Gary Allen Breaks 47-Year-Old Record at 24-Hour MDI Relay

 By Craig Crosby

BAR HARBOR—Mike Brooks’ hat brim shrouded his eyes against the sun as he sat limply in a lawn chair cradling a beer just past noon on Sunday. At first glance, he looked like a retiree basking in his leisure time on a warm summer’s day.

Gary Allen of Cranberry Isles grabs some much-needed rest at last weekend’s 24-hour relay at the MDI High School track. Allen broke a 47-year-old American track record for men ages 45-49, running 20 miles in 2:08:41, slicing 33 seconds off the old record set by Ted Corbitt in Great Britain in 1966.

staff photo by earl brechlin

But leisure and time are separated by hundreds of miles in Brooks’ world. The 58-year-old Danville resident, a veteran of 80 marathons and nearly 20 ultra-marathons (100 miles), had spent the previous 24 hours treating his body with the same respect a jackhammer shows to concrete, circling the track at Mount Desert Island High School more than 400 times. He totaled 104 miles, 443.5 meters without stopping longer than a couple of minutes at time. It was a feat so impressive that it not only overshadowed news that a 47-year-old American track record had been shattered, but completely flummoxed the new record-holder.

“I’m thinking of giving up running,” joked Gary Allen of Cranberry Isles, who set the new record.

Brooks’ provided just one of a number of eye-popping statistics that arose from last weekend’s 24-hour Relay and Run held by Crow Athletics at the Mount Desert Island High School track. The relay, which was held for the first time last year as Jeff’s Run to benefit cancer victim Jeff Weisbruch, was originally intended to benefit Jennifer Westphal who asked the more than $1,500 raised so far by the event be donated to Brennen’s Buddies, a local charity that helps seriously ill island area children and their families.

In the relay portion, a baton was passed from runner to runner as participants of all ages circled the track the full 24 hours, covering 521.75 miles.

“That’s from here to New York,” Allen pointed out.

Many runners, such as Bar Harbor elite runners Evan Graves and Judson Cake, who ran 15 miles early on Saturday and later paced Allen on his record-setting run, ran 15-20 miles without a thought. Bar Harbor’s Peter Palmer, for instance, when asked how far he was going to run, said he would 20, as in miles, like most people talk about getting off the couch and going for a soda and chips.

Graves ran 17 miles early in the day on Saturday, then later in the evening ran a half-marathon time that nearly equaled the winning performance in last year’s Bar Harbor half-marathon.

Still, in an event that had more sub-plots that a soap opera, the impressive relay was little more than a footnote.

In addition to Brooks’ mind-shattering performance, Allen, who organized the relay, took the opportunity to break the United States Track and Field American masters long distance track running record for men ages 45-49. Allen, 46, completed 20 miles in 2:08:41, beating the previous record of 2:09:14, set by Ted Corbitt in Great Britain in 1966, by 33 seconds.

“I don’t think I realized the scope,” Allen said. “It’s an amazing record. No one has done that. It’s kind of awesome to realize I ran that far that fast.”

The record-setter even drew admiration from Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist from Freeport.

Even Allen, the new record holder and a lifelong running enthusiast and participant, joined the ranks of athletes who could only marvel at Brooks’ 100-plus mile performance and good-naturedly questioned his sanity.

Brooks, who ran a marathon—just over one-quarter of the total distance he would eventually cover—in 4:53:31, had already run more than 27 miles after less than six hours of circling the track. And despite pounding liquids like a long-liner on leave, had already lost five pounds after battling stomach problems in the early going.

Brooks began running eight years ago after a friend encouraged him to take part in a 5K, Brooks said as was working on his 30th mile.

“I really enjoyed it and I’ve been kind of hooked on it since,” Brooks said.

After competing in a few marathons, Brooks decided to test himself further by entering a 100-mile ultra marathon.

“I liked that even better,” Brooks said. “The longer the race the better I do.”

Brooks, who trains for ultra marathons by running 10-12 hour stretches, has competed in 80 marathons, one in every state, and 18 ultra marathons, including the Vermont 100, a trail race that rises and falls 16,000 feet over the course of the 100 miles. The toughest part of running in an ultra, Brooks said, is the toll it takes on your mind.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to hang in there,” Brooks said. “This is an easy course because you get to walk. In a marathon, you can’t walk.”

Brooks is forced to travel far afield to compete in most of his ultra events. The relatively proximity of the 24-hour relay was one of the factors that attracted him to the event.

But Brooks also ran in last year’s first-ever Mount Desert Island Marathon, a race Allen founded and organized.

“Gary put on a hell of a marathon,” Brooks said. “I figured if he’s involved it’s going to be a good race.”

Mike Shiach, who has spent the last four months traveling across the country from Washington with his wife and two children in a 30-foot motor home, was here to see Acadia National Park when he heard about the relay and decided to run a marathon. Shiach has already run 27 marathons in 12 different states. On his trip east, Shiach, who is writing a series for Northwest Runner, had run the Tri-State Marathon, which crosses Utah, Arizona and Nevada, and the Country Music Marathon in Nashville. He intends to run three more marathons before his trip ends in September.

Shiach completed his marathon on Saturday in 3:54:10.

Burwaldos and the Bagel Factory of Bar Harbor, Knowles Co. Real Estate of Northeast Harbor and Coca-Cola of Bangor donated food and supplies for the relay. Janice Strout, Jennifer Westphal’s twin sister, baked two cakes for the runners.

Those who would like to make a donation to the event are encouraged to make checks payable to Brennen’s Buddies and mail them to MDI Marathon, c/o Brennen’s Buddies, Box 1032, Northeast Harbor, Maine 04462.


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