Among the lesser publicized sporting casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic in Maine this year is its road racing community.
Gary Allen knows that better than most.
The veteran distance runner and entrepreneur was to have directed the Mount Desert Island Marathon and Half-Marathon last weekend before turning his attention to the Millinocket Marathon and Half-Marathon, scheduled for Dec. 5.
Neither event will take place in 2020.
The MDI events were canceled earlier this year, and now the sixth edition of the Millinocket races has been postponed until next year.
“Does this decision hurt?” Allen said. “Yep, a lot.”
The state’s road racing scene has largely been shut down since the coronavirus arrived last spring, with Maine’s community sports guidelines stating that group racing events are not recommended at this time.
“Commonly these events are known as: ‘road race’, 5k (3.1 miles), 10k (6.2 miles), half marathon (13.1 miles), marathon (26.2 miles), walk, and century or half-century (100 or 50 miles). Further guidance for safe practice of such events is forthcoming,” according to the state guidance.
In addition, neither USA Track & Field nor the Road Runners Club of America currently are issuing event sanctions or insurance in instances when local and state mandates cannot be followed.
“We held out a slim hope that things might improve after the summer but the reality is now that we are into the fall, holding a huge event in Millinocket with participants coming from all over the country just wouldn’t be safe or a responsible thing to do,” said Allen, who is the founder of both the MDI and Millinocket marathons.
“We are, of course, sad to make this tough decision but are also resolute in the knowledge that our event is bigger than any single year’s race and we’ll return when it’s safe to do so with the Millinocket Marathon in all its glory,” he said.
The Millinocket Marathon and Half-Marathon was started in 2015 in an effort to help that region continue to cope with the closing of its paper mills.
The races are free to enter, with the only requirement for runners that they support Millinocket-area businesses and contribute to the region in some way during their visit.
More than 2,300 runners preregistered for last year’s event, with 187 braving temperatures in the 20s and recent snowfall to finish the marathon — a Boston Marathon qualifying race — while 1,277 participants completed the half-marathon.
“As we all know this region has been knocked down before with the mill closures so getting through this will be hard,” Allen said, “but if any town or region can come out stronger it’s Millinocket.”