KINGFIELD, Maine — An overcast morning in mid-May proved to be the perfect time of year for Gabriel Helmlinger.
The 42-year-old Cambridge, Mass., resident, a native of France who works in pharmaceutical research and development, made the most of his first visit to Maine by running to victory Sunday in the 27th annual Sugarloaf Marathon.
Helmlinger, who was coming off a solid 2-hour, 39-minute effort at the Boston Marathon a month ago, used the somewhat downhill nature of the Sugarloaf route to finish in 2:34:11.2, five minutes ahead of second-place Eric Rudolph of Sullivan.
“Some friends told me I had to do it because it was a fast course, and I had felt good in Boston.,” said Helmlinger. “I ran a 2:39 there, and I thought maybe I could improve my time by five minutes and it would get me into the elite masters division for Boston.
“I just ran 2:34. It’s unbelievable. “I’m very surprised because I’m 42. I think I might be entering the summer of my life.”
Amanda LaBelle of Rockland, coming off a third-place finish in her marathon debut on Mount Desert Island last October, pulled away over the final third of the 26.2-mile run down Route 27 from Eustis to Kingfield to win the women’s division in 2:58.24.6.
That time was just over a minute ahead of last year’s MDI marathon winner, Jenna Krajewski of China, who finished second in 2:59:25.1.
“It went pretty well,” said the 25-year-old LaBelle. “I wanted to break three [hours], that was pretty much my goal, and I just figured I’d see how it fell around that. There were a couple of times out there though when it was pretty quiet and I was wondering.”
The biggest challenge facing Helmlinger — whose personal best for the marathon distance is a 2:29 set while winning a race on the Olympic course in Atlanta in 1996 — was the battle within.
“I was worried about the rain, then it didn’t rain,” said Helmlinger. “It was relatively dry on the course, but I was all by myself and that was tough. I just kept thinking about what I was doing, and sensing my body and what it was doing every half-mile or so. Is the breathing OK? Are the leg muscles OK? Are the arms OK? Did I drink enough?
Helmlinger was able to maintain a pace of between 5:50 and 5:55 for most of the miles, though that wasn’t always the case.
“But the course is so uneven so one mile I ran in 5:30 and another one I ran in 6:12, but on average I could keep the pace I wanted,” he said.
LaBelle trailed 2001 and 2002 Sugarloaf women’s champion Melissa Perkins-Banas of Norwich, Conn., for much of the race, but she never lost contact of her main competition and was able to come on strong in the late stages.
“I tried to keep her in sight and then she would go ahead for a ways and I wasn’t sure that I’d pass her,” she said.
Krajewski also was able to catch Perkins-Banas in the final few miles, with Perkins-Banas finishing third in the women’s field in 3:03.22.7.
Rudolph finished comfortably in second in the men’s division in 2:39.22.1, followed by Timothy Maguire of Waterville (2:41.06.5), 2001 champion Andrew Goupee of Ellsworth (2:45:05.6) and last year’s runnerup Peter Sedgwick of North Yarmouth (2:49:00.6).
And Helmlinger wasn’t the only male masters’ competitor to have a big day. Austin Townsend, 55, of Perry, finished sixth in a personal-best time for the distance of 2:52.59.5, while 52-year-old Gary Allen of Cranberry Island placed 10th in 2:55:21.5 — marking the 55th time in his 77 career marathons that he has finished in less than three hours.
In the accompanying Sugarloaf 15K, Knud Hermansen of Old Town surged to victory by just over a minute ahead of second-place Travis Vicary, also of Old Town, with Hermansen timed in 54:10.5 compared to Vicary’s 55:04.4. Four other men finished the 9.3-mile run from the Sugarloaf USA access road to downtown Kingfield in less than an hour: Henry Bauer of Steuben (56:08.3), David Drew of Litchfield (57:44.9), Chris Jones of Bucksport (58:4.4) and Rob Spaulding of Kennebunk (59.03.8).
Cary Buterbaugh of South Portland also finished the 15K in less than an hour to win the women’s division by more than six minutes. She was timed in 56:34.6, good for fourth place overall, while Kathleen Bell of Orono was second among women’s finishers in 1:02:53.8.
Sarah Martin was next at 1:06:30.1, followed by Kelley Cullenberg of Chesterville (1:06:59.6), Dana Mersich of Ottawa, Ontario, (1:07:13.0) and sixth-place Katrina Bisheimer of Bucksport (1:07.30.8).