WASHINGTON — The Inauguration Day crowd was long gone and the media’s attention had turned elsewhere Monday night, when a runner crossed the dark, deserted plaza in front of the U.S. Capitol to end a punishing journey in the name of charity.
Gary Allen’s injured and swollen legs nearly gave out just a few feet shy of the goal he had been chasing for 700 miles. As the long-distance runner from Maine finally touched the Capitol steps, he let out an exhausted, “I made it.”
Allen, 56, had run from Maine to Washington in two weeks, an average of 50 miles per day, on a dual mission to raise money for charities while testing his own endurance.
As of Tuesday afternoon, his run had raised more than $12,000 for the American Cancer Society, the Wounded Warrior Project and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., according to his website, www.maine2dcrun.com.
After hugging a small group of friends and family members, Allen slowly climbed the normally off-limits Capitol steps, accompanied by a heavily armed federal police officer, and struck a Rocky-like victory pose.
“This was completely nuts, I have to tell you guys,” Allen told the group. “My body is broken in so many ways.”
Allen’s journey started on Jan. 7 atop snowy Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. He suffered falls, close calls with cars, a hamstring that “started to come apart” in Newark, N.J., and a leg so swollen that a masseuse in Philadelphia told him he might have to stop running.
There also were countless gestures of support and kindness, like the kids who waited in an industrial park to ask for his autograph, a first for him.
Allen said he pressed on, thanks, in no small part, to the nonstop encouragement and force-feeding from his cousin, Seth Reece, who drove the support vehicle for nearly the entire trip.
Asked what was the toughest part of his uber-marathon, Allen said the final sections.
“You feel like the most fragile Christmas ornament on Earth because if you do anything wrong, like step in a pothole, it’s going to be a tragedy” after so many miles, he said.
Allen, a resident of Great Cranberry Island in Hancock County, is the founder and director of the Mount Desert Island Marathon. He has competed in more than 80 marathons and five ultra-marathons, which are longer than 26.2 miles. He has run 65 marathons in less than three hours and is reportedly one of the few runners in the world to have broken the three-hour mark in five consecutive decades.
Allen said he got the idea of running from New York to Maine after the New York City Marathon, which he has run 14 times, was canceled last year because of the damaged caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Instead, he set his sights further south, with the goal of entering the nation’s capital on the day of President Obama’s inauguration.
“Then I thought, ‘Let’s make this a challenge and give myself two weeks,’” he said while walking away from the Capitol. “I could have done it in three and made it easier, but being a competitive runner, you have to make it challenging.”
Allen’s run drew attention from media organizations from Maine to Washington and from runners including Maine’s best-known marathoner, Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson.
Samuelson, a friend of Allen, called him just minutes after he reached the Capitol on Monday night.
Far from taking Tuesday off, Allen had met with Maine’s Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King by noon and was set to do an interview with ABC News at the Capitol.
But as of Monday night, he had one last thing to settle.
“I have no idea how I am going to get back to Maine,” he said.
One thing was certain: He wasn’t going to make the trip on foot.
Kevin Miller — 317-6256