Millinocket Marathon and Half
The Millinocket Marathon and Half started as a spark – now it’s a full-fledged wild fire of hope. As of May 2017, well over 1,800 people have signed up for the race.
This year the Millinocket Marathon and Half is partnering with the MDI Marathon Half and Relay called the “Sea to Summit Race Series”. Upon completion of the race in Millinocket, Sea to Summit Series participants will be awarded a special finishers medallion. Runners from all over the world will come to run and really make a difference.
For those not familiar with Millinocket story, in 2008 Great Northern Paper closed their doors forever, leaving the once mighty Mill town to fend for itself, without the only major industry the town had ever known. Jobs became scarce. Unemployment was in the double digits. Soon the once crowded streets were empty, and the town’s buildings and homes were fraying. Things were not looking good for the Magic City in the woods.
Enter Gary Allen. Allen is a native of Cranberry Island and is the founder of the Mount Desert Island Marathon Half & Relay, and The Great Run. He has completed over 100 marathons and ran from Maine to Washington DC for the 2012 Inauguration. The story of Millinocket touched Gary Allen’s heart. He wanted to help Millinocket. Allen had an idea to help the town. He proposed the town hold a free Marathon to get people to come visit and hopefully spend some money – in December. Instead of the traditional race entry fee, he just wanted the runners to spend their money in the town. Allen designed the course on Google Earth. The runners head out of town, turn onto the famous “Golden Road” which is a private logging road. The runners run about 6 miles uphill with beautiful views of a snowy Mount Kathadin, then they head back into town, then the runners go through downtown Millinocket to the finish line or if they are doing the full marathon head back around the loop again.
The marathon was right before the holidays, in the “shoulder” season between summer hiker season and snowmobile season. This was the period when the remaining businesses in Millinocket would be hurting the most financially.
On December 6th, 2015. Gary Allen and the people of Millinocket made it happen. Local businesses had signs welcoming the runners, water stations were set up, people lined the course to help guide runners and a high school student sang the national anthem. 50 people ran the first race. The course is two loop circuit, half marathon is one loop, full marathon is two. 6 people, including Gary Allen, completed the full marathon. 40 people finished the half. The townspeople lined the streets cheering the runners on. The town was excited. It was good to see people filling the streets again. The runners were excited too. What a unique experience in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. They left with a great feeling in their hearts. They truly had made a difference for the small town.
An article in Runner’s World about the race went viral and put the marathon on the map. The article fanned the little spark and really got the fire going. There were no other free marathons in existence. A free marathon to benefit a struggling former mill in the heart of the Maine woods, right before the holidays was such an inspirational feel good story. Runners from all over became intrigued.
Gary Allen and the town of Millinocket started fanning the flames. The Millinocket marathon and a half was now USATF certified and a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. They had official finish times, the Marathon had grown from a flash mob, pop up race to an actual big time marathon event. For 2016 over 1000 people from all over the country signed up. Big name marathoners signed up. The local hotels, motels and campgrounds were booked solid. Local businesses jumped on board, making t shirts and medals and they started getting ready to welcome the influx of people. During marathon weekend 2016, the town had several activities planned. They hosted a craft fair. There was a spaghetti supper the night before with entertainment by local school children. The restaurants and bars were packed with runners and fans. By race day about 500 people showed up to run, despite the frigid 10 degree Maine winter weather. There were bonfires and warming stations all along the course. Local people waited in their cars ready to let the nearly frozen runners warm up. Townspeople opened up their homes to runners who were cold. People offered the runners water, food, hand warmers, handmade scarves, you name it. Runners had ice on their eyelashes and frozen beards. Townspeople honked and cheered and high fived the runners. There was live music on the streets, and the positive energy radiated from everyone in attendance. After the marathon, they held a big dance party for everyone. It is estimated that $300,000 was spent at local businesses for the 2016 marathon. Runners claimed it was one of the best experiences they had ever had, even though it was freezing cold and such a challenging course.
To sign up for the 2017 Millinocket Marathon and Half, click on Run Millinocket.