MILLINOCKET, Maine — Gary Allen has organized dozens of marathons in his in 45-year racing career, but he’s never seen anything draw as much support as fast as his race to benefit the town’s economy, he said Sunday.
Since an article on it was published in Runner’s World magazine, Allen’s marathon and half marathon held last month has drawn commitments from more than 1,000 entrants eager to run in next year’s race, on Dec. 10, 2016 — including runners from 35 states and three countries, he said.
As of Sunday, his efforts had raised $7,855 for the Millinocket Public Library and OurKatahdin.com, a volunteer economic and community development group, plus $1,100 for the Millinocket Fire Department and pledges from three local banks totaling $2,250, Allen said.
“It’s unbelievable, in a word. We are seeing nationwide support,” Allen said during a recent interview. “This is turning into much, much more than a running race.”
The 58-year-old Great Cranberry Island resident, who is the founding race director of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, organized the race, which debuted Dec. 12 and drew close to 40 runners. Competitors could run either a full marathon or a half marathon over the 13.1-mile course, making two laps on the longer race. His idea: To not charge runners an entry fee, suggesting instead that they and other attendees spend their money at Katahdin region shops, restaurants and hotels and see how much the area has to offer.
Town leaders are grateful for Allen’s efforts, said Town Manager John Davis, who has discussed next year’s race with Allen several times.
“He is not looking for what we can do for him but what he can do for us,” Davis said. “You never know. If you get the right people here, who knows? They might want to come back to start a business. Anything like that will help. Just to get that many people in town will help the local businesses. They are going to spend money.”
The Millinocket event wasn’t Allen’s first fundraising race. He has run long-distance treks to Washington, D.C., and to the Super Bowl and organized a race from Bucksport, another struggling mill town, to Ellsworth on Nov. 29. The Bucksport race was organized in less time and with less advanced publicity than the Millinocket race, and it still managed to draw a dozen runners, he has said.
Since 2008, the Katahdin region has been devastated by the closure of paper mills in East Millinocket and Millinocket, which in turn contributed to vast unemployment, unprecedented numbers of foreclosures and a population exodus. Unemployment typically runs at double the state average, property values are at an all-time low and property taxes are very high in the region.
In response, several volunteer economic development groups have formed, including OurKatahdin.com, which has used crowd-sourcing donations to benefit close to a dozen community projects. Allen is working with OurKatahdin representatives to see how the race can fit in with other community and economic development initiatives, he said.
The most recently forming group is being organized by Susan D’Allesandro, a town resident and retired coordinator at Katahdin Region Higher Education Center of East Millinocket of a program now called now called New Ventures, which offers economic retraining to disadvantaged women.
D’Allesandro’s group met at the Northern Timber Cruisers clubhouse just outside town Jan. 9, with 23 people attending. D’Allesandro, who has corresponded with Allen several times on social media, said that Allen’s efforts “are a good example of what one person can do.”
“I think that [Allen’s race] is part of what is energizing a lot of things in the community. I really feel that people are ready now [to begin rebuilding the community],” D’Allesandro said. “What he is doing with this marathon is creating a lot of hope and energy. It’s an example of what people can do when they get together for a common goal and of the importance of networking.”
Anyone interested in learning more about or contributing to Allen’s efforts can contact him through his Facebook page, “Millinocket Marathon & Half.”