cold water along the Aroostook River.
Those lunges across the bridge spelled the demise of two more.
AD30 casualties this year were Beau Taylor, Adam Murchison and Michelle Roy.
In the end, Porteus was joined at the finish by AD30 first timer Stephen Assante in second place and Amy Poland in third — marking her second AD30 finish. For their efforts, each finisher was awarded a railroad spike.
“I have never been so happy to see a rusty railroad spike in my whole life,” Porteus said.
“You have to be physically fit to do this race,” Kale Poland said. “But it’s more important to be stubborn [and] ultimately it’s about being tough physically and mentally.”
This year’s winner agrees.
“This is definitely a race in which you have to stay mentally strong or you will not finish,” Porteus said. “The AD30 gives you many opportunities to convince yourself that you cannot do it.”
There is no entry fee for the race, but Porteus said she’d gladly pay to do it again.
“I love running [and] I love signing up for races that sound intimidating,” she said. “I want to always try to push my limits [and] leave my comfort zone.”
In fact, Poland is joining Porteus for a limit-pushing event at the end of this month when the two race the New Hampshire Ghost Train Rail Trail 100-mile run.
Somehow, given all that Poland and his crew of pain-station volunteers came up with, I’m thinking the 100-mile run may seem like a walk in the park when compared to the Aroostook Dirty Thirty.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.