CAPE ELIZABETH — Joan Benoit Samuelson ran the course of the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K Tuesday morning in the cool sea air.
Not once, but twice – covering the familiar route in both directions, and then some, for a total of 13 miles to mark Saturday’s 13th running of the race.
mid-morning she was giving interviews in front of Portland Head Light, polished and relaxed, recalling the race during its infancy when they were off and running with fingers crossed.
“We held our breath in those early years that it would be successful,” said Samuelson, as tourists wandered by, snapping photos of the historic beacon. “All I wanted was an event that showcased our state. And the people here. It’s inspiring for me because I see what this race can do for people.”
On Saturday a field of 6,000 runners will include athletes from 17 countries and 41 U.S. states.
Among the most notable runners are elite racers Ed Muge of Kenya and Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia, ranked No. 14 in the world; legends Catherine Ndereba, a five-time winner, and Khalid Khannouchi, a four-time Chicago Marathon champion. Neither Ndereba nor Khannouchi have been back in several years.
The elite women’s field is particularly full of notables, and includes defending champ Irene Limika of Kenya, her countrywoman Lineth Chepkurui, 22, who is ranked 9th in the world, and Wude Ayalew Yimer, 23 of Ethiopia.
“These are women who fight,” said elite running coordinator Larry Barthlow. “I think you will see, for the first time, an interesting pack of women. Not just one or two I think we’re capable of a course record.”
But every runner, said Samuelson, is notable in some way.
“It’s great to see the elite athletes at the finish line, but the real inspiring stories are towards the end,” said Samuelson. “Every runner who crosses the line has a story to tell.
“Some are heartwarming. Some are heart wrenching, unique. It is families, teams, sometimes two people who never met, who ran side by side for the length of the course. That’s what is really inspiring for me. I see how it’s changed lives.”
Race President David Weatherbie has been involved since the inception.
He recalls with ease the energy and work put into that first year without the knowledge of how the race would be accepted.
“We felt like we did all we could. We put it out there. It was a beautiful day. We had around 2,400 runners,” said Weatherbie. “Fortunately the town of Cape Elizabeth and the Maine running community embraced this race in a huge way.
“I think that’s really one of the major reasons the race has become as popular and successful as it has.”
More than $60,000 in prize money will be divvied up on Saturday, and the race beneficiary – Junior Achievement of Maine – will be given a $30,000 donation from the charitable arm of TD Bank.
If anything, said Samuelson, as the race has evolved, the phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.
The race has become so popular in recent years, some longtime participants have been shut out. This year a three-tier registration process was developed to help runners avoid being left out.
It included an online registration, a lottery and bibs earmarked for Cape Elizabeth residents.
“You hate to turn anyone away,” said Samuelson. “But your primary concern is the safety of runners.”
Samuelson will not be running on Saturday. Her two children and three brothers will be. But even her husband was unable to secure a bib.
“He is trying to show that being a volunteer can be just as rewarding,” said Samuelson.
Scott Samuelson will be working as a parking volunteer or in the recycling center.
The race has tried to reduce its carbon footprint in recent years – and this year will be recycling and composting from start to finish – all plastic, cardboard, paper, glass.
After wrapping up interviews, Samuelson planned to run Hannaford’s final weekly training run Tuesday evening.
There, she planned to be alongside runners, new and old.
“I think everyone feels some sort of connection to the race. They want to taste it, or continue,” she said. “This is a Maine event. And it exudes what Maine is about.”
Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]