WASHINGTON – The Inauguration Day crowd was long gone and the media’s attention had turned elsewhere Monday night when a runner crossed the dark, deserted plaza in front of the U.S. Capitol to end a punishing journey in the name of charity.
Gary Allen’s injured and swollen legs nearly gave out just a few feet shy of the goal he had been chasing for 700 miles. As the long-distance runner from Maine finally touched the Capitol steps, he let out an exhausted, “I made it.”
Allen, 56, had run from Maine to Washington in two weeks – an average of 50 miles per day – on a dual mission to raise money for charities while testing his own endurance.
As of Tuesday night, his run had raised just shy of $13,000 for the American Cancer Society, the Wounded Warrior Project and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, according to his website, www.maine2dcrun.com.
After hugging a small group of friends and family members, Allen slowly climbed the normally off-limits Capitol steps, accompanied by a heavily armed federal police officer, and struck a Rocky-like victory pose.
“This was completely nuts, I have to tell you guys,” Allen told the group. “My body is broken in so many ways.”
Allen’s journey started on Jan. 7 atop snowy Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. He suffered falls, close calls with cars, a hamstring that “started to come apart” in Newark, N.J., and a leg so swollen that a masseuse in Philadelphia told him he might have to stop running.
There also were countless gestures of support and kindness, like the kids who waited in an industrial park to ask for his autograph — a first for him.
Allen said he pressed on — thanks, in no small part, to the support of friends and strangers as well as the non-stop encouragement and force-feeding from his cousin, Seth Reece, who followed in a support vehicle.
Asked what was the toughest part of his uber-marathon, Allen said it was the final sections.
“You feel like the most fragile Christmas ornament on earth because if you do anything wrong — like step in a pothole — it’s going to be a tragedy” after so many miles, he said.
Allen, a resident of Great Cranberry Island in Hancock County, is the founder and director of the Mount Desert Island Marathon. He has competed in more than 80 marathons and five ultra-marathons — longer than 26.2 miles. He has run 65 marathons in less than three hours, and is reportedly one of the few runners in the world to have broken the three-hour mark in five consecutive decades.
Allen said he got the idea of running from New York to Maine after the New York City Marathon — which he has run 14 times — was canceled last year because of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Instead, he set his sights farther south, with the goal of entering the nation’s capital on the day of President Obama’s inauguration.
“Then I thought, ‘Let’s make this a challenge and give myself two weeks,’ ” he said while walking away from the Capitol. “I could have done it in three and made it easier, but being a competitive runner, you have to make it challenging.”
Allen’s run drew the attention of media organizations from Maine to Washington, and from runners such as Maine’s best-known marathoner: Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson.
Samuelson, a friend of Allen, called him Monday night just minutes after he reached the Capitol.
Far from taking Tuesday off, Allen met with Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King as well as U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and was set to do an interview with ABC News at the Capitol.
But as of Monday night, he had one last thing to settle. “I have no idea how I am going to get back to Maine,” he said.
Allen said one thing was certain, however: He wasn’t going to make the trip on foot.
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at (207) 317-6256 or at: