Riverlands 100 racers Jason Tardy (far left) and Sam Heye (third from left) with pacers Bucky Love and Craig Ela at the Middle Earth Aid Station. Credit: Courtesy of Janel Goodman

Early in the morning of May 14, a pack of 78 runners stood in the parking lot at Androscoggin Riverlands State Park in Turner. Twelve of those runners were preparing for a 20-mile loop as the first of five runners in relay teams competing that day.

The other 66 runners were setting out to accomplish a feat that few people even dream to accomplish: running a continuous 100 miles.

The Riverlands 100-mile race was dreamt up by Valerie Abradi and Mindy Slovinsky in response to a lack of 100-mile races to serve the vibrant and thriving trail and ultra-running community in Maine. (Riverlands 100 is still Maine’s only 100-mile distance race.) The first year the race was held, in 2017, 38 solo runners started the race. With the exception of 2020, when the race was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the race has been held every year since.

Runners who successfully complete four 25-mile laps earn a belt buckle imprinted with the Riverlands 100 logo, the classic award in ultra-running culture for completing a race of 100 miles or more. For many, this buckle not only represents 24 to 32 hours of running — through the night, through the bugs, through nausea and sore muscles — it also represents countless hours of training in the months leading up to the race.

“My first goal was to get through a rigorous training plan and start the race uninjured,” said Rachel Peck, who crossed the finish line as the first female with a time of 31 hours, 21 minutes and 42 seconds. “Once I accomplished that, I was mostly just really excited to run and race again.”

The starting field was a mix of experienced 100-mile runners as well as first timers. Jason Tardy was one of the runners who brought home his first 100-mile buckle at Riverlands in 2022.

“Shortly after running my first marathon a neighbor told me about the Riverlands State Park,” Tardy said. “Once I started running on its trails I never wanted to run on roads again. Then shortly after that I heard about the Riverlands 100 and knew I had to be a part of it!”

After running two 20-mile legs on relay teams for three years, and then accomplishing three 20-mile legs during the relay at the 2021 race, Tardy decided 2022 was the year for his first hundred.

While all the runners with their sights set on finishing Riverlands 100 knew they would be in for the adventure of a lifetime, no one expected what mother nature would dole out for them. As the day began the temperature began climbing quickly, reaching 91 degrees Fahrenheit at the start and finish aid station in the middle of the day.

“I think most of us starting Riverlands this year were looking at our weather apps in shock. I’m a cold-weather runner, and training for a spring race in New England typically means you do most of your training in 30 degrees and below. So here I am after a winter of many single-digit training runs trying to figure out how I’m going to run in 90 degree heat. It was wild,” Peck said after finishing the race.

With 85 percent of racers from Maine and New England, the heat certainly took its toll. Out of the 66 people who started the race only 19 runners crossed the finish line, a 29 percent success rate, the lowest the race has ever seen.

In a sport where everyone is working hard to accomplish the same, seemingly impossible goal, such a high drop rate affects everyone. “When someone in front of us DNFs [did not finish] we don’t cheer that we moved up in the leaderboard, we feel for them. Everyone out there has put in countless hours of training, preparation, and sacrifice before they even start.” Tardy wrote in his post-race report on Facebook.

Abradi’s passion for the Riverlands 100 race, its runners and the community around it is obvious to anyone involved in the race. “Mindy and I have both done our own 100s, but, somehow, [race directing] a 100 seems way more rewarding in that we’ve been a part of all of our runners’ 100 journeys. As soon as we say go, we witness everything that makes a 100 hard, special and rewarding.”

Every runner who toed the line on May 14 showed an incredible amount of strength for getting to the starting line, and the 19 who finished possessed an incredible amount of grit. Congratulations to the winners, Israel Agront and Rachel Peck.

The race directors and runners would like to share a special thank you to the Turner ATV club, Turner Rescue and the numerous volunteers who make this race happen.

If you’d like to learn more about the Riverlands 100 you can find the race at riverlands100.com or on Facebook.

Acadia Gantz, Outdoors Contributor

Acadia is an ultrarunner, midwife and UESCA-certified running coach living and playing in the Lakes Region of Maine. She is the founder of Canyon Wren Coaching where she helps runners navigate pregnancy,...