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October 15, 2020

Runners, area businesses will have to sit out Millinocket Marathon this year

Runners bundled up in winter gear run up a country road facing snow covered Mount Katahdin Courtesy / Jessica Masse The Millinocket Marathon, which started as a spur-of-the-moment idea by Mount Desert Island runner Gary Allen to help boost the town's economy, won't be run this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The pop-up marathon that's become a feel-good celebration of the Katahdin region's resurgence, as well as a $1 million economic boost for the area, won't get off the starting line this year because the state's COVID-19 community sports guidelines recommend against group running events.

It would have been the fifth year for the Millinocket Marathon, which began as a spontaneous event in 2015 and has grown to attract fields of over 2,000 participants, who trek to north-central Maine on the cusp of winter to run 26.2 or 13.1 miles. The race was originally scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 5, this year.

Last year, 2,381 runners from 41 states, six countries and four Canadian provinces registered for the marathon and half marathon. The race has no prize money or prizes of any sort, no finisher's medals, no free T-shirts, no gift bags full of running swag. It also doesn't charge a registration fee — runners and their crews are asked to spend money in the town of 4,200 and the surrounding Katahdin region instead.

The race also features a weekend of events, most of them indoors, including a spaghetti supper, pancake breakfast, live music at local venues, an expo and a craft fair.

“We started this free event to help support Maine’s Katahdin region, and in doing so, we have done the impossible by attracting thousands of participants from all over the US, Canada and beyond,” said Gary Allen, founder and race director, on the event's website.

“However, despite multiple in-person races being held in our state during the pandemic, my team and I recognize that public health officials have an obligation to our greater community, and we support their efforts. The health and safety of our participants, along with that of our volunteers, spectators, partners, local community and organizing team has and always will be a top priority.”

Allen said that, in addition to the Maine CDC guidelines, neither United States Track & Field nor Road Runners Club of America are issuing event sanctions or insurance where local and state mandates cannot be followed for road races.

"While this decision weighs heavily on us, the health and well-being of our participants, along with that of our volunteers, spectators, partners, local community and organizing team is of the utmost importance," Allen said. "We appreciate your continued support and look forward to running with you again in the future.

"Per the most over-used word of 2020, we are living in unprecedented times," he said. "Please continue to take care of yourselves and help others whenever possible. Practice good social distancing. Wear face coverings. Wash your hands. Be kind."

While there are no precise calculations of the money generated, race organizers have worked with the Maine Office of Tourism and the Maine Sports Commission to estimate the event's economic impact. Allen said last year the impact has grown to around $300,000 a year, with an overall total of $1 million since it began.

Millinocket Town Council Chairman Cody McEwen said at the press conference the day before last year's race that the ripple effect in the region, which spans Piscataquis, Penobscot and Aroostook counties, can be felt "all the way up to Mount Chase."

"It's very important to the economy of Millinocket," McEwen said. It gets people to the region in the shoulder season between fall hunting season and the winter snowmobile season in the region, which has been hard-hit since the paper mills that sustained in closed over the last two decades. 

"This allows businesses to open their doors and let people be supportive in a time when that wasn't happening," he said. 

Because there is no race fee those who had already registered this year won't get refunds or deferrals, Allen said. The race is part of the 2020 Sea to Summit Maine Race Series which does have a fee, and those refunds have been processed.

Any donations made to help with expenses for this year’s race will be applied to 2021, race organizers said.

The pandemic has also forced the cancellation of other well-known Maine running events this year, including the TD Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth.

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