While the boys of summer limber up their arms in the warmth of Florida and Arizona, the men and women of winter diligently steel their legs for another rite of spring – marathon season.

Bob Dunfey, of Portland, is volunteer race director of the Maine Marathon. He plans to complete his 30th consecutive Boston Marathon in April. Courtesy photo

Whether it’s Boston in April, Maine Coast and Sugarloaf in May, Bay of Fundy in June or maybe an event outside New England, those intent on tackling 26.2 miles have been methodically setting a course for that first wave of marathon opportunities.

Training in the northern hemisphere for a spring marathon is far more challenging than a fall marathon for one excruciating reason: weather. Specifically, winter weather. Some move inside to a treadmill when the snow, ice and slush is just too much. Others plug away outside in the name of discomfort training.

There is no magic bullet. But one thing’s for certain, finishing a marathon doesn’t happen by accident. There’s a reason only .05 percent  of the U.S. population, at any given time, has ever completed a marathon. It’s hard.

Gary Allen, a Cranberry Isles resident, prodigious marathoner, race director and co-founder of Crow Athletics running club, has a simple theory when it comes to endurance training.

“Train year-round consistently so your body adapts vs. trying to just get in shape (every time),” Allen said. “Don’t follow someone else’s training plans. Instead, think like a chef and create your own running recipes. The ingredients for success are not rocket science, but a basic collection of ingredients as simple as the flour, water and yeast needed to make bread. Ditto for running.”

Runners of all ages and abilities spend months piling up the miles and tightening their cores in preparation for the early-season spate of marathons.

There were a total of 1,836 finishers in last year’s spring marathons in Maine. Maine Coast (Kennebunk to the University of New England) had 871, Sugarloaf (Eustis to Carrabassett Valley) had 825 and Bay of Fundy (West Quoddy Head, Maine, to Head Harbour Light, New Brunswick and back) checked in with 140.

At last year’s Boston Marathon, 170 Maine residents entered and 150 finished. Kennebunk resident Shiloh Schulte was the top Maine finisher, placing  238th overall. Robert Ashby, of Brunswick, also cracked the top 300 at Boston, finishing 294th. That’s nearly 2,000 people pounding the pavement, prepping for a spring endurance test.

Bob Dunfey, 68, a Portland resident, will attempt to complete his 30th consecutive Boston Marathon on April 20. He’s run a total of 139 marathons and about 150 ultras, including 12 100-mile trail starts (six finishes). He began running at age 40 and his recipe for success is straight forward.

“When I was training 60 to 70 miles a week, ” Dunfey said. “I’d have one long run per week, one interval (alternating speeds) run day, one or two days off and easy runs on the other days.”

Gary Allen at the finish line of the Millinocket Marathon. He is race director for the Mount Desert Island Marathon (October) and Millinocket (December). Allen is co-founder of Crow Athletics and has run sub 3-hour marathons in five consecutive decades.

There are as many motivations for running marathons as there are events themselves: Complete one in all 50 states; run a marathon that begins with each letter of the alphabet; run an indoor marathon; or complete the six World Marathon Majors – Boston, New York, Tokyo, Berlin, London and Chicago. The list can be as creative as it is endless.

With all that training (road and core work) comes the inevitable aches and pains.

“Train year-round, but listen to your body,” said Dunfey, who has been race director of the Maine Marathon weekend since 2017. “Let injuries heal; allow the body to recover from an endurance race with days off or an alternate activity. I found cycling accelerated recovery the four days after a marathon or ultra.”

Allen, 62, is one of about 30 people globally to have run a sub 3-hour marathon is five consecutive decades. He is one of two Maine residents to have accomplished the feat. The other? None other than Olympic legend Joan Benoit-Samuelson. He has thoughts of turning his sights to a full-fledged effort to reach a sub-3 hour marathon in a sixth decade.

“I am not close to that kind of shape now,” Allen said. “But I am quietly training and if there is an attempt, it would likely be in about a year because running 26.2 miles in 2:59:59 or better at age 63 will be a grind.”

In all, Allen has posted 68 sub-3 hour marathons.

Dunfey’s training has changed in recent years as runners with 25 or more consecutive finishes at Boston are invited back and don’t need a qualifying time. He still cranks out 15 to 20 miles a week along with cycling in the warmer months.

“I made the decision when I no longer needed to qualify (for Boston) that I would reduce my intensity of training and volume of weekly miles,” Dunfey said. “My goal is to run without pain for many more years.”

Crow Athletics was founded in 1991 and has about 600 members from around the world. Allen and Mary Ropp are known for creating some of the most entertaining running events in the state of Maine. The list includes the free Millinocket Marathon, Down East Sunrise Trail Relay, Great Cranberry Island 100 Miler and the Mount Desert Island Marathon, to name a few. The events are a mix of community stewardship, competitive opportunities and social outlet.

According to the Crow Athletics website, “Our club has steadily grown into one of the most fun and forward thinking running clubs in the universe. We love to point out to anyone who asks, ‘Why Crow?’ that we runners (like crows) won’t get out of the road, we’re afraid of nothing, we are found in every state and nearly every corner of the world and we are impervious to the weather.”

Dunfey said he enjoys helping people reach their potential through the Maine Marathon and plans to “continue indefinitely” as race director.

“My primary reason for stepping up … is the good it does for the community,” Dunfey said. “It has raised over $5.2 million for charities and about 40 Maine charities benefit each year.”

In addition to his well-known event organization and running status, Allen has coached the Mount Desert Island Middle School cross country team to much success over the past 13 years, and proudly says that many of his runners continue “in high school and beyond”

It’s not unusual for Allen to spice team workouts with pizzas placed along the trails for his teams to chase down.

“Keep running fun,” Allen said. “Don’t over complicate it. The ‘keep if fun’ philosophy in real life works.”

Dan King is editor/page designer for the Kennebunk Post, South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Sentry and a Kennebunk resident. He’ll make his third appearance at Maine Coast Marathon, where he can walk to the starting line.

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