Marathon Runner Teaches Students About Perseverance

By Jayna Smith


Students at Woodland Junior/Senior High School recently had the privilege to hear from motivational speaker Gary Allen.  Founder and director of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, Allen is from Great Cranberry Island off MDI.  He has run 86 career marathons, finishing 65 of those 26-mile races in under three hours, and has run over 100,000 lifetime miles.

On an early snowy morning this past January with the temperature only at 10 degrees, Allen left the summit of Cadillac Mountain on what would be a two week journey to Washington, D.C.—all on foot.  This expedition of just over 700 miles served a dual purpose:  to raise money for charity and to test his own endurance. 

He descended down the mountain wearing snow shoes, and having forgotten his headlamp to lead him through the darkness, he told his audience, he fell down a lot.  But, he kept getting up and continued on, averaging 50 miles a day.

Allen explained to the students that he did not have what could be considered important details for a trip of this sort, such as places arranged where he would eat or sleep.  Instead, he relied on the goodness of others. 

Allen used his smartphone to Tweet along his route, soon attracting a following in person on his mission, as well as online with 10,000 people who quickly began to track his progress via GPS.  He was joined by other runners who ran with him across cities and towns.  He stopped for photos with new fans.  He accepted massages on his aching muscles and even had a podiatrist open his office after hours to help care for Allen’s feet.

He graciously accepted liquids and foods to help with his new, much needed 10,000 calorie a day diet.  Still, even with that great amount of caloric intake each day, Allen averaged a weight loss of one pound per day, losing about 15 pounds by the time he reached his destination.   

To help himself mentally, Allen told himself he was not running 705 miles; he was running one mile, 705 times.  He explained, “The further I ran, the bigger the run became.  Think about what you can do to inspire others.  It doesn’t have to be done only with sports.”

“Not all roads were paved or even plowed,” Allen told the group. “The Great Eastern Trail was neither at the end of day four.”  But he persisted.  Throughout the 700 miles, Allen said there was laughter and there were tears.  “Laughing is always better than crying, but it’s ok to do both, and I definitely did.” 

And he persisted even after a fall in New Jersey that tore his hamstring.  “I laid there for two or three minutes looking at the sky.  A flash of energy came through me that told me to get up, GET UP!  I got up.” 

With only about 200 miles to go, he began to walk.  He was determined not to quit.  And after several hours, he slowly and painfully started running again.  “I felt the energy of so many people who wanted me to succeed.  If you can run one mile, you can run two,” he told the students. “If you can write one paragraph, you can write a page.”

Allen’s commitment has already raised over $16,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the American Cancer Society, and he says donations are still pouring in.  Above all, he not only raised money and awareness for great causes with his feat, he said he taught himself about perseverance, the message he passed on to the students at Woodland Junior/Senior High School. 

To learn more about Gary Allen and to make a donation, you can visit his website at