The Meguniticook Trail Festival is coming up on Saturday, September 9th in Camden, Maine. This is the 4th year for the Megunticook 50k and the Wicked Tough 10k. This year, the new race director, Ramona Larsen, has added a new race to the roster, the Halfast 20k. The Halfast is a faster course without as many rocks, roots, or hills for those runners who want to dip their toes into the world of trail running for the first time or who want to test their speed on a faster 20k course.
As the race website says, the Megunticook 50k “is not a race for the faint of heart. There are over 7600’ of elevation gain and the trails are steep with lots of rocks and roots. If you’re not going up or down, you’re probably off course. The cutoff time may seem generous at 11 hours, but this course will beat you up physically and mentally. And while it doesn’t have the 3000’ climbs of some of the races in the West, it has more overall vertical than most of those and would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any of them for the level of difficulty.” The Wicked Tough 10k, run on the first 10 kilometers of the 50k race, is no piece of cake either. With 1600 feet of elevation gain, steep and rocky climbs, plenty of rocks and roots to trip you up, and beautiful views along the way, this course will test (and reward) even the most accomplished runner.
The beauty of the Megunticook 50k is that it covers all sorts of terrain from paved road to gravel multi-use trail to rambling woods trail to single track to steep rocky climbs and descents. The variety of terrain creates natural places to open things up and put on a little speed (or just enjoy some recovery) and makes it clear when to slow down, monitor intensity, and focus on foot placement.
The start of the race has changed for this year’s race, I imagine to avoid the complication of crossing Route 1. Instead, the race does a full loop through the State Park campground before heading up the Mount Battie Auto Road. It is easy to push too hard going up the auto road; everyone is feeling fresh and spry early in the race and the footing is easy. But the auto road quickly becomes an appropriate place to walk, especially for those running the 50k. Research has shown that a 12:45ish minutes/mile pace is where it becomes more efficient to walk than run – at least on flat terrain. When you are going uphill, that transition happens around the 18:00 to 19:00 minutes/mile pace. Of course, you also have to weigh in on how your body feels as you make the decision to walk or run up the auto road.
The race ducks into the woods at the Tableland Trail about one mile up the auto road and winds uphill over fairly easy footing to the top of Mount Battie. You pass the first aid station near the top before taking a left on the Carriage Road Trail (an oddly named trail because it is not like any other carriage trail I have run on). This is your first opportunity to run downhill (and it is pretty runnable). Remember that you are going to be asking a lot of your quads in the miles to come and unless you have done some downhill training, you might want to refrain from opening things up too much on this first, fun downhill. Your quads will thank you for it later. You will find yourself going uphill again before you know it and the rocky climbs will slow things right down (there are some changes to the race course through here from previous years so pay attention if you’ve run this race before). You will pass aid station #2 (only a water stop) along the way. Enjoy the view (and smile for the photographer) at Ocean Lookout. From here you head downhill for a little over a mile to the intersection with the Multi-Use Trail. This is where the 10k heads to the finish line and the 50k just gets going. All you 10k runners, save some pizza for everyone else!
The Multi-Use Trail is more like a gravel road than a trail. It is wide with easy footing, though, like the rest of the 50k race course, it doesn’t offer much flat running. If it isn’t going up, it is going down. That being said, it is generally easy running and gives you a break from having to focus on footing. This is a great section to catch up on some calories and hydration before resupplying at aid station #3. This will probably be the first aid station that you’ll feel like you are ready for a resupply. It will be fully stocked with water, Gatorade, coke, pretzels, graham crackers, jelly beans, M&M’s and Snickers, bananas, watermelon, and oranges. There is an outhouse at the aid station – a nice, clean one maintained by Camden Hills State Park.
For optimal hydration and to minimize GI distress, Dr. Stacy Sims, exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist, recommends an electrolyte drink with 3-4% carbohydrate solution (7-9 g carb per 8 oz), with 7-9 g of carbs from glucose and sucrose, 180-225 mg of sodium, and 60-75 mg of potassium. According to the Gatorade website, 250 ml (8.45 oz) of electrolyte sports drink powder mix has 15.8 g of carbs from sucrose and glucose, 128 mg of sodium, and 56.3 mg of potassium. The carbohydrate and sodium concentrations of your hydration solution impact how absorbable the solution is once it hits your small intestine. Get these concentrations wrong and you can wind up dehydrated (even though you are drinking on schedule) and with gut rot to boot! Some professionals encourage diluting Gatorade-like sports drinks for optimal absorbability. I’ll let you do some research and make that decision for yourself.
After stocking up at the aid station, you will continue on down (or rather up and down) the Multi-Use Trail to the Bald Rock Trail. This is a relatively easy climb that brings you to the top of Bald Rock Mountain and a beautiful view of the Camden harbor and the islands beyond. From here the trail continues down the other side of Bald Rock to the Frohock Trail. This 1.5-mile (each way) out-and-back trail is a rolling woods run with generally decent footing. This is the first section of trail where you are likely to see a lot of your fellow racers on the trail on both the out and back – lots of opportunities to cheer each other on! The Frohock Trail will eventually return you to the Bald Rock Trail and you’ll bang a right, downhill to the Multi-Use Trail. Enjoy some easy downhill running that will take you to aid station #4. If you have fans who want to cheer you on, this is an easy aid station to get to at the Lincolnville end of the Multi-Use Trail off of Youngtown Road in Lincolnville.
Once you are all stocked up, you are going to head back up the Multi-Use Trail to the Cameron Mountain Trail. This section of trail feels like an old logging road, kind of ‘duffy’ with grass growing up along the edges. It is a nice change after the firm surface of the Multi-Use Trail and offers a brief break from the steady climbing. Cameron Mountain provides another beautiful view – this one of the surrounding foothills. What goes up though must come down, so turn around and head back down! Enjoy a couple of miles (or so) of quiet, meandering woods trail before finding yourself back at the Multi-Use Trail and eventually aid station #5 (AKA aid station #3 – remember the outhouse here). Fueling guidelines recommend 30-60 g of carbohydrates per hour for runs and races between 1-2 hours and 60-90 g of carbohydrates per hour for runs and races lasting 2 hours and longer. For reference, a mini-bag of pretzels has 22 g of carbs, a GU gel has 21 g of carbs, a single pack of Skratch Labs Energy Chews has 36 g of carbs, a fun-size bag of M&Ms has 9.5 g of carbs, a medium banana has 27 g of carbs. Do the math and make sure you get enough!
Now this is where the fun really begins. The Slope Trail is no joke! This trail goes up and up and up. You are far enough into the race at this point that your legs may take notice of this sustained climb. Not many will consider this section of trail very runnable. So pick your pace and keep on trucking. You will reach the summit of Mount Megunticook without much fanfare (no view) and meander up and down through the woods on sometimes pretty rocky trail out to Zeke’s Lookout. Say ‘hi’ and ‘thank you’ to the race volunteer and turn around to go back the way you came and on towards Maiden Cliff. The trail down Maiden Cliff is steep in all sections and rocky in most. Thankfully, you will find a fully stocked aid station #6 at the bottom. This is another good spot for your fans to find you. The Maiden Cliff Trailhead and parking lot are easy to find off Route 52 near Camden.
The final sustained climb awaits you as you head back up Maiden Cliff. When I ran the 50k last year, my 12-year-old daughter called me just as I was heading back up Maiden Cliff. She was home alone and was in a panic because Leo, an unneutered male husky we know who likes to roam the neighborhood, had shown up in our backyard and looked like he was going to pick a fight with our male dog Griffin. I hardly noticed the uphill climb as I was busy calling our neighbor to see if he could help, contacting Leo’s owner to alert them of their runaway, and checking in at home to make sure everything turned out okay. It did, luckily, and suddenly I found myself at the top of Maiden Cliff, again. I nodded a tired hello to the race volunteer and gratefully turned toward the last few miles of trail to the finish line. If you don’t have a panicked phone call to distract you from climbing up Maiden Cliff, well, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’ll get there.
From the top of Maiden Cliff, the last few miles of trail are pretty runnable – if you still feel like running. The terrain is mostly gently rolling with reasonable footing and eventually just heads downhill to the finish. Ahhh, the finish! So happy to see the finish line! Smile for the camera, thank the race volunteers, give yourself a huge pat on the back, and go enjoy some pizza and other finish-line goodies. Congratulations on a job well done!
If you have any questions about training for and running the Megunticook 50k, the Wicked Tough 10k, and even the Halfast 20k, feel free to reach out. I love to talk running! You can find me at samanthalanglois.com or on Facebook at Coach Samantha Langlois (and at the Megunticook Trail Festival on 9/9/2023).