CAPE ELIZABETH – She’s elusive, that Lineth Chepkurui.
A 22-year-old Kenyan with the fastest time in the world for a 10-kilometer road race this year, Chepkurui was supposed to make her Beach to Beacon debut in 2008.
Instead, she pulled out with a back injury.
Larry Barthlow, the elite athlete coordinator, invited her again last year.
Once more, she never made it to Maine because of an ankle injury.
“This year I’m healthy,” Chepkurui said Friday on the grass behind Inn by the Sea, with water shimmering in Kettle Cove behind her. “I’m so excited.”
She’s also the favorite in this morning’s 13th running of the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K road race, scheduled to begin shortly after 8 under clear skies with temperatures not expected to exceed 74.
Chepkurui is part of a women’s field that includes, for the first time since 2004, five-time champion Catherine Ndereba, as well as the defending champion, Irene Limika, and the current Los Angeles Marathon winner, Edna Kipligat, all from Kenya.
A pair of Ethiopian runners, Wude Ayalew and Ayalech Assefa, are expected to challenge Chepkurui, who this year has won four road races (the Crescent City Classic in New Orleans and Peachtree in Atlanta, both 10 kilometers, and Lilac Bloomsday in Spokane, Wash., and Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, both 12K).
“I think it’s going to be a real battle up front that we haven’t seen in a while in that women’s race,” Barthlow said. “I think you can get a course record.”
The men’s field is even deeper, with Ed Muge of Kenya attempting to join Gilbert Okari as a three-time winner and Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia attempting to become the first non-Kenyan to win the race since Khalid Khannouchi in 1999.
Then a resident of Morocco, Khannouchi now lives in suburban New York and owns the American marathon record of 2 hours, 5 minutes, 38 seconds. He is 38, the same age as Ndereba, and is attempting to come back from a series of injuries to his feet, hamstrings, groin and lower back that cut years from his career.
“This is sort of a proving ground for both of them,” said the race founder, Joan Benoit Samuelson. “They want to see where they are. I don’t think there’s been a better field assembled for them to jump into this summer.”
The mere presence of both veterans adds a certain luster to this year’s race, Samuelson said.
“Regardless of their finish, they give everybody a real lift,” she said.
Ndereba, who ran the first seven Beach to Beacons, was injured in March (piriformis muscle in the lower spine) and had to scratch from the Boston Marathon, a race she has won four times. She took two months off, then eased back into training. This will be her first race since the injury.
“I might not have the top speed that I normally have but that doesn’t matter,” Ndereba said. “What matters is — do the race, feel good, finish strong. I love this race. For sure, this race has a place in my heart.”
Samuel Ndereba, her younger brother, is in the men’s field but not expected to challenge the leaders. Among those capable of traversing the course quicker than anyone else are Kenyans Martin Lel, a top marathoner with three London and two New York City titles to his credit; Boaz Cheboiywo, twice a top-five finisher here; Wilson Chebet, who has run a half marathon in less than an hour four times; and a pair of relative unknowns fresh from a running camp in Italy and making their American road-racing debuts, Stephen Kipkosgei-Kibet and Joel Kemboi Kimurer.
Of course, this race has always been about more than the elites. Nearly all of the largest field in history will barely catch a glimpse of the front-runners as they float down the newly paved portion of Bowery Beach Road, pass the Shower of Power, before turning onto Old Ocean House Road.
“It’s amazing what is going on in this industry and this sport,” said the race director, Dave McGillivray. “The walls of intimidation have crumbled. It’s not about how fast you can run, it’s that once you cross that finish line, you feel good about yourself.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: