Gary Allen grew up on Great Cranberry, a small island off the coast of Maine. He’s run thousands of miles on the 2-mile stretch of road on the island, so when he’s on the mainland he likes to run farther. Right now, Allen is in the middle of a 500-mile run from Maine to the Super Bowl in New Jersey to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.
Temperatures were hovering near zero when the run started at dawn on Jan. 24, on top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine. If all goes well, Allen should arrive at MetLife Stadium in time for the kickoff on Feb. 2. That’s an average of about 50 miles a day.
This isn’t Allen’s first extended trip on the roads. Last winter, he ran from Maine to Washington DC for President Obama’s second inauguration.
“These journey runs are something that have always piqued my interest,” Allen said. “I’m not getting any younger, so I thought [last year] was as good a time as any. When I headed out to DC last winter, it was almost like the realization of a dream. Fast forward to this winter. I was kinda like I could sit and look out the window like a lot of us do in New England, or put my feet to the pavement and do something.”
Allen has run to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project both times. “The Wounded Warrior Project for me is a no-brainer,” he said. “Whether or not you agree with the mission of the men and women in uniform, everyone in this country is appreciative of them doing their job. I lost an uncle from Great Cranberry in the Korean conflict so I’ve seen how injuries and casualties can affect generations. If I can tap into a little of the media attention for an event like the Super Bowl, it can translate to real dollars for wounded vets.”
Allen, who will turn 57 during his run to the Super Bowl, has finished more than 90 marathons, including 21 Boston Marathons, and he’s one of a small group who has run marathons in under three hours in five different decades. When he’s not running, his jobs have included lobster fishing, boat building, and organic farming.
“Kind of a typical Mainer, good at everything, but not great at one thing,” Allen said. But now, “my life has turned into organizing running and running and thinking about running.”
A few sponsors are helping Allen with his run to the Super Bowl. His cousin Seth Reece will carry Allen’s food and gear in a truck donated by Darling’s Auto Group, and a Bar Harbor hotelier has provided rooms for Allen to sleep in along the way.
For the rest of what he needs, Allen depends on the assistance of the network of friends he’s built up in his more than 40 years in the running community, both as a runner and as the organizer of numerous events, including the popular Mount Desert Island Marathon. He runs with a GPS tracker from MyAthleteLive.com that posts his progress to the Internet so people can follow along, and so they know where to find him if they’re bringing supplies, hosting him for the night, or just jumping in to run a few miles and keep him company.
Allen said being on his feet for 10-15 hours a day is,” kind of being like hit with a hammer all day long.” He’s learned a few tricks to make it easier, like changing his shoes every few hours, and changing sides of the road when it’s safe to even out the stress on his hips from the camber of the road.
He also realized, “how important it is to keep eating and drinking a lot, keep the furnace burning so to speak. If it’s not nailed down, I eat it.”
Allen eats 7,000 calories or more each day while he’s running.
“It’s not necessarily health food,” he says. “I’m not eating a lot of nuts and berries all the time. It’s eating a lot and eating as well as I can, but also satisfying cravings. One of the things that’s turned into a staple is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And I remember somewhere in New Jersey last year having this crazy urge for a cheeseburger and it being about the best thing I ever ate.”
But even with all his experience, Allen said running 50 miles a day for days on end, “is really hard on your body and mind. But I like that. The challenge for me is A) getting there, and B), elevating my game to the point where I’m way outside my comfort zone, just to see what will happen.”
Assuming he makes it to New Jersey, Allen doesn’t have any specific plans for how he’ll celebrate the end of the run. He doesn’t have a ticket to the game.
“If one magically appears, sure I’d probably go,” he said. “But I’m a mess when I finish one of these runs. I’m cold and tired, and I’m not sure that sitting in an open stadium in the cold would be any better than sitting in a local pub and watching on a flat screen.”
He thinks Seattle looks strong, and, “it’s very hard for me, being a Patriots fan, to cheer for Peyton Manning.”
So in spite of what happened in the AFC Championship Game, a man from New England will be running for the patriots at the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, it won’t be LeGarrette Blount or Stevan Ridley tearing off five yards at a time. Instead, it’ll be Maine’s Gary Allen, running 50 miles a day from Maine to the Super Bowl in New Jersey, to benefit the patriots of the Wounded Warrior Project.