October 6, 2013

Running: Allen a master of the sub-3:00 marathon

By John Rolfe

The numbers, and most names, are relatively obscure, but telling nevertheless on the Association of Road Racing Statisticians' (arrs.net) list of runners who have run fast marathons over the longest periods of time.

Among the women, Joan Benoit Samuelson of Freeport rules both the sub-3-hour and sub-2:50 categories. Her most recent sub-3:00 marathon came 34 years, 76 days after her first, and she has a span of 31 years, 177 days between her first and last sub-2:50.

Among the men, Gary Allen of Cranberry Island owns a time span of sub-3s stretching from July 15, 1978, to last Sunday, when he finished fourth in the Clarence DeMar Marathon in New Hampshire in 2:56:29. Allen is 11th on the sub-3 list.

So far. Sunday at the Maine Marathon in Portland, Allen aims to break three hours again, thereby adding seven days to his streak and passing Don Demetriades (35 years, 82 days) for 10th place.

But nothing in the world of road racing is certain, and Allen woke up Friday with a cold. Even his being on the Back Cove starting line is tinged with doubt, so he was planning a test 6-miler around Eagle Lake "to see where I'm at."

With 66 sub-3 marathons already, he has run them in worse conditions, which "don't make Mile 22 any more fun but they're still doable. It's kind of like being Captain Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise. You find a way to make the thing go despite the problems. I'm pretty stubborn."

Allen, 56, attributes some of the mental toughness to "all the years running up and down (Great) Cranberry, back and forth like a caged animal, and then being let out free into the world." As for pacing, generally as well as on this fall's one-off, road-work-dictated, significantly hillier out-and-back course, he manages by feel.

"Over the years my body has really adapted to running 6:50 pace -- 6:52 is 3 hours. So I can tell by my breathing what pace is right, sort of get to an almost unconscious zone, and hold it there. Until it's as if I'm trying to hold on to a hot burner for longer than the guy next to me. Running a marathon is incredibly "mental."

Since his first marathon, Paul Bunyan in 1977, and on to last weekend for his 89th overall, Allen has only once DNFd, when seafood-induced food poisoning felled both him and Mike Westphal at Mile 16 of the New York City Marathon in 1984. Allen has raced below 2:40 three times, and pretty much accepts three hours is the marker that separates the real-deal marathon racer from the rest of the world, but he doesn't rate himself with the sub-3 list's giants.

"I couldn't hold Clarence DeMar's shoes, and nobody's ever going to win seven Bostons again," he says of No. 18 on the sub-3 list, adding that he was honored to meet DeMar's daughter, Betty, last weekend. Meeting the immortal Johnny A. Kelley (No. 17) in Boston in 1979 "was like meeting God," he adds.

"And I can't dream a sub-2:20 marathon," Allen says of Michigan's Doug Kurtis, 61, who has run 75 sub-2:20s and tops the sub-3 at 39 years and 20 days (he should add five months to that lead at Detroit this month). But Allen also shares with Kurtis -- as does Samuelson -- the achievement of running sub-3 marathons in five different decades.

(Continued on page 2)

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