On July 5th, 1970, folks in Eastport and Perry were given a lesson on the meaning of a “road race,” which until then most probably meant an auto race. It was on this day that 15 runners, led by a steady, strong, Ralph Thomas traversed the 7-mile long causeway, ending at the Eastport municipal pier. Until this day, most local folks had no idea that a runner could complete a distance of over seven miles. And just who was behind this event? It was a man named Dale Lincoln who had returned to his native Perry that year and began developing opportunities for runners. Lincoln would go on to spend 32 years coaching, race directing, and inspiring people of all ages on the joys of running. He became the first resident of Washington County to be inducted into the Maine Running Hall of Fame in November 2002.
Born on January 5, 1937, Lincoln grew up with a great love of the outdoors. There was much to keep him occupied: clamming, smelting, boating, working in the woods with his father, raking blueberries, riding his bike, passing the ball, and so on. He especially liked to run and enjoyed running with his younger sister, Ruth.
Coming up through the grades of public school, Lincoln had a favorite sport of baseball. “I thought baseball was supposed to be my lifetime ambition,” said Lincoln. “I started running on my own in high school to get in condition to play baseball.” But he remembers being told by his parents to “run after dark so the neighbors won’t think you’re crazy.”
Lincoln went on to college at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, and there he continued baseball and his running. The academy had no cross country team, so he ran on his own. I would go out for a morning jog and before long five or six people were asking, “Can we go with you?”
Then in May 1956, on National Maritime Day, a 2-mile intramural race was organized. “A midshipman with a lot of cross country experience crossed the finish line immediately ahead of me. The race was fun,” said Lincoln. Finishing second place served only to motivate him to train harder. Later that summer there was a 3-mile race held in Castine as part of the Fourth of July activities. Lincoln entered and took second again, but this time to a Castine high school junior named Harold Hatch who would, within a year, win the New England Interscholastic Cross Country Championship.
The years passed by and during the early 1960s, Lincoln married Elsie Lee from Eastport and they moved to South Portland where he was employed at Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute for three years. While there, Lincoln started up a cross country program. As a coach, he became a pioneer in one special way, as he trained right alongside his runners. After three years, Lincoln returned to sea as a merchant marine engineer.
Then in 1968, in order to remain home with his young family, he made a career change which he never regretted. Most of the next 25 years he was a school teacher, but an engineering job in Boston allowed him to get serious about running. Boston meant the Boston Marathon., and Dale became very determined that he would, some day, run in it, and that day came in 1969. He would run at Boston three straight years, posting a best time of 3:35:27 in 1970.
Also during these years in the Portland area he started running in some of Roland Dyer’s road races with the Maine Masters. In many ways, Dale said, Dyer would become his mentor, and this would begin in 1970, when he took a teaching job in industrial arts at Woodland and moved back to his old stomping grounds.
It was also during this year that Lincoln started training with a Woodland native named Brian Manza, a Vietnam veteran who as a schoolboy had won the state Class C cross county championship. In the fall of 1970, the two decided to start a running club which they called the Sunrise County Roadrunners. It was the first running club founded in the state that was open to all people and the club remains the oldest running club in Maine today. Also, the Perry to Eastport 7-Miler is now the third oldest annual road race in the state.
It wasn’t long before Lincoln organized other races that would become annual events. He had a 7.2 miler in Calais in May, and a 6-miler in Woodland in October, in addition to the Eastport race. Later came a 29-mile event the first week of April. In addition, he put on frequent weekend fun runs.
Just as Roland Dyer had done, Lincoln ran in the races that he directed, quite a duel-feat, but he liked racing as much as anyone and directing a race was not going to stop him from competing. “Still dripping with sweat, he’d hand out the trophies and ribbons, pick up the clutter (usually by himself) and without fail, make plans for the next one. He coached, cheered, inspired and donated man’s most precious resource…TIME…to the young people of Washington County,” said Bruce Bridgham, who in the early ‘70s was a middle school student who ran in many of Lincoln’s fun runs.
But Lincoln’s contributions included much more than putting on fun runs and annual road races. He revived the high school cross country programs at Calais, Woodland and Eastport, and developed all-new cross country programs at the grade schools. He coached elementary cross country teams for 18 years and did the ground work for establishing grade school competitions that continue to be very popular with youngsters to this day.
In the 1970s the Downeast Athletic Conference, spurred by Lincoln, recognized cross country as a major sport along with baseball, basketball, and soccer. “It was so thrilling to see my son, Dale II, win the DAC Championship in 1987, and have my daughter, Diana, and son be on the Eastern Maine championship cross country teams when I was coaching both teams.” His 1987 Shead High girls cross country squad was Eastern Maine champions and took third in the state meet, and his 1986 boys team at Shead placed second in the state meet, losing by only three points. His 1993 girls team from Calais were Downeast Athletic Conference champs. Lincoln was named Conference Coach of the Year in 1986 and 1987.
Perhaps no other event had Lincoln’s trademark on it more than one he thought up while on an April training run as he prepared for the 1971 Boston Marathon, running from Calais to Eastport, a run of 29 miles. It became an annual event in 1972. The event, which he called “Super Joggers Day,” was meant to be a challenge to anyone, regardless of their ability, as the purpose was to see just how far you could run. It was always held on the first Saturday of April. Lincoln personally designed laminated certificates which were presented to anyone who surpassed five miles, and of course, many did. Lincoln ran the full distance seven times, more than any other runner, and recorded his personal best in 1977 when he was 40, clocking 3:50. Runners could complete the course alone or as a member of a two-man, three-man, or four-man team. And all participants kept their own times which became the official time.
Former UMaine standout Bill Pike once wrote to Lincoln: “If not for Ralph Thomas and your harebrained idea to have 8th graders run cross-country I may never have been much of a runner because if I had started at a later time in my life I probably would not have won my first race and I may not have got the running bug.”
Then in 1999 he would fulfill one of his greatest dreams. As a youngster, Lincoln had always loved books. He produced a 433-page book about his life and the history of the area and, within its chapters (which include many historical photos), are at least two chapters of his experiences in running and coaching. He called the book “Clyde Found Fruitflies in the Berries.”
Lincoln credits a number of individuals for helping him during his years of promoting running. They include: Francis “Red” Sapiel, Brian Manza, Rick Krause, Alexander Brown, Charles Davis, Dick Young, and Dennis Cline. He also credits his children, Carol, Diana, Dale II, and his wife, Elsie “‘who put up with it all for the past forty years.” “His family is very proud of him,’ said Elsie Lincoln, “and we thank all who had a part in giving him this honor [Maine Running Hall of Fame].”
“All of the race directing and coaching I was ever connected with was just in the process of living and enjoying life,” said Lincoln.
Maine Running Hall of Fame member Deke Talbot put his cherished friend in perspective when he said, “I think the gospel passage says it best: ‘By their fruits, shall ye know them.’”