TURNER — Gordon Collins of Gray did not participate much in competitive sports throughout high school and college.

Following graduation, most of his days were spent working long hours as a contractor, work that left his joints and muscles sore.

Gordon Collins, right, of Gray stands with his two children before competing in the Safe Voices 5-kilometer race. Submitted photo

Occasionally, he would exercise, but never anything too strenuous.

On May 11, Collins, at 40 years old, will be one of 62 solo runners participating in the Riverlands 100, Maine’s first 100-mile trail race, at Androscoggin Riverlands State Park in Turner.

According to the Riverlands 100 website, the trail system is made up of 25 miles of varying terrain, including “river views of the Androscoggin River, dense forest, ups and downs, rocks and roots and hopefully some good mud.”

Collins’ journey from casually exercising to participating in one of the most strenuous races available for runners began as a tribute to Kelly Gorham, a friend who was killed 12 years ago by her former fiance.

“I always run for Kelly,” Collins said. “There are other things I run for. I have kids of my own that I’m inspired by, and I’ve grown to like the process of preparing for a race, but I always run for Kelly.”

‘A loving and trusting soul’

Collins met Gorham almost two decades ago.

“I don’t even remember how we met,” Collins said. “We just kind of hit it off.”

Collins and Gorham dated for about four years, he said, and spent a lot of their time together enjoying the outdoors.

“We went hiking, four-wheeling, fishing and boating,” Collins said. “Anything to do with the outdoors, she loved. She was a loving and trusting soul.”

Gorham, at the time, was a certified nursing assistant training to be a registered nurse, which kept her busy, while Collins was a contractor who worked long hours.

Their busy work schedules contributed to their breakup, Collins said, and they talked less and less over the years.

“I met another woman and found out that I was going to be a father, and I had heard she got into a relationship with another man,” Collins said. “After that, we completely stopped talking.”

Gorham and the man, Jason Twardus, got engaged, but at some point, Gorham called off the engagement and broke up with Twardus.

Several months later, on Sept. 2, 2007, Gorham was found strangled to death and buried on a remote piece of land owned by Twardus’ father in Stewartstown, New Hampshire, near the Canadian border.

Twardus was arrested and authorities said he was motivated to kill because Gorham was moving on with her life without him.

After a three-week trial in 2010, Twardus was found guilty and sentenced to 38 years in prison.

‘The running fever’

Collins said that the years following Gorham’s death were a “long, hard time” for him.

He reconnected with Gorham’s family and spoke with them regularly following her death.

Collins said that in 2014, Gorham’s sister, Kim, told him about a 5-kilometer race that nonprofit organization Safe Voices hosted every year.

“I wanted to run it in memory of Kelly, but I had never run competitively before,” Collins said. “So I started training.”

Collins started running a mile at a time on high school tracks, and when he grew bored of the repetition of a track, he started running on paved roads.

“I worked really hard at it for two or three months,” Collins said. “I started off running once around a track and then walking to catch my breath. I had sore knees from years of contracting work, but I ran through the pain. Eventually, I was able to run 3 miles without any issues.”

At the 2014 Safe Voices 5K, Collins, with his limited experience in competitive sports and long-distance running, placed 10th.

He also raised around $200 on GoFundMe in honor of Gorham and donated the money to Safe Voices.

Collins said he “enjoyed the process” of training for races and he liked fundraising.

Over the next few years, Collins trained harder, slowly and methodically adding to his training regimen until he was comfortable running 10 to 15 miles at a time and began placing high in 5k races.

“I caught the running fever,” Collins said. “I kept running 5Ks or 10Ks and hosting fundraisers during the Safe Voices 5K.”

However, in 2018, Collins said he found himself getting “burned out” on 5Ks and “road running.”

“I was still inspired by Kelly and by the fundraising I was doing, but I was losing the fun,” Collins said.

He rediscovered the fun in running after stumbling across a Portland group, the Runaways Run Club.

“They’re a diverse group of runners,” Collins said. “I used to run alone a lot before I met them. The camaraderie is just so exciting.”

One of the runners in The Runaways Run Club told Collins about a 100-mile race that he did in Vermont.

“At the time, I thought, ‘That is absolutely nuts,’” Collins said. “I knew I could put up 15 to 18 miles at a time, but 100 miles? How do people even do that?”

Starting in the fall of 2018, Collins said he decided to forgo racing and focus his efforts on trail running and preparing for the Riverlands 100.

Training

In the weeks leading up to the Riverlands 100, Collins has tried to spend two or three days a week in the gym, and every other weekend “go on a really long run.”

“I’ll sometimes do a 35-mile run from Gray to Freeport and back,” Collins said, adding that he also practices on the Riverlands trails to get a feel for the trail system and conditions.

However, despite the dozens of 5Ks and other races under his belt and the arduous training he has done, Collins said he is still not sure what to expect when it comes time to start the 100-mile race.

“I’d love to say I know exactly what my body will do at 100 miles,” Collins said. “Right now, I’m focusing on pace and focusing on nutrition. I ask myself, ‘Does my body need food? Does my body need water? Does it need salt tabs?’”

On his Facebook page, Collins wrote his plan is to carb-load the day before the race to “build long-term energy,” have a big breakfast on the morning of the race, and then rely on Tailwind mix with salt tabs every 20 minutes and “high sodium, high sugar, lower fat foods” during the race.

“It’s a seesaw of not eating too much, not so little that you get behind, and knowing that your body will burn 1,000 calories per hour and only digest 300 per hour,” he wrote on his page. “You’re going to lose that battle eventually. You just need to win it long enough to finish the race.”

Comfort zone

Collins said trail running, especially while training for the Riverlands 100, has left him feeling reinvigorated.

“I turned 40 in March and I’m feeling fitter than I have in my entire life,” he said.

He said his family and friends have been “tremendously supportive” throughout his training, though some have expressed trepidation about him taking part in such a taxing race.

“I have some family and close friends who are definitely worried I’ll overexert my body,” Collins said. “But they also know that I take my training seriously.”

Collins said he views the Riverlands 100 as his personal crucible and as a journey outside his comfort zone.

“I’m giving something of myself to do this run,” Collins said. “I’m beating my body up a little. I’ll probably burst into tears when I cross that finish line, but I want people who donate to the cause to see the effort I’ve put in.

“And most of all, I want to make sure Kelly’s memory lives on.”

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