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March 14, 2023

102 miles and 24 hours: Downeast relay attracts Wyman’s sponsorship

runners at start line with flag Courtesy / Ray Archer Runners at the start of last year’s Down East Sunrise Trail Relay compete for 24 hours along 102 miles of scenic trails.

A 24-hour Downeast running event that’s trending in popularity has attracted sponsorship from a big regional player.

Wyman's, the Milbridge-based producer of Maine wild blueberry products, has signed on as a sponsor of the Down East Sunrise Trail Relay, Maine’s first and only 24-hour team relay.

“This relationship is truly a natural fit, as much of the terrain that our runners cover in this event goes through traditional wild blueberry lands during the active harvest season,” said race director Gary Allen. “This amazing partnership will help us grow and further give back to the communities where we run.”

Allen, of Great Cranberry Island, is co-founder of Crow Athletics, a running club that has members across the U.S. and abroad. Allen is the founder and race director for the Mount Desert Island Marathon and founder and co-director of the retired Great Cranberry Island Ultra Marathon. 

First held in 2014, the course follows a 102.7-mile route starting at Washington Junction near Ellsworth, and makes its way down east along the Sunrise Trail before finishing on the waterfront in Eastport, the easternmost city in the continental U.S. 

The 2023 relay, scheduled for July 21 and 22, is its ninth edition. Teams of four to eight competitors run through the night and into the next day in individual relay legs ranging from just under 4 miles to just over 10 miles. The relay exchanges are at traditional rail crossings or junctions. 

“Teams are started at various times based on ability from approximately 4 p.m. on Friday until 1 a.m. on Saturday morning for the fastest runners,” Allen said. “The theory behind this intricate staggered start system is to have all teams finish in the same window of time in Eastport on Saturday.”

Participation has grown since the first year drew 17 teams. The goal for 2023 is to host 50 teams totaling 400 runners.

“Primarily, our draw is from Maine teams, but we have seen teams coming from further afield around New England, and expect this trend to continue,” said Allen.

Along the 102.7-mile route, the first 85 miles take place along the multi-use, rails-to-trails corridor connecting Washington Junction to Ayers Junction, then continues on a Maine off-road, back-woods ATV trail. 

The final miles follow the paved Sipayik Trail along the Pleasant Point, Passamaquoddy waterfront, then join scenic Route 190, and finish along the seawall in Eastport.

Relay proceeds will go to the nonprofit Sunrise Trail Coalition, which created and maintains the trail traversed by the relay, sponsors community events and provides accessory facilities along the trail such as benches, picnic tables and restroom facilities. The event also supports the Dennysville ATV & Snowmobile Club, Eastport Labor of Love, the Passamaquoddy at Sipayik, and other Downeast organizations.

The event in recent years has drawn about 500 runners and has a following among both participants and community groups along the trail. 

“We’re so proud to support this unique and iconic event and Crow Athletics,” said Colleen Craig, senior communications manager for Wyman's. “This unique event showcases Maine’s spectacular landscape, including the wild blueberry barrens in Maine, which is the only place in the nation where wild blueberries are commercially grown.”

Sunrise Trail

Much of the race course traverses the 85-mile Down East Sunrise Trail, whose creation was largely due to Sally Jacobs, the founding president of the Sunrise Trail Coalition.

Jacobs began her work advocating for the development of bicycle trails in 1975, helped procure funding to build trails connecting Orono, Old Town and the University of Maine, and led the effort to build the Down East Sunrise Trail, which began construction in 2009 and was completed in 2016, according to the coalition’s website.

“She envisioned a multi-use corridor stretching from Washington Junction in Hancock to Ayers Junction in Pembroke,” Allen told Mainebiz. 

The impetus for the relay came about in 2013; Crow Athletics had just wrapped up the National Ultra Championship that was part of the Great Cranberry Island 50K and was looking for its next race adventure. 

“Creating a unique event that benefits the communities where we run is a high priority,” said Allen. “In the case of the Down East Sunrise Trail, benefitting and activating a whole region of Maine far exceeded wildest dreams.”

The club doesn’t have data on the event’s economic contribution to the region. However, Allen said, “We do ask our participants to leave more than their footprints in the communities where we run. We have, in fact, heard anecdotal evidence of widespread economic benefit all along the Washington County corridor where we run.”

For example, the Dennysville ATV Club hosts a breakfast for runners at its clubhouse that has become an important fundraiser and has evolved into a now-weekly community event during the summer.

“Eastport has embraced the event with restaurants planning extra staff for Saturday,” Allen said. “Many participants spend the night Downeast after the race, staying locally and dining out. Both the WaCo Diner in Eastport and Helen’s in Machias are buzzing with teams on Sunday morning!”

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March 15, 2023

This truly Maine event is as genuine and fun as they come, and it provides people the chance to experience cameraderie and togetherness in a part of the state often missed. Gary Allen is the master of open doors and creating ripples and the runners, joggers and walkers that participate in this overnight "Quest for the DEST" are the real winners. I have done this event every year and it is a gem. The Downeast diamond. I am proud to say that I am married to Sally Jacobs daughter and this trail system is a legacy that all Mainers should experience.

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