Ultramarathoner, maybe? – Great Cranberry Island 50k Race Report

The Great Cranberry Island Ultramarathon (50k) is the greatest race ever. At least, that’s what Runner’s World says, and that’s what the race says all over its shirts. There is a lot of hype, and I’ll admit it – it worked. A few months ago, I signed up for the waiting list for the race, and as luck would have it, I got in based on my wit alone. No, seriously. You have to write essays to get in and they pick the good ones. I had totally forgotten that I had even signed up for the waiting list, but when I got picked, I knew I had to go and see if this race lived up to the hype, so this past weekend, I did just that.

The race is held on Great Cranberry Island, off the coast of Maine. It’s near Bar Harbor, essentially. You have to take a ferry to get to the island, and there is one paved road on the island that is 2 miles long. That’s where the race is.

“Gently rolling hills,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said.

“But Danielle,” you say, “isn’t it an ultramarathon? How can it be run just on one 2 mile road?” Well, you run back and forth on the road until you’ve got 31 miles. That’s it. And I know what you’re thinking – that doesn’t sound like the best race ever AT ALL. Hold on, we’ll get there.

So I flew up to Boston on Friday morning, where I was greeted by two of my favorite New Yorkers – JC and Julia, and Julia’s friend Alexis, who had to drive through Boston to get to Maine anyway. They picked me up and whisked me away, where I learned about the intensive preparation that JC had been doing to ensure that I survived the weekend.

Why? Well, for one, part of the GCI (as it shall henceforth be referred to) experience is camping on the island on Saturday night after the race. And it might shock you because I’m all rough and tumble (in my mind) and sarcastic, but I have never been camping before. I prefer to sleep indoors. Part of this is because mosquitos love me and part of this is because I really value hot showers, but either way, it’s just not my thing. With all of the changes taking place in my life lately, the thought of camping was irrationally stressing me out. JC assured me that he would bring everything I needed to survive, and he was not exaggerating. He brought me a million samples of everything from sunscreen to moisturizer to eye makeup remover to INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH MOSQUITO REPELLENT. Oh, plus the whole tent, sleeping bag, tarp, and all of that. Just one of many reasons why he is one of my all-time favorite people.

We arrived at our very Bates Motel-esque hotel room and the guys immediately passed out while Julia started trying to fix my back and leg. She’s a licensed massage therapist and I was in rough shape heading into this race. By the way, did I mention this would be my first ever attempt at an ultramarathon (any distance over 26.2 miles)? Yeah. Perfect timing. She worked on me for like an hour, which was simultaneously excellent and painful, and then we headed into Bar Harbor/Bah Hahbah for dinner.

The hair is luxurious, the face is creepy, win some, lose some.

The following morning required us to wake up suspiciously early so that we could get on the ferry and head over to the island for the race. Because of the ferry situation and the fact that there isn’t really anywhere to stay on the island besides camping (which you’re only allowed to do on Saturday night, mercifully), the race doesn’t actually start until 11:30 am for the normal start and 10:30 am for the early start. We got to the island with plenty of time and were quickly greeted with some pretty beautiful views.

It was all very quaint and foggy and whatnot.

The island was buzzing with excitement when we all arrived. Only about 35 people live there year-round, and it peaks(!) at about 200 in the summer.

I personally felt very welcome.

We immediately set out to the campsite so we could get everything set up before the race started. It didn’t seem like it would be such a good idea to attempt to run 31 miles and then set up a tent. Of course, I wasn’t helping to set up a tent regardless due to the lack of camping experience, so I made myself useful by going to grab me and JC’s packets and begging for them to let us do the early start since I couldn’t walk without limping. The nice volunteer lady (Mary) agreed since she saw I was in poor shape. “What’s your revised estimated finish time?” she asked. “Umm….finish?” I responded. That was optimistic.

Before the race, I was able to meet quite a few readers, including Lecia and Erin. Lecia mentioned that she was hoping to qualify for Boston during the race, which basically seemed crazy to me, but I’m really glad she told me because I found it really entertaining to cheer her on the entire race. At one point during the race, she told me to pray for her because she was struggling, so I did because you never know what persuasive powers I might hold, and the next time I saw her, I told her that God said she was going to BQ. Guess who BQed? You’re welcome, Lecia, but you owe me one.

Some of the Maniacs in tent city before the race. Check out that t-shirt on the handsome devil next to me!

Eventually, I went off by myself to get ready for the race. I was really nervous, and I don’t like to be around people when I’m nervous. My leg hurt really bad and I was seriously questioning my sanity for even thinking that this was a good idea. And camping on top of that? Kill me. I decided that I would just take it one lap at a time – after all, the road is only 2 miles long, so it’s not like I could get stuck out there for that long. I came up with a mantra – “I’m just waiting for my leg to warm up.” That’s what I decided I would tell anyone who asked me how my leg was feeling. Look at all that positivity!

All the Maniacs before the early start.

JC promised to stay with me the entire race, so at least I knew I wouldn’t die alone out there. We started with the early group, which was maybe about 20 people, and I hobbled along. The silver lining was that it hurt exactly as much to walk as it did to run unless I was on a hill, so I figured I would just run all the parts that weren’t uphill and see how far that got us. The course was absolutely beautiful and the weather was great at the start, so we took advantage of that to log some speedy early miles – 10:30 pace, baby! Ha!

There was one part of the course that you only ran past once, so we had to take a picture at that spot. It was really pretty, although you can’t really tell here.

The early start was fun because a) it wasn’t that early and b) everyone was cheering for us as we came back through the start/finish area! I felt a little sheepish gimping along, but it was hard not to smile. Besides, the course was dotted with lots of cute little houses and people on their porches cheering, plus the views of the ocean and of course all of the people that were running the race. You basically got to say hi to everyone about 14 or 15 times, which was awesome. It was not so awesome when they were lapping you, though. That happened a lot.

“Let’s take pictures before we get too sweaty.”

Truth be told, everything was going pretty well for awhile with the exception of these vicious trained attack geese that kept waddling across the road in front of us at this one particular spot on the course. I would make JC run ahead and scare them away because geese are my second-most hated bird after seagulls. We ran the majority of the way for the first 16 miles unless we were going uphill since walking hurt just as much anyway. At one point, it actually looked like we were poised to finish in a pretty decent time, maybe around 6 hours. Crazy, since I thought I couldn’t finish it at all! All of a sudden, JC started to not look so good, and he said he was feeling sick. At first, it seemed like he was just hot, so he took his hat off and I helpfully dumped some water on his head without his permission and we just walked for awhile. This wonderful, glorious, magical lady had put out salted boiled potatoes at her house, and it was hands down the most delicious food I have ever consumed in my life. I don’t know why I’m not eating salted boiled potatoes on a daily basis.

I just wanted to eat every potato.

Around mile 20, JC had gotten very quiet and I was growing more worried. We had been walking for about 4 miles now and he wasn’t cooling down. I asked him if he was ok, and he said he was just feeling sick and emotional. I’m not so good with people’s emotions, and I didn’t really know what to do, so I just hugged him in the middle of the road for awhile. Then I said something snarky and he laughed and we kept walking, resolving to just walk the whole rest of the way if that’s what it took. It’s funny how a race can change like that. One minute, JC was supporting me and making sure I was able to finish, and the next minute, the situation was reversed. That’s what friends are for, right?

An added bonus of walking a lot is that you have extra time to stop and take unflattering pictures of yourself!

JC felt bad that we were walking the whole time, but that obviously didn’t matter to me. I was just in it to finish my first ultra! Everyone was very supportive as I gimped along. Somewhere around maybe mile 24 or 25, a woman caught up to us and told us that she thought we were incredibly inspirational – me for doing the race when I was clearly injured (just waiting for my leg to warm up) and JC for sticking with me through it. I’m glad she said “inspirational” instead of “stupid,” since T-Rex Mom would probably have opted for stupid and would have been correct.

Not a relevant picture at this point in the story, I just think it’s a really great shot of my hair.

Speaking of my hair, many people came up to me during and after the race and told me that they couldn’t believe how good my hair looked after an ultramarathon, especially since I didn’t wash it. BELIEVE IT, people. I grow it myself.

Another amusing thing that kept happening was people would keep asking us what lap we were on, as if we had any idea. The course starts with a 3.1 mile loop that is slightly different from the rest of the laps, but with the start/finish right in the middle of the island, you basically have no idea what lap you are on at any given time. We would just answer with what mile we were on, but this did not deter us from asking other people what lap they were on as if it would mean anything to us. We just figured we’d keep going until my watch said 31 miles.

If only JC had perfect hair, we’d be totally in sync.

That being said, walking 14 or so miles takes a loonnnnnng time. The race had started in the middle of the day basically, so it was getting close to dinner time as we were headed in towards the finish! We were now on a mission to collect the signs that had our names on them (the local athletic club had made them for everyone) and we each wanted to grab one of the inspiring quotes that had been printed up as well. Pretty much every telephone pole had one on it, so we spent the last lap or two trying to find our favorite quotes and grab them before someone else did. We also collected name signs and quotes for people who had already finished, so we (and by we, I mean mostly JC) were carrying quite the load as we headed towards the finish.

There was a pickup truck parked right in front of my name sign the entire race, so JC had to literally climb into the truck to grab it. He’s such a trooper.

Although an official T-Rex was not happening (nor was it necessary, since it wasn’t a marathon) we did our best to run the last 2 or so miles as much as possible, mostly just to get it over with. Although most of the other people had long since finished, we came in to thunderous applause from our fellow Maniacs and I officially became an ultramarathoner!

Jen finished like 2 hours before us but was on hand to thunderously applaud.

I pretty much couldn’t believe I had finished the 50k – my leg never warmed up, after all – but we really did have an awesome time. It’s hard to believe that running 31 miles back and forth on a two mile long island would be very much fun, but it was! Oh, and it was actually pretty hilly.  So much for JC telling me it was completely flat! The hills that looked like ant hills on the first lap were mountains by the seventh. Although the race itself was great, the best part of the night was yet to come. The race hosts a lobster bake and party after the race in the camping area! Everyone waited in line to take cold showers (outside) but I wasn’t particularly interested in that, so I just wiped myself off with baby wipes and took my hair out of my ponytail. A 2 minute shower in cold water wasn’t going to leave me smelling good either way, so I figured I might as well not be cold!

JC turned out to be quite the lobstah mastah and he taught me how to eat them. I ate two giant lobsters.

Kino, Cade, Jen, and Karen had brought sixty PBRs for the party, and they weren’t even planning on staying the whole night! I obviously told them I would be happy to assist in the matter. It was during this time that I found out that I did not mention Cade as one of the “fast people” in my PR race report despite the fact that a) I talked to him more than anyone else and b) he’s actually faster than the people I did mention, so world, please know that Cade is very fast. Way faster than me and definitely fast enough for the fast bus. That is all.

There was a huge bonfire going and they strangely started playing techno music. I wasn’t really prepared for that, but of course JC was – he had brought glow sticks so that I could rave we could find our way around in the dark. I quickly impressed Jen and Karen with my amazing dance moves, complete with glow stick.

PBR makes me rave. Who knew?

I was pretty tired around 11, so JC and I headed to the tent, where Julia was already fast asleep. It was good that I had now been drinking and was exhausted from running, because this mostly took my mind off the fact that I was sleeping in a tent. I put my earplugs in because the party was still raging but managed to fall asleep quite peacefully until the incident. 

Around 2 am (ok, I really have no idea), I was woken up by a pretty loud voice outside our tent yelling “Baby JC! Danielle! WAKE UP! Come out!” This person was actually our friend Kino, who had perhaps had about 10 PBRs too many and had lost the concept of time and space. If the shouting wasn’t enough to wake me up, I was definitely awake when he fell onto our tent, landing directly on top of me in the process. For some reason, possibly because he’s one of the nicest and most unassuming people I’ve ever met in my life, this was basically the most hilarious thing that ever happened. I let JC handle drunk Kino and went back to sleep after laughing about it for a good 20 minutes.

Kino before he got drunk and fell on me. Bless his heart.

The next morning when we woke up, it looked like a tornado had hit the camping field. There were beer cans, lobster shells, corn cobs, and just general mayhem everywhere. There was even an inflatable T-Rex that I DIDN’T BRING. How did that happen?

Rosie and I try to make sense of life the morning after. Photo courtesy of @RunKino

We had to pack up all our stuff and walk down to the ferry, which left pretty early. At that point, we were all just ready to get back and start the drive. No one had really showered by this point, so we were facing a long drive in a small car with some smelly friends, but hey – that’s what (ultra!)marathoning is all about.

We all just wanted to be voted off the island at this point.

And with that, we left the Best Race FORever and headed home. It’s definitely a very unique experience, and it is sad that this was the last year for it. I’m so glad I was able to go this year and finish the race, by some act of God. Oh, and proof that JC took superior care of me the entire time? I did not get a single bug bite thanks to his industrial strength repellent. JC, I will camp with you anytime!

Ok, I didn’t mean that. But theoretically.


46 thoughts on “Ultramarathoner, maybe? – Great Cranberry Island 50k Race Report

  1. Oh my gosh, I HATE geese. There’s one park that I run by for my long runs and there are ALWAYS geese there. Apparently geese are the one freaking thing that my anxiety medication does NOTHING for because I freak out every time I have to run by them. Geese are assholes.

    It’s probably weird that you just ran 50-freaking-kms and all I comments on were geese. THAT’s how much I hate them.

    50 km? Insanity. I’m just hoping I don’t die during my marathon (OMG I signed up for a marathon. WHAT was I thinking?!) in October

  2. good job, as always! and yes, your hair IS glorious! I was just thinking, man, her hair looks nice and then saw the caption! Did JC ever figure out
    what was wrong/upsetting? just curious

    1. Hahahaha thank you! JC never did figure out what was wrong. I think he was majorly sleep deprived and dehydrated. He was coming off a long shift and no sleep before the drive to Boston and then barely slept in the hotel. Plus, it was warm out that day and that didn’t help. Normally he does fine, so it was strange!

  3. I feel like I missed out on an awesome Maniac party! I did have a good weekend with my ID/MT double, running (trying, anyway) hills at 9500 feet on Sunday in MT. Glad you completed your first 50K. My first will be Aug 10th in NJ!

    1. Yikes! I saw the pictures and it looked beautiful but tough! I wish you had come to GCI!! Good luck in your first 50k!

    1. Of course you were there! I’m sorry, I get so long winded and I forget to include people. I hope you’ll forgive me! I didn’t have any pictures with you 🙁

  4. It was simply wonderful running a bit with you two! Both of you spectacular in your perseverance! Such a pleasure to meet you! Hope to see you at a race soon.

  5. Congrats on your first ultra!! I wish it had been a better situation for you (leg-wise), but thrilled you stuck it out and finished 🙂

    I also did my first-ever ultra this weekend. The “Around the Lake” in Wakefield, MA. SO MUCH FUN! I think I might be hooked 🙂

  6. That was an awesome read and I am SURE an awesome experience for all of you!! I am still smiling and laughing! Congrats and TOO FUNNY!!!!

    1. Unfortunately, this was the last year for this race 🙁 That’s why I was so desperate to do it despite my injury! I recommend the Mount Desert Island marathon in its place, though. I’ve never done it but it’s put on by the same people at the island where Bar Harbor is located, and everyone raves about it!

  7. Haha! So you guys ended up with the T-Rex? We were also entertained by the impromptu rave and assumed that it might be an ultra norm 🙂 So much fun, so many post race stories, and so many first time campers (me…. Yikes!)!

    1. We did end up with the T-Rex! I guess people thought it was appropriate to have it over near me, but I’m pretty sure it was actually outside our tent when we woke up in the morning anyway!

  8. I was there! I loved it, every long and warm mile of it. I wanted to finish in less than 5:30, I got 5:28 🙂 The atmosphere totally made the race. I have raced in several of Gary Allen’s races and all of them are well organized and fun. I am glad the bugs left you alone 🙂 I live a half hour from Bar Harbor, so it wasn’t a long trip. I may have to go back next year and run it on my own 🙂

    1. Wow, congratulations on making your goal! It really was a fun atmosphere. I wish they were going to have it next year! It’s sad to see it ending.

  9. Great race report. Having run CGI last year and other races with JC and Kino, you had me laughing through your entire recitation of the CGI experience. Congratulations on your first 50k!

      1. Congrats on becoming an Ultra Marathoner!!! Hope to do more camping trips, yes you will camp again, but sans being woken up at 2am. Thanks for sparing me the wrath of the T-Rex in this RR.

    1. Hi Dave! CGI? Must be a different island, =). Sad I missed you last year, but this year was ridiculous! Next camping ultra you’re doing, let us know!
      T-Rex is the most hysterical blogger I know.

  10. Go Maniac! I love your race report. You captured GCI in all its unwashed and gorgeous glory. I laughed out loud at the Kino/tent incident. I’m so glad we were all there! Jessica W. MM #4434

    1. When Baby JC & T-Rex recounted this incident, I thought it was hilarious too, but then felt really bad for T-Rex, then started fearing the wrath of the T-Rex. Great to meet you on the magical island of GCI, Jessica!
      MM #1382

  11. You said i should be proactive and respond instead of just read… sooo, you forgot to mention that I had a PR! seriously, great report, congrats on your first ultra. despite the pain in your body, you got it done. that is what ultra’s are all about. managing risk. welcome to the community of ultra runners. see you on the open road, or in the woods now that you are ultragirl, and hopefully at MCM if not sooner.

    1. That’s right, you DID have a PR…an awesome, inspiring PR 🙂 Can’t wait to hear about Beast of Burden! I know you’re going to crush it!

  12. Danielle, please please please tell me what this magic mosquito repellent is called. I’m going on a 2-week long family trip to Alaska next summer and I am already dreading the bug bites. Perhaps your magic tonic will work for me, too.

    1. It’s called Body Guard towelettes and it’s made by Straight Arrow. They are really hard to find online, but if you search, you can buy them online through some Army-Navy surplus stores. I wiped them all over my skin and clothes and had NO problems!

  13. Watch out – ultras are addicting, I started out this year with no intentions of doing anything but marathons, and by June ended doing two 50k’s, 1 50 mile run and paced a friend for 45 miles of 100 mile race (all on trails). Up till this year I had only run marathons!

    1. That’s what I’ve heard! The problem is that I’m not much of a trail runner and most ultras are on trails, so I’m hoping that will keep me safe from the ultra-addiction!

  14. Grr … I had written a thought-provoking comment here last week but the site crashed and didn’t post it. Now I can’t remember what I wrote. I definitely remember asking you if you had a little moment of introspection when you reached 26.2 and then taking that extra step into the unknown or if it just went by like another mile. I know there weren’t mile markers, but maybe your watch would have told you.

    Anyway, I’m surprised that you didn’t mention the BAD.ASS medals that they give for this event. While I’m not thrilled at the idea of running back and forth over a short stretch of road, I would walk on hot coals for that memento.

    I hope to do a road 50k one day — and this one sounds like a lot of fun. On the list it goes. And copying this comment in case the site rejects it again.

    1. Sorry, but this was the last year for this race, so take it off your list :/ The medals ARE extremely badass, plus you get a rock from the island, but I totally forgot to write about it and then was too lazy to fix it.

      As far as your other question, actually, no. I had run the Center of the Universe detour at Route 66 so had already gone a little past the 26.2 so I was kind of meh about it.

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