In Down East magazine, Kathryn Miles profiles marathon runner Gary Allen, founder of the Millinocket Marathon in Millinocket, Maine. The marathon has been an engine of revitalization in a downtrodden town where the local mill, once the town’s focal point and economic driver, closed almost ten years ago.

Like most of Allen’s schemes, this one started on a whim. Around Thanksgiving last year, he read yet another newspaper article characterizing Millinocket’s economic woes. “I couldn’t unread it,” he explains. “It’s not like I set out to find a little town to help. It’s more like a little town found me.”

There’ve been a lot of those articles since the Great Northern paper mill closed here in 2008. In the years since, Millinocket has become a symbol for the failure of America’s manufacturing monotowns.

That doesn’t sit well with locals here. And it rubbed Allen the wrong way last fall too. Millinocket needed a boost, sure. But not a handout. And definitely not more maudlin press. So Gary Allen decided to do what Gary Allen does best: he organized an impromptu marathon.

In the spirit of Burning Man, this race was open to all and charged no entry fee. Instead, Allen suggested that participants take the money they would have spent on registration and spend it in Millinocket. He didn’t advertise any of this except to post it to his Facebook page. Nonetheless, about 50 of his friends agreed to show up for what may well have been America’s first flash-mob marathon.

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