BAR HARBOR — Melissa Ossanna is the kind of ultrarunner who feels a little lost if she goes too long without running a big race. Her medal rack includes marathons, ultramarathons, Ironman triathalons, snowshoe marathons and 100-milers.
She was excited to run her first Western States 100, the oldest 100-mile ultramarathon, in California in June. That event has now been canceled, and she’ll carry over her registration for next year.
Running on roads and some trails is allowed under Governor Janet Mills’ stay–at–home order, but Ossanna is also a member of Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue, so she’s extra familiar with the risk of accidents during the pandemic.
So she’s been making a lot of use of a trail in her backyard in Town Hill, which she has measured somewhere between 0.2 miles and 0.27 miles. And she had a crazy idea — not too big a surprise in the running culture around here, which has a wacky streak a mile wide — to try to run a 100-mile race on that trail.
And she wanted to do it as a fundraiser for the Bar Harbor Food Pantry.
“We’ve got a town that relies on tourism and right now we’re not having it,” she said, as many seasonal businesses are not yet able to open. “We’ve got a lot of people who need some help through this. The pantry is doing a wonderful job making people feel comfortable” who are not used to needing help feeding their families.
In previous 100-mile races, Ossanna has stayed up for the 36 hours or so it took to complete the course.
“I didn’t want to wear myself out as much” this time, she said, also given the health situation.
She set up an aid station in the basement, where she could come and go without tracking mud in the house or waking up sleeping family members. It was stocked with water, juice and fruit. She even had a quilt handy “to wrap myself in to keep the guest bed clean” when she stopped for a quick nap, “because I was gross!”
She began the run a bit before 9 a.m. Saturday. Her husband, Peter, ran with her for a half marathon.
Her dog Bobo ran with her the whole day and evening.
“It’s so stinking cute,” she said. “As many times as I run around the yard, he’s like, ‘Yay, we’re running around the yard!’”
Occasionally the dog would split off to chase a squirrel, but mostly he stayed right behind her on the narrow trail.
“He was running off and around and doing other things too” in the fenced yard, she said. “He was a very tired doggy the next day!”
The weather was perfect. It was a beautiful day and the woods had mostly dried out from recent rain and snow. It’s a muddy trail, through marshes, but she was able to keep her feet dry.
She ate dinner on the go — slowing to a walk to eat a bowl of chicken and vegetables — and continued on.
It was beautiful out after dark, too. She was surprised not to hear coyotes, but there was a hoot from a barred owl.
Around 10 p.m., Peter put the dog to bed. She kept running until about 11:30, when she stopped to take a nap.
She got up again after a couple hours and ran about two more hours. The Garmin watch she had been using to track her run said she had covered 40 miles.
At that point, “I stopped running because I realized there was no way I could get 100 miles in before I had to be at work on Monday.”
But in the light of day on Sunday, and after some sleep, she wondered if the measurements from the watch were correct. She borrowed a measuring wheel from marathon director Gary Allen and measured the trail the old–fashioned way. It turned out that the quarter-mile trail was more like a third of a mile, and she had run 50 miles, not 40. And according to the Garmin, she was moving for 15.5 hours.
She had relied on the watch to measure her distance and didn’t count laps. But doing the math, she ran about 150 laps around the trail. A sign she posted on a tree read, “At some point, when you pass this sign, you will be almost there.”
She also logged the run as part of a virtual race organized by Aravaipa, a race company based in Arizona; several other local runners also participated in the virtual race this weekend.
While not a 100-miler, this race will definitely go in Ossanna’s record books, and she hopes it will inspire some donations to the food pantry. She likes the idea, she said, that she could be “doing good for people as I ran around like an idiot in my yard.”