CAPE ELIZABETH – Cool temperatures, no threat of rain or fog, cloud cover for sensitive skin, the gentlest of breezes, sunshine on the awards ceremony and two women breaking the old course record.
The latest edition of the Beach to Beacon 10K road race had it all.
“It was Lucky 13, what can I say?” said Joan Benoit Samuelson, standing on a hill overlooking the Portland Head Lighthouse early Saturday afternoon. “We’ve been blessed.”
Lineth Chepkurui, a 22-year-old Kenyan who was forced to miss the race the previous two years because of back and ankle injuries, turned in the first sub-31 minute performance for a woman in this annual race from Crescent Beach to Fort Williams that Samuelson started in 1998.
Chepkurui led from opening air horn to closing tape-breaking beneath a graceful arch of white and green balloons in a record time of 30 minutes, 59.4 seconds. Wude Ayalew of Ethiopia, a year older, was seven seconds behind. Until Saturday, the fastest women’s time had been 31:26 by Alevtina Ivanova of Russia, set in 2006.
In a tactical men’s race featuring three runners within a stride of each other as they entered the old gate of Fort Williams Park, Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia used a superior finishing kick to surge past a pair of Kenyans and win in 27:40.4.
The winners each earned $10,000 in prize money, with Chepkurui receiving an added $2,500 for setting a course record. Gebremariam, who finished a second and change ahead of 20-year-old Alan Kiprono, ended a string of 10 consecutive victories for Kenyan men at the Beach to Beacon.
Among Maine residents, Pat Tarpy of Yarmouth joined Ben True, a North Yarmouth native who now lives in New Hampshire, as the only local men to finish under a half-hour. Tarpy’s time of 29:28 bested runner-up Phil Richert of Bar Harbor by a full minute. True, who set the course record of 29:10 a year ago, ran in the elite division after having turned professional. He placed 12th overall, out of the money, a shade over 29 minutes.
Kristin Barry of Scarborough won her second Maine women’s title in three years, but didn’t cross the finish line until she had reached back to clasp hands with her training partner and good friend, Sheri Piers of Falmouth, whose time was three tenths behind Barry’s official clocking of 34:34.9.
“I was a little behind,” Piers said. “She kept saying, ‘Pretend we have a rope between us.’ “
The race also marked the return after a five-year absence of former champions Catherine Ndereba of Kenya and Khalid Khannouchi, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Morocco. Both are 38 and attempting to come back from injuries.
Ndereba finished sixth among women in 33:34, not far behind Khannouchi, whose time of 33:11 placed him 58th overall.
“Everyone does their part to make this run so smoothly, so efficiently and so spectacularly,” Samuelson said. “And to have the two women under our record was really the frosting on the cake. Having Catherine and Khalid back was wonderful as well.”
Every race within the race had something to offer.
Men’s wheelchair winner Craig Blanchette, an old friend of Samuelson’s from Battle Ground, Wash., performed a celebratory pirouette both at the top of the steep switchback just inside the Fort and while climbing the ramp to the awards stage.
The only woman among the five wheelchair and three hand-cycle racers, Catherine Jalbert of Brewer, 23, needed more than an hour longer than Blanchette’s 24:12 to cover the 6.2 miles, in a regular wheelchair.
Even so, she, like Blanchette, was rewarded with a standing ovation at the sun-kissed awards ceremony on the bluff overlooking Casco Bay and the iconic limestone lighthouse.
In all, 5,671 runners and walkers crossed the finish line, a slight increase from last year. David Weatherbie, the race president, noted that 23 Maine men ran faster than 33 minutes, from Tarpy to Wade Davis of Hallowell, showing remarkable strength in the state’s road-racing community.
“I’d be hard-pressed to find a year even close to that,” said Weatherbie, who also coaches track and cross country at Cape Elizabeth High. “Look at that depth.”
As for the weather, a welcome change from the mostly hot and humid two weeks preceding it, Weatherbie remembered precisely its equal.
“Year 2 was the last time we really had a day like this,” he said. “That was 1999.”
The best story may have only begun, as the previously unknown Kiprono embarks on a professional career that continues next week at the Falmouth Road Race in Cape Cod and leads who knows where?
“They don’t know me,” he said with a wide smile about his competitors. “They have never seen someone like me.”
As for Ndereba, known as Catherine “The Great” as much for her five Beach to Beacon titles, four Boston Marathon victories and two Olympic silver medals as for her sunny disposition and unyielding determination, she seemed thrilled to be back after a five-year absence.
“I love you,” Ndereba gushed to the crowd assembled for the awards ceremony. “I really want you to know you really have a place in my heart.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: