Gary Allen’s marathon motivation marked by decades of endurance

Gary Allen trains along Sargent Drive in Northeast Harbor as part of his preparation for the Boston Marathon in 2010. Allen’s recent finish of  2 hours, 59 minutes and 48 seconds in the Tacoma City Marathon marked the 65th time he has completed a marathon in under three hours.
Gary Allen trains along Sargent Drive in Northeast Harbor as part of his preparation for the Boston Marathon in 2010. Allen’s recent finish of 2 hours, 59 minutes and 48 seconds in the Tacoma City Marathon marked the 65th time he has completed a marathon in under three hours. Buy Photo
Posted May 25, 2012, at 2:45 p.m.

CRANBERRY ISLES, Maine — The clock was working against Gary Allen as he neared the late stages of the Tacoma City Marathon in Washington earlier this month.

His goal was to finish the race in less than three hours, which he had done 64 times before for the 26.2-mile distance, but the challenging course was testing the 55-year-old Allen’s physical limits that day.

“It’s a notoriously hilly route and it was really kicking my butt,” said Allen. “I looked at my split at 20 miles and thought I was really going to have to push this to get it under three hours.”

Allen overcame the course — which included a mile-long hill between Miles 23 and 24 — to beat the three-hour mark, finishing seventh overall in 2 hours, 59 minutes and 48 seconds.

That effort increased the span between his first and most recent sub 3-hour marathons to 33 years and 289 days, the eighth-longest split of its kind in the nation as compiled by the Association of Road Race Statisticians.

“I don’t think of myself in the same league as a lot of the runners on that list,” said Allen, “but longevity-wise I guess I am.”

Allen, who began running in 1972 after watching American Frank Shorter win the marathon at the Munich Olympics, clocked his first sub 3-hour marathon (2:52:41) at Bangor’s Paul Bunyan Marathon on July 15, 1978.

That and subsequent efforts were forged on training done largely along the main road on Great Cranberry Island.

“The main road there is only two miles long,” he said, “and running back and forth on that road made me feel like a caged lion, it really developed the mental part of running for me.

“The islanders used to get tired of seeing me run back and forth so much,” he said.

Allen typically runs four to five marathons per year. He’s already completed the Houston Marathon, Boston Marathon and Tacoma City Marathon this year, with plans to run the New York Marathon in November and perhaps another fall marathon — in addition to his duties as director of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, an event he founded in 2002.

That he has been healthy enough to maintain a sub 3-hour marathon pace for more than three decades is a credit to both good physical and mental health, he said.

“I guess I’d say it was because of good genes, which is luck, and running all those years on Cranberry Isles made me tough between the ears,” he said.

While Allen also once raced at shorter distances, he now strays competitively from marathons much less often.

“I’ve come to grips with the fact that I don’t have the leg speed I once had,” he said, “but I still feel like I have the endurance.”

Allen hopes to test that endurance for several more years, at least into the next decade as he pursues yet another unique goal. Already he’s among a group of runners who have completed sub 3-hour marathons in five consecutive decades, but at this point no one has been formally identified as having run a sub 3-hour marathon in six consecutive decades.

“I kind of think I can stick around until 2020,” said Allen. “I don’t feel like anything cataclysmic will happen to me running-wise, and it’s only seven years and seven months or so until 2020. I’d kind of like to be one of the only people to do it.”

He has already figured out a possible place to achieve that milestone.

“I went out to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston earlier this year and ran in the Houston Marathon, and it’s a pretty quick course,” said Allen. “After I got back I sent a note to the race director out there asking him to reserve a spot for me in 2020.

“If all goes well and I’m still running well by that time I’ll give it a shot.”

Series continues at Cobscook Bay 10K

The TradeWinds MarketPlace/Sub 5 Track Club road racing series heads Down East on Saturday, June 2, for the 21st annual Cobscook Bay 10K and 5K in Pembroke.

Caleb Lander and Kristine Guaraldo, both of Brewer, lead the overall men’s and women’s point standings through the first three events of the year, with Adam Goode of Bangor and Katherine Collins of Winterport ranked second in their divisions.

The Cobscook Bay 10K, which benefits Down East Hospice, starts on Route 1 in Pembroke and finishes at Pembroke’s Reversing Falls Park on the western shore of Cobscook Bay.

The men’s 10K course record is 33:04 set in 2008 by Bar Harbor’s Judson Cake, who last Sunday won the Sugarloaf 15K in Kingfield. Elizabeth Brunton of Birch Harbor set the women’s course standard of 39:17 in 2010.

The 2011 champions were Al Hanscom of Limestone (37:42) and Kristina Bisheimer of Bucksport (47:03).

Race day registration is at 8:30 a.m., followed by a kids’ run at 9:15 and the 10K and 5K at 10 a.m. For information, email jaretakis@hotmail.com.

Volunteers needed for Beach to Beacon

Organizers for the 15th anniversary TD Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race, to be held Aug. 4 in Cape Elizabeth, are in search of volunteer help for this year’s event.

New and returning volunteers are encouraged to sign up soon at www.beach2beacon.org/VOLUNTEER to have access to the widest selection of openings.

“There’s a sense of satisfaction that our volunteers feel in knowing that they play such a key role in making this race the prestigious, well-run event that it is, year after year,” said volunteer coordinator Maya Cohen of Cape Elizabeth. “We always need more volunteers and we’re always looking for new faces to get involved.”

Volunteers receive a commemorative T-shirt and are invited to a party in a coastal Cape Elizabeth locale organized exclusively for them.

The TD Beach to Beacon 10K needs more than 800 volunteers each year. In addition to parking and water stations, volunteers help organize and staff many aspects of the event, including registration for two days before the race, course set-up and break down, baggage assistance, recycling and in the medical tent.

The race also honors a longtime volunteer with a special annual award. The 2011 Volunteer of the Year award went to the Bermans of Cape Elizabeth — Jeff and Kerry and their children Ben, Jackson and Sam. “It’s committed volunteers like the Bermans who make this race what it is, and they have fun doing it,” added Cohen.

Runners under age 18 cannot register online and need to download an application from the website. Call 272-3545 or email bestn92@gmail.com with questions.

A race field of 6,000 is expected, including some of the best elite runners in the world as well as in Maine and New England. The 2011 race included runners from 12 countries and 43 U.S. states.

For information about the race, visit www.beach2beacon.org or call the race hotline at 888-480-6940.

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