It’s a gala, not a festival, but it still involves fast laps around the Magee-Samuelson track amid towering pine trees on the Brunswick campus of Bowdoin College.

Eight years after the Maine Distance Festival ended a nine-year run as a small but significant piece of the American distance running puzzle, organizers of today’s inaugural Maine Distance Gala hope to capture some of that old magic.

“We certainly couldn’t replicate what Steve Podgajny did,” said Falmouth track coach Jorma Kurry, referring to the former Festival organizer and current director of the Portland Public Library. “He took it to a level that we are not ready to do. We’re hoping that we can do something on a smaller scale but still have some excitement.”

Originally envisioned as a high school meet, the event grew in stature with sponsorship offers from New Balance, Bowdoin and Maine Running Company. Now the high school runners will be joined by college and masters athletes, and there’s even a bit of prize money for those eligible.

Eight events are scheduled at Whittier Field, beginning with a combined mile for masters women and high school girls at 5:15 p.m. The shortest races are 800 meters, one for high school boys and one for high school girls. The longest are 2 miles and will be run in two categories: women and high school girls combined, and men and high school boys combined.

Although 75 athletes registered by Wednesday, thin fields led to combined races. Runners also may register on site today.

The featured event — the men’s open mile — comes last, at 7 p.m. Riley Masters, a senior at the University of Maine and a native of Bangor, will attempt the first sub-4-minute mile by a Maine runner on a Maine track.

Four years ago, Yarmouth native Pat Tarpy ran a mile down Congress Street in Portland in 3:54.80.

Jack Terwilliger, a graduating senior at Cheverus High who turned a rare distance triple at the Class A state meet, winning at 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters, is the only high school runner scheduled in the open mile.

“I’ve run in college races before and I’ve done all right,” Terwilliger said. “I’ll just go into it like any other race and try to stay with the pack. I don’t think I can win it but I think I can get a good time.”

Other notable runners include former Beach to Beacon state champions Christine Reaser, Andy Spaulding and Kristin Barry, and former high school standouts Erica Jesseman (New Hampshire), Emily Follo (Mt. Holyoke), Henry Sterling (Dartmouth), Dylan Lajoie (Southern Maine), Tim Even (Southern Maine), Sintayehu Taye (Virginia) and Luke Fontaine (Miami).

Another former Beach to Beacon state champion, Eric Giddings, designed two logos.

“We have Beach to Beacon, which certainly serves that super high-level road racing scene, but we don’t have any track opportunities around Maine,” Kurry said of the state’s summer running schedule. “It would certainly be nice to see something brought back.”

Admission to the Gala is $3 for adults and $1 for children.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH