On The Run: Bernd Heinrich’s Big Race

Published: 8/6/2023 6:24:41 PM

Bernd Heinrich lives off the grid in the woods of western Maine, at the upper end of a rutted jeep track. Inside his cabin, you see his shelves of books on natural history, at least a dozen of which he wrote.

Bernd is 83. Born in Germany in 1940, he spent early childhood hiding in forests to avoid the advancing Soviet army, then emigrated with his family to Maine in 1950. He grew from a child enchanted by the natural world to a Ph.D. in biology, teaching at the University of Vermont, and studying insects, birds and trees from east Africa to northern Alaska.

Bernd Heinrich is also an ultrarunner. After cross-country in high school and then at the University of Maine, he returned to running at age 39. Curious to try a long race, he entered the hilly Golden Gate Marathon in San Francisco and won it. The following year he won the masters’ (over-40) division of the Boston Marathon.

That was short stuff. In 1981 he entered a 50-mile race in Chicago, finished second overall in a time that broke the world masters record, and decided to keep going, because the race offered the option of running 100 kilometers (61.2 miles) as well. His 100K time that day — 6 hours, 38 minutes and 21 seconds — was a world masters record and the overall U.S. national record. On roads and 400-meter tracks he has held U.S. and world masters records for 100K, 100 miles, and the 24-hour run. In 24 hours run, he covered 156 miles and 1,388 yards.

Bernd has many friends, including well-known runners and his neighbors in the small town of Weld — population 376 in winter, plus several hundred summer residents. One is Lucia Miller of Northampton, who has spent summers since childhood on Weld’s lovely Webb Lake.

On July 15, Miller and other friends organized a road race in Bernd’s honor — the inaugural 5.7-mile Raven Run, so named because ravens are one of Bernd’s favorite subjects. Covering one of his favorite running routes, the course starts beside Webb Lake, climbs for two miles on a dirt road through forest, descends to a beautiful stretch alongside a babbling stream, then rolls up and down to finish by the lake.

For a new race in an out-of-the-way location, the Raven Run drew a good crowd with 74 entrants. Some were locals, some from as far as Portland and beyond. In the latter category was another running legend, Bob Hodge, the seven-time winner of the ultrasteep Mt. Washington Road Race. Hodge, who finished third in the 1979 Boston Marathon, drove to Weld from Berlin, Massachusetts, to say hi to Bernd and to run.

Other entrants: Phil Krajewski, of Eastport, Maine, who won the Boston masters’ division in 2021; Susan Vogt-Brooks, a veteran ultrarunner who once completed the 89-mile Comrades Marathon across South Africa; assorted high school cross-country runners keeping in shape during the summer; and Maurine Miller, Lucia’s daughter, who ran while pulling her two-year-old son Arthur in a two-wheeled cart -- and while four months pregnant.

“I can’t believe this!” said Bernd before the race. “I thought there’d be five or six people here.”

The overall winner was Dave Huish, a 56-old doctor from Farmington, Maine, in 41 minutes, 17 seconds. The first female finisher, third overall, was 18-year-old Brooke Buotte from Rumford, in 44:14. The first finisher over 60, male or female, was Vogt-Brooks. She placed 15th in 51:35. Maurine Miller and Arthur finished 38th, just behind Bernd’s 53-year-old daughter Erica. Immediately ahead of Erica was Paul Mills, 71-year-old brother of Maine governor Janet Mills.

And Bernd? He clocked in at 59:38, placed 31st overall and was tickled to discover that he had edged 79-year- old Krajewski by 15 seconds.

Bernd’s writings draw on close observation of how songbirds line their nests, how bumblebees regulate their body temperatures, how maple seedlings sprout. In his 2021 book “Racing The Clock,” he wrote, “We frame our worthiness in terms of becoming part of something we deem to be of value that is greater than ourselves, such as a sports team, a country. Why not of Nature, to which we all belong?”

The annual 5.5-mile Montague Mug Race takes place on Saturday, Aug. 19, starting at 8:30 a.m. on the Montague town common. The two-mile Mini Mug race starts at 8:35. Information available online (Montaguemugrace.com).

Correction from July’s column: The organizer of the Floodwater Mountain Racing Team, which won several prizes at Mt. Washington in June, is Mark Staples. Congratulations again, guys.

John Stifler has taught writing and economics at UMass and has written extensively for running magazines and newspapers. He can be reached at jstifler@umass.edu


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