Gary Allen was optimistic earlier this year that the COVID-19 pandemic might be abating and Maine’s competitive road racing schedule might be able to inch back toward normalcy after a lost 2020.
Some races have been held this summer, but the emergence of the delta variant and a resurgence of COVID-19 cases has prompted Allen and other organizers of the Mount Desert Island Marathon and Half-Marathon in Bar Harbor to cancel that event for a second straight year.
“This is absolutely devastating news to our entire organization,” said Allen, director of the MDI event that was preparing for its 19th edition on Oct. 17. “However, for the safety of our local community, professional partners, participants, volunteers and fans, we simply cannot risk further spread and further strain on our healthcare system.
“The last 18 months have been a challenge for everyone. We were hoping to celebrate a great return after last year’s cancellation. Instead we are deeply disappointed at this unexpected turn of events.”
Allen said the races, which attracted more than 1,500 runners the last time they were held in 2019, were on track to draw a record field of competitors from around the state and the country this fall.
“It’s a big hit to the local economy, it brings a lot of people to town,” he said. “It’s also a big hit symbolically. It’s one thing to get knocked to the curb one year but two consecutive years really, really puts you back.”
Allen said the MDI event is not alone among east coast marathons that have been canceled or reduced in scope due to the coronavirus.
Among other casualties so far this autumn are the New Jersey Marathon in Oceanport, and the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, Pennsylvania, while the Philadelphia Marathon set for late November remains on schedule but will do so with a 50 percent reduction in the size of its field.
The 2021 Gorham Savings Bangor Maine Marathon in Portland is still scheduled for Oct. 3 as of Monday morning after being cancelled last year, according to the event’s website.
“We were thinking in July that things were looking great and we were moving ahead with planning and preparations and were pretty deep into it,” Allen said of the MDI races. “There are many factors, but our small, local hospital suddenly feeling overwhelmed and getting close to capacity to treat people with this illness changes everything, so we made the decision to pull the plug.”
The 2022 MDI Marathon is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 16.
Allen also is race director of the Millinocket Marathon and Half-Marathon, which he created in 2015 as a free event for runners in an effort to attract them to the Magic City in early December to boost the northern Penobscot County economy in the aftermath of paper mill closings in the area.
This year’s Millinocket races are scheduled for Dec. 4.
“At this point Millinocket technically is on, but just like we do with every race we’re in close contact with public safety officials, town and municipal departments,” Allen said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that maybe like things turned worse from July to now things by December might cycle the other way and be safer and we can run.
“But I don’t know that.”