Many runners see the marathon distance as grueling, with crossing the finish line just as high a goal as qualifying for a major marathon like Boston.
But for Gary Allen, running 26.2 miles is a way of life.
The 53-year-old from Great Cranberry Island, who is among more than 200 Mainers scheduled to run Monday’s Boston Marathon, was recently honored in “Runner’s World” as one of only six runners worldwide to complete sub-three-hour marathons in five consecutive decades.
Allen first broke three hours at the 1978 Paul Bunyan Marathon in Bangor. He finished in 2 hours, 52 minutes, 41 seconds. His most recent sub-3 effort came at the Snickers Albany (Georgia) Marathon in March, where he ran 2:51.03.
After a solid winter of training, Allen felt confident heading into that race, and cracked the three-hour barrier with ease.
“I felt like I was in very good shape this spring, so I wanted to take a shot of getting sub-3 in a fifth decade. I felt like I was in shape to get it,” he said. “I [also] finished 10th overall so pretty pleased with that. I don’t really compete that often anymore, so when I do I try to make it count.”
That will be the case for Allen in Boston, who says he has no plans to hang up his marathon shoes anytime soon.
“Boston is sort of a rite of spring if you’re a runner,” said Allen, also the race director for the MDI Marathon.
“Having done it quite a few times, others have run it more than I have, but I think as you pass through the towns along the route and see the generations of families with lawn chairs out and signs, you realize it’s bigger than any one of us,” Allen said.
The aforementioned effort in Georgia is all the racing Allen has done to prepare for Boston, but after five decades of marathons, he has training plans down to a science.
“Anybody knows to have success at Boston, February through December and March you have to keep your nose to the grindstone and put some mileage in,” he said. “After having done this for so many years, I know the ingredients you need to add to your arsenal. I’m pretty confident that what I need to add has been added.”
Another key for Allen is absorbing Maine’s harsh winters — although this one was milder than most — and training outside no matter what the conditions.
“I don’t like treadmills at all. They’re useful as a tool but I don’t like the weather to be a reason not to go run,” Allen said. “I take pride in the fact that I’ve never seen the weather bad enough to stop me from running.”
Sometimes, athletes who have run Allen’s MDI Marathon in the past have recognized him in Massachusetts, as he has “MDI 26.2” tattooed on the back of his shoulder.
“I think that when people see that along the way, they know exactly who I am,” he said. “It is interesting when you line up in Hopkinton, how many layers or clothing covering things like that [and] people come up and say hello.”
One fellow Mainer he may say hello to on Monday is Sheri Piers of Falmouth, who finished in the top 10 overall last spring and, in the eyes of Allen, has a great chance to do so again this year.
Allen invited Piers to speak to MDI Marathon participants at the prerace dinner last October.
“Sheri’s awesome, I’ve known Sheri for a number of years. The marathon is really her event, too, and I see her doing really well,” Allen said. “I don’t think she leaves a lot of stones unturned as far as her preparation. She’s got five kids so that makes it more amazing.”
Piers was the top American finisher in last year’s Boston Marathon, while she also won the Maine women’s division of the Beach to Beacon 10K race last summer.