John Rodrigue of Tremont poses for a photo with his trekking poles during the first daytime stretch of his 100-mile run in Acadia National Park earlier this month. PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNIFER VANDONGEN

Local runner completes 100-mile Acadia trek

ACADIA NAT’L PARK — John Rodrigue ran a nonstop 100 miles through Acadia National Park earlier this month. He only remembers about 93 of those miles.

In the pitch-black darkness of the Mount Desert Island night, the 54-year-old runner began drifting in and out of consciousness as he entered the final stretch of his journey. Whenever he slowed down, fellow ultra marathon runner Jennifer VanDongen urged him to keep going.

With VanDongen by his side, Rodrigue ultimately finished. He set out at 5:05 a.m. June 15 and finished at 12:23 a.m. June 17. It had taken 43 hours and 18 minutes.

“I’ve wanted to go out and do this for a while, and my 54th birthday seemed like a good time to get going on it,” Rodrigue said. “It took a lot of planning and a lot of help, but I knew I was going to go out there and do it.”

Rodrigue, who recently moved to Tremont, first begin planning his run back in December. With the help of friend Michael Wade, he began mapping out a route that would allow him both the safest and most efficient 100 miles from start to finish.

The route began at Seal Cove and ended at Sand Beach. It included every peak in the national park, including the lesser-known McFarland and Youngs mountains, neither of which have established trails to the top. It included 64.4 miles on single tracks or mountain trails, 28.4 miles on carriage or dirt roads, 6.4 miles on paved roads and 0.8 miles kayaking Somes Sound.

Although Rodrigue has done his share of 100-mile runs in the past, this one was different.

The prospect of climbing multiple mountains with steep cliffs and boulders in the same journey was difficult in and of itself, but the fact that Rodrigue would be doing much of his mountain scaling during the dark of night was even more daunting.

“I knew I wanted somebody to be with me the entire time,” he said. “I let a few ultra runners know what I was doing, and I found a bunch of people who were willing to run with me or help me out in other ways.”

Rodrigue started the journey with Melissa Ossanna of Bar Harbor who has completed several 100-milers of her own. The two ran for 12 miles, after which Ossanna had to leave for work.

“I got the cheerful John,” Ossanna said, laughing. “He was fun and chatty the whole way through, but we both knew this was the easy part for him.”

A map of Rodrigue’s 100-mile run through Acadia. Rodrigue scaled every peak in the park from the well-known Cadillac and Pemetic mountains to the lesser-known McFarland and Youngs mountains.

The real challenge for Rodrigue began several miles before the halfway point as he joined Jeremy Dougherty, ultra runner and general manager of the Bar Harbor Inn. The two were together for 22 miles between 8 p.m. Friday and 4 a.m. Saturday.

The particular portion of the trip for which Rodrigue and Dougherty had joined forces involved summiting at McFarland and Youngs. Several of the ascents involved climbing hands and feet over boulders.

Rodrigue was now nearing a full day of nonstop running, and his senses weren’t what they were when he’d started.

“He starting telling me he was seeing signs on trees and lights that weren’t there,” Dougherty said. “You go through that point in 100-milers, but at the same time, this was different we were going through parts that were really rocky and cliffy. We had to be careful.”

Once that stretch had been completed, Rodrigue took two short naps to refresh. From there, he made it to mile 75 before meeting up with VanDongen to finish the final quarter of the run.

“My memory from the last six or seven miles there is pretty rough for the most part,” Rodrigue said. “I know I finished, but a lot of what happened at the end I didn’t know until later on.”

Rodrigue said he originally expected to complete the run in 32 hours. After the first 10 or 12 miles, he knew that was unrealistic.

“I knew I was behind the pace at that point,” Rodrigue said. “It was obvious pretty soon that it was going to be closer to a 40-hour trip and would probably even take more time than that.”

The trip, which Rodrigue now estimates at “well over 100 miles” of running, climbing and kayaking, was a bit harder than originally anticipated. Yet even though he quickly realized it was going to take him longer than he thought, there was never any doubt in his mind he was going to see it through to the end.

“When John sets out do something, you know he’s going to finish it,” Ossanna said. “He’s very deliberate in his planning and his techniques, and he was out there with longtime runners who had done 100-milers before and who know the island and the park very well.”

As of Sunday, Rodrigue had yet to run again since completing the 100-mile trek. Instead, he’s spent time moving the rest of his tiny house — his home is based on wheels and attaches to the back of his pickup truck — from Trenton to Tremont.

“I was lifting boxes and was thinking to myself, ‘Oh geez, I can still feel it,’” Rodrigue said. “I actually felt pretty great the first day [after the run], but it got worse on the second and third days in terms of fatigue.”

Rodrigue said he couldn’t have completed his Acadia journey without the help of his friends. In addition to Wade, Ossanna, Dougherty and VanDongen, Tom Whitaker, Rebeccah Geib, Dylan Brann, Lori Alley and Aaron Long also assisted Rodrigue along the way.

“I could not and would not have completed this run without these incredible friends,” Rodrigue said. “It was a crazy, fun, challenging, beautiful, incredible adventure run. I love this island, and I respect [it] more in many ways now.”

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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