While the state’s major highways were filled with traffic at both ends of the Fourth of July weekend, so, too, were the streets that shape many Maine communities large and small.
But instead of pickup trucks hauling campers and boats along Interstate 95, those downtown thoroughfares were filled with runners — more than 6,700 of them stopping traffic during one of at least 13 races held Saturday and Sunday.
Why is this holiday so popular among the state’s running community? Several reasons, according to some of the 517 runners who completed the state’s shortest Independence Day race, Bangor’s Walter Hunt Memorial Fourth of July 3K.
The weather is good and the races generally are shorter than other events held throughout the year, with 4 miles or 5 kilometers the most popular Fourth of July distances. That makes the races more attractive to casual runners or those more serious who aren’t training more specifically for longer-distance tests, as was the case for Hunt 3K women’s champion Kaitlin Saulter of Hermon.
Saulter plans to run in two hometown races this summer, but most of her training is geared toward competing on the soccer and track and field teams at the University of Maine, where she will be a sophomore this fall.
“Last year I did [the Hunt 3K] with my sister and a couple of others,” said Saulter, whose winning time at the Hunt 3K was 10 minutes, 29 seconds. “This year I just did it by myself. No one else wanted to do it with me, so I was just out there for fun and kind of competing against myself to see what I could do.
“But my running comes mostly from soccer training and track,” she said.
Many Fourth of July race participants are visiting that area to see relatives over the holiday weekend or enjoying their summer vacation, and typically, the runs are held in conjunction with local summer festivals or holiday parades and are witnessed by larger crowds than the friends and family members who typically turn out for more routine events.
Take the Hunt 3K, staged on a 1.8-mile course from Brewer to Bangor that shortly after the race concludes becomes the route used for the neighboring cities’ joint Fourth of July parade.
“There are a lot of people in Bangor [on Saturday] because they love the Fourth of July and they are seeing their family,” said Adam Goode, a state legislator from Bangor who won the Hunt 3K for the second straight year with a time of 8:30.
“At a typical race, there’s people who are into running or they are there because they have people or friends who are running. This race is unique because there are all kind of people here for the parade who aren’t thinking about running, but they get to see all kinds of people of all fitness levels competing in a race. It’s one of the few races where the whole community is kind of there, and I love it,” he said.
The king of Maine’s Independence Day races continues to be Bridgton’s Four on the Fourth 4-Miler, where Andrew Stewart (20:19) of Radcliff, New York, and Silas Eastman (20:41) of Chatham, New Hampshire, led a field of 2,000 runners across the finish line. Erin Flynn of Newton, Massachusetts, won the women’s division in 23:32.
Another southern Maine event, the L.L. Bean 10K in Freeport, had 1,242 finishers led by Adam Visokay (32:15) of Charlottesville, Virginia, and Erica Jesseman (35:38) of Scarborough.
The York Four on the 4th drew 825 finishers Saturday, while Sunday’s Goose Rocks Beach Association 5K in Kennebunkport had 754 runners.
The Friends on the 4th 5K attracted 611 finishers to Winthrop on Saturday, while the Hunt 5K drew just a slightly smaller field with runners of all ages.
“It’s different because most able-bodied people can run three kilometers,” said Goode. “It’s at 10:45 in the morning so you can sleep in, run the race and still be at camp that day.
“And I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s cool to have an audience, and a lot of races aren’t like that,” he said.
Other races on the weekend docket included the Bath Heritage Days 5-Miler (218 finishers), the Thomaston Firecracker 5K (154), the Castine 5K (106), the Jason R. Sargent Memorial 5K in Otis (86), the Around Mount Desert Island Relay (75), the Freedom Color Run in Rumford (46), the Race for Grand Lake Stream 5K (39) and the Sebec Village Fourth of July 5K (30).
Goode has played the role of bridesmaid at the Hunt 3K before, placing second to former Stanford University All-American Louie Luchini of Ellsworth in 2012 and to former University of Maine and University of Oklahoma All-American Riley Masters of Bangor in 2013.
Now with two straight Hunt 3K victories under his belt, the 31-year-old fourth-term Democratic state legislator and Bangor High School cross-country coach was honored to wear the No. 1 bib at Saturday’s 35th edition of the holiday race but is anticipating the inevitable challenge of the next generation of local runners.
“I was 16 and 17 and 18 years old and came to this race and good runners like Judson Cake and Louie Luchini and Peter Millard won, and now I’ve been fortunate to win twice,” said Goode. “I’m also fortunate that we haven’t hit a time when one of these guys who are younger shows up and cleans my clock.”
It wasn’t for lack of effort. John Hassett, a 16-year-old distance standout from Castine and George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, hung with Goode for the first half of the race before settling for a third-place finish behind another relative youngster, 21-year-old Alex Beals of Glenburn.
And one of Goode’s recent runners at Bangor High, 19-year-old Jonathan Stanhope, was fourth among the field of 517.
As further evidence of the changing running generations, nine of the top 17 finishers at the Hunt 3K were 25 or younger, with seven of those runners in their teens.
“It’s more challenging every year because I get better and better at the longer stuff,” said Goode. “There’s younger guys out there, and you never know who’s going to show up. Eventually one of these guys who are 18, 19 or 20 are going to give me a run for my money.”
Goode, who finished second among Maine runners at this year’s Boston Marathon, doesn’t compete in as many road races as he once did — and he’ll miss the TD Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth on Aug. 1 because of a friend’s wedding.
But he believes such pacing has residual benefits.
“I don’t take as many risks as I used to,” Goode said. “But I’m in my 30s and continue to stay fit and be able to go to races and stay healthy, so I’m grateful that I’m able to do all kinds of stuff that I love to do. Running isn’t the most important thing, but it’s important to me to stay healthy and fit.”