If you noticed a man sweeping up pine needles on the streets of Portland and Falmouth recently, that was probably Bob Dunfey.

Dunfey is the race director of the Gorham Savings Bank Maine Marathon, which was supposed to be run on Sunday. Like most other road races in Maine this summer, the Maine Marathon was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Like many of the other road races, the Maine Marathon went virtual. And while the race is off, the course is marked and runners are still running the course to complete the virtual event.

“With all that rain and wind we had,” said Dunfey, “the roads are covered in pine needles. Leaves tend to move a little more easily.”

Nothing has been easy this year for runners or race organizers. Runners have bemoaned not only the loss of competition but also camaraderie – getting together after a race to share good times. Race organizers are unsettled by the loss of charitable contributions.

Last year, the Maine Marathon had 741 finishers, with another 1,800 finishers in its half marathon and more than 700 relay participants. This year, about 650 have signed up for the virtual races. Portland Press Herald file photo

Most races raise money to benefit local charities, and the Maine Marathon is no exception. Last year, it raised over $140,000 for its beneficiaries. This year, the race designated seven beneficiaries. And while Gorham Savings Bank is covering all the costs of the virtual race so that virtual entry fee money can be donated to the race beneficiaries, it’s going to come up well short of last year.

“I haven’t made an estimate yet so it’s hard for me to guess right now,” said Dunfey. “But whatever we fall short of this year (for the charities), we will make up for next year.”

The virtual Maine Marathon began on Sept. 26 and runs through Oct. 12. Runners can choose between the marathon, half marathon, marathon relay, 10-kilometer or 5-kilometer events, record their times, and send them in. Dunfey said about 660 runners had registered so far – with 20 percent having already completed their distance. The virtual entries include runners from 38 states and seven countries, and one person whose address is Armed Forces Europe.

“I enjoy seeing the postings on social media with big smiles and comments and energy and enthusiasm,” Dunfey said of those who have done it already. “But I’d rather be putting on the event and putting in the hard work.”

Last year’s race saw 741 runners finish the marathon, more than 1,800 finish the half marathon and 182 relay teams.

The drop in participation will certainly impact the charitable contributions. But there are many runners who are still doing their part to help others.

Since 2015, the Josephine and John Marr Alzheimer’s Research Fund has raised $1.1 million for research at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. Last year alone, the Marr Fund Team raised about $350,000.

Each year, the Marr family recruits a large number of runners for the Maine Marathon. This year, it being a virtual event with no postrace celebration at the family home in Falmouth, it’s a little harder. But the family will push on.

“We’ve got about a week left and we have about 60 runners,” said Abby Psyhogeos, at 55 the youngest of the five Marr children. “Last year, we had 125. We’ve raised about $140,000 so far, though all of it isn’t accounted for yet. All in all, I don’t think that’s bad. We’re making the most of it this year.”

Psyhogeos said that while they will raise less money this year, it was still important to raise as much as they could.

“I think it sounds a little cliché, but whether it Alzheimer’s or cancer, whatever people raise money for, Alzheimer’s doesn’t know we’re in a pandemic and it’s not stopping and we need to continue to try to find a cure,” she said. “We’re still doing it and we’re going to make most of it.”

Brian Corcoran, the founder and president of Shamrock Sports, and his wife Melissa Smith, the chair and CEO of South Portland-based WEX Inc., will run the virtual half marathon Sunday.

“I think in this COVID-crazed world, the Maine Marathon, like other high profile community events, allows us to be engaged in community activities,” said Corcoran. “This is the best way we can do it to stay connected. There’s the charitable impact and the community impact. We want to keep that legacy going strong, to pay it forward virtually. Hopefully next year, we’ll be able to lace it up together.”

Corcoran, a former runner at Old Orchard Beach High and Eastern Kentucky University, is running to raise money for Rippleeffect. Smith is raising money for the Center for Grieving Children.

“We all play our part,” said Corcoran. “In this case, I still love running and this is a chance to combine that with a sense of community. We’re making the most of the world we live in.”

Stephen Lyons holds The Summit Project Stone he carried while competing in the virtual Maine Marathon last weekend. Lyons was honoring the memory of a World War II U.S. Navy veteran. Courtesy of Stephen Lyons

Stephen Lyons of Cape Elizabeth chose the virtual marathon not to raise money, but awareness. At 4 a.m. on Sept. 26 – the first day of the virtual Maine Marathon – he began walking the loop around Baxter Boulevard to honor The Summit Project, which honors fallen service members with individualized stones that can be taken on hikes and adventures all over the world.

Lyons, 61, a former U.S. Marine, carried The Summit Project Stone on his walk, honoring the memory of World War II U.S. Navy veteran Charles Everett Rutter and all of Maine’s MIA/POWs. He was joined by Joe Graffius of Portland, who carried his own stone.

“I wanted to do something a little different,” said Lyons, who ended up walking 26.7 miles. “I’ve never had a connection with the Maine Marathon. I just thought with everything going on in the world, maybe this would lift peoples’ spirits.

“This stone that I carried was to honor all the men and women that didn’t come back.”

The Summit Project began in 2013 as a way to honor service members who have died since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Psyhogeos said keeping the focus on what’s important is vital in this virtual event.

“There are so many people going through so much worse,” she said. “We have to make the most of it and pray for a vaccine so we can all be back together next year.”

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