How did it all begin?

Sunday, March 24, 2002:
RUNNING: John Rolfe
Maine’s premier team? Look under ‘Dirigo RC’
The name came to Andy Spaulding halfway through the second interval of a 2×10-minute road workout at 5:05-5:10 pace. He and Todd Coffin and Barry Logan were running “right near Joanie’s house, actually” on Flying Point Road in Freeport.

“Dirigo,” Spaulding said to Logan and Coffin.

“But I didn’t get much of a response at the time,” he remembers. “Maybe an ‘nnnnggggh.’ ”

A few days later, however, “in brainstorming mode,” they agreed that the name – the state motto, Latin for “I lead” – was suitable for a new Maine racing team, an undertaking the friends and training partners had been discussing for months.

So Dirigo RC (running club) was established. Its purpose is mainly to give Maine “a solid team that could compete in the New England Grand Prix events,” Spaulding, a principal organizer, noted via e-mail.

“Just to get a group together would be fun, and to see how well a team of Mainers could do would be exciting,” he added over the phone.

Last Sunday the team made what Spaulding called a “very solid” debut in the seven-race NEGP series by placing fifth among 20 teams at the New Bedford Half-Marathon. Spaulding confessed he was a bit disappointed – he’d thought they’d run well enough to perhaps squeak into third place.

That the average Dirigo time was sub-1:11 gives you a good idea of the quality of competition. The overall winner, Gabriel Muchiri of Kenya, ran 1:04:06. The Greater Lowell Road Runners – for whom Spaulding used to race, and whom top U.S. runner Joe LeMay of Connecticut recently joined – were the top team. LeMay (fourth, in 1:05:24) led Greater Lowell, and Bob Winn of Ogunquit was fifth scorer, running 1:10:37 for 34th place overall.

For Dirigo, Freeport’s Spaulding (last year’s Maine Beach to Beacon champion) ran 1:08:15; Ethan Hemphill of Portland ran 1:09:47; Todd Coffin of Freeport ran 1:09:54; Christian Muentener of Augusta ran 1:12:16; and Robert Ashby of Brunswick ran 1:14:40. Team member Dan Dearing of Lisbon Falls submitted a 1:15:50. The top five runners on a team score.

Spaulding noted that Coffin – in what is really his first year as a master’s runner, since he turned 40 last May but was sidelined by a broken ankle – won $900 as first overall master and first USA Track & Field New England master (assuming double-dipping is allowed). “His 1:09:54 is all the more impressive ’cause all his focus has been on the track,” Spaulding said.

The Dirigo team in full, in addition to those already mentioned: Scott Brown of Lewiston, Kevin Way of Hollis, Dave Nelson of Lincoln, Paul Johnson of Gorham, Mike Payson of Falmouth and Dave Weatherbie and Pete Bottomley of Cape Elizabeth. The team would love to have both Winn and Byrne Decker of Yarmouth, Spaulding said, but they are at present committed to other teams, with Decker running for the Central Mass. Striders.

But Dirigo still has most of Maine’s top male racers – for example Nelson, a Chicago native, is a 2:19 marathoner who ran in the Olympic Trials and is just returning to competition – and some formidable masters competitors. But Spaulding cautions:

“We really don’t want to be thought of as an elite racing team. Moral of the story is, if someone wants to join, whether they run 15 or 22 minutes for 5K, they are more than welcome to do so. They just won’t get a lot out of it yet compared to what they might get from a structured running club (i.e., weekly workouts, group long runs, newsletters).”

No, the team is pretty loose, just keying on the Grand Prix events – the next of which is the famous James Joyce Ramble, a 10-kilometer race in Dedham, Mass., on April 28. The series ends with the Cape Cod Marathon on Oct. 27.

But expect to see the Dirigo uniforms – blue singlets and black shorts, with a conifer logo adapted from an old Steve Prefontaine jersey – at some Maine races, especially Beach to Beacon. Assuming the uniforms, en route from Memphis at time of writing, arrive before August.

“Anyway, we’d love to get every good Maine guy on the team, so we could have a sense of how we stack up amid the really tough New England competition,” Spaulding said. “It would be fun if we could win one of these Grand Prix events. We have the stuff to do it, if everybody’s really there and the stars all line up on the same day.”