CAPE ELIZABETH – Wheelchair racers don’t hear footsteps from the competitors chasing them. They hear whirring and a distinctive clack, clack.
Nearly three miles into Saturday’s TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K, Craig Blanchette heard nothing but the cheering from race watchers. He won in 24 minutes, 12 seconds, or just over a minute faster than record-holder Patrick Doak of Carlisle, Mass.
Blanchette, of Battle Ground, Wash., had what he called a “technical race,” opening his lead by powering up and over hills. “You have to decide if you’re going to coast over the crest or crest hard,” said Blanchette. “I went crest hard. And no one gets away from me on the downhills.”
Blanchette, 42, is returning to competition after eight years of retirement. He returned in May to win the masters division in the Lilac Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, Wash. Joan Benoit Samuelson saw him there and invited him to compete in the Beach to Beacon. It was his first invite.
Born without legs, Blanchette was a high school wrestler. That upper body strength and a show-no-mercy attitude has made him a tough competitor. He’s set 21 records in his career and won a bronze medal in the 1,500 meters in the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea.
Catherine Jalbert of Brewer was the only women’s wheelchair entrant, winning in a time of 1 hour, 29 minutes, 50 seconds.
A COUPLE of crowd favorites returned.
Catherine Ndereba of Kenya is the undisputed queen of the Beach to Beacon. She won the first four races and five overall, and charmed Cape Elizabeth with her smile.
She returned Saturday for the first time in five years and thoroughly enjoyed every moment.
“It was all very beautiful,” said Ndereba, who has been unable to race anywhere this year because of an injury. “I’m very, very grateful that I was able to run pain-free.
“It feels very good to be here. It’s beyond explainable. I’m so happy.”
Ndereba, who also wanted to see Joan Benoit Samuelson again (“She always makes me feel great.”), finished sixth among the elite women with a time of 33:33, winning her age group (30-39).
Khalid Khannouchi, who won the men’s elite race in 1999 and was an instant fan favorite, returned after a six-year absence. This was his second race of the year as he tries a comeback.
“I’m trying to do a lot of races and this is one of my favorite places to run,” he said. “I feel like I have a lot of fans here. It’s good to be back.”
Khannouchi said he was running well until the last kilometer, when he felt some numbness in his foot, so he jogged the rest of the way. He finished in 33:11, 58th overall and first in his age group (30-39).
“This race is very special to me,” he said. “You see the field today. Four guys under 28:00, it doesn’t get any better in the U.S. It’s a tough challenge when you come here, especially when running with these young guys. When you come here, you have to be at your best.”
SCOTT SAMUELSON has attended hundreds of road races in his life, either as a runner or spectator for his wife, Joan Benoit Samuelson. But Saturday was the first time he served as a volunteer.
He was unable to secure a bib number when entries opened and had no luck in the lottery.
But he came away with a new appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes at such events.
“I’m really impressed with the professionalism of this whole gang,” he said, standing beyond the finish line outside the medical tent. “They are all as serious about volunteering as the runners are about running. It’s heartwarming to see that.”
Four Samuelsons were involved in Saturday’s race. Joining their parents were Abby, who flew in Friday from Portland, Ore., to take part in the race under Nike’s corporate sponsorship program, and Anders, who earned a bib number in the race lottery.
PERFECT WEATHER conditions — low humidity, temperatures somewhere around 60 — attributed to “one of the lightest days we’ve had medically in years,” said Chris Troyanos, the race’s medical coordinator.
Only 43 runners were treated, well down from the 106 that headed into the medical tent after last year’s race in hot, humid conditions.
“Obviously, everything is predicated by the weather,” said Troyanos. “With the humidity low and the temperatures low, it worked out well.”
Mike Baumann, the race medical director, said the staff didn’t have to use ice tubs on anyone.
BEN TRUE of North Yarmouth, who holds the Maine record, competed in his first Beach to Beacon as an elite runner.
“I really enjoy trying to mix it up with the best of them,” said True. “There’s more to run for with the prize purse.”
He wasn’t particularly thrilled with his time, reporting that he felt flat right out of the start.
True finished 12th overall in 29:01. He set the Maine record in 2009 at 29:10.
“It went. I finished. I felt really flat,” said True. “After about the 5K mark, I was able to slowly get back in. I saw one of the lead packs ahead and I thought I could break them up. I tried reeling them in.”
True has the Falmouth (Mass.) Road Race on tap next, where he said he will “try to get things fixed up.”
His plans are to move next month to Lyme, N.H., near Hanover, where he raced for Dartmouth as a collegiate runner. He will be running for a group called In the Arena.
ETHIOPIAN RUNNER Dejene Berhanu ran the race in 29:15, almost exactly a year to the day after undergoing surgery in Portland for congenital ptosis, or a droopy eyelid.
Berhanu came to Maine in 2008 to run his first Beach to Beacon and was assigned to live with the Berman family in Cape Elizabeth. Dr. Jeff Berman, an opthalmologist, noticed Berhanu’s condition, which forced him to lift his right eyebrow to see clearly.
It took about a year of coordinating via e-mail, but about 48 hours after the race, Berhanu underwent a 45-minute surgery at Maine Eye Center, free of charge.