BAR HARBOR, Maine — Mount Desert Island in the autumn can be a blissful oasis, the colorful foliage of the season an exclamation point to the multitude of breathtaking vistas.
More than a thousand runners are expected to sample that natural beauty Sunday as they participate in the 11th annual Mount Desert Island Marathon, a 26.2-mile competitive tour of the island that begins at 8 a.m. in Bar Harbor and proceeds through Otter Creek, Seal Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Somesville to the finish in downtown Southwest Harbor.
The event has grown gradually throughout its first decade, reaching its participant capacity for the first time in 2010 and achieving this year’s general registration maximum of 1,200 by mid-July, easily the earliest such a limit has been reached.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest races in eastern Maine,” said the race’s founder and director, Gary Allen.
The list of participants has an eclectic feel, with all 50 states, nine Canadian provinces and several other countries represented.
“We’re getting people from more and more far-flung areas,” said Allen.
Credit that geographic blend to the island’s overall appeal, effective marketing and an appreciation of the race’s attraction as a “destination marathon” throughout the running community.
Runner’s World magazine calls the MDI Marathon the most scenic of its kind in the United States, while a more recent article in Men’s Health magazine labeled it a must-race event on any distance runner’s bucket list.
“I think we do a good job of marketing the race,” said Allen, “but Men’s Health magazine selected us as one of the 11 great races you need to run before you die ,and we had absolutely no communication with them.
“Things like that keep happening.”
Allen hopes this year’s race may top 1,000 finishers for the first time — 926 completed the 2011 event — but he also is determined to remain aware of how the growth of the marathon impacts the host communities and villages.
“We’re trying to build a world-class marathon on the island, but we’re trying to do it responsibly,” he said. “You can’t just open the floodgates and let in more runners than the island can handle.”
With that in mind, Allen strives to communicate with community members in the aftermath of each race to determine how to proceed in determining the size of future fields.
“Who knows, we may end up with 3,000 entries at some point,” said Allen, a native of nearby Great Cranberry Island, “but I don’t think the communities are quite ready for that yet.”
The marathon also includes a charitable component in conjunction with Crowdrise, a social fundraising platform founded by actor Edward Norton. Through their participation in the race, runners may choose to compete for charity or or make donations to the cause of their choice.
So far this year, that effort has generated more than $21,000 in donations.
Defending race champions are Michael Wardian of Arlington, Va., who was timed in 2 hours, 32 minutes, 36 seconds in winning last year’s overall title, and Leah Jabbour of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who set a women’s course record with her 2011 time of 3:01:22.
The men’s course record is 2:31:54, set in 2010 by Louie Luchini of Ellsworth.
“Hopefully, this marathon will continue to have staying power,” said Allen. “Will it be around for a hundred years? Obviously, I won’t be around to find out, but I’d like to think we’re building toward that.”