Finish-line applause is intoxicating.

The thrill of a 10K completion is amplified by the crowds of rooting friends and strangers along the way.

But you know what else is intoxicating? Free Shipyard and Portland Pie.

The motivational ovation takes a backseat to the beer and pizza at the end of the annual Portland Trails 10K: Trail to Ale, returning to Portland this Sunday.

The 6.2-mile run along the Eastern Promenade Trail and around Back Cove benefits Portland Trails and once again boasts a finish line full of beer, pizza and other grub, like bananas and power bars courtesy of Whole Foods. (Although, at the risk of offending the local banana community, I’d venture to say it’s the beer and pizza most Trail to Ale participants are after.)

The race starts on Fore Street in Portland, in front of the Portland Co., and follows the Eastern Promenade Trail to the Back Cove Trail, where runners can fawn over the Back Cove views and the friendly gravel trail.

Finishers wanting to save their remaining energy for the beer-and-pizza-loaded after-party can hop aboard the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad for a free ride back to the Portland Co.

Race participation has continued to grow over the last 11 years, and organizers expect the 2010 edition to max out at 1,500. That’s quite a decade-long growth spurt, considering the 200 or so folks who crossed the finish line that first year, back when the race was known as the “Tukey Trot.”

“We thought (the name) was cute,” said Nan Cummings, executive director at Portland Trails, who noted that the racecourse ducks under Tukey’s Bridge. “But people thought we meant ‘turkey trot,’ and would always correct it for us.”

After five years of spelling clarifications, Cummings met with Shipyard Brewing’s Bruce Forsley to brainstorm ideas on how to grow participation in the race. “He said, ‘How about we host a party afterward?’” said Cummings. “And that’s what happened.”

There’s less confusion over the meaning of the newer name. And apparently, the lure of free beer appeals to people. Also appealing: raising funds for Portland Trails, a organization whose work is not only local, but right under our feet.

“We have funding from a lot of different sources,” said Rachael Weyand, outreach manager for Portland Trails. “But this is one of our biggest events. This brings in quite a bit of our funding.”

It’s the sort of do-gooder accomplishment that gets a runner feeling all warm and fuzzy. Or maybe that’s an effect of the Shipyard.

Either way, the post-race celebration is a welcome and well-earned reward for participants, whether they opted to sprint or to saunter the course. Besides, first-place awards make shiny adornments to a fireplace mantel, but you know what you can’t do with a trophy? Drink it.

For folks not tempted by the siren song of after-party freebies, you can still play a vital role in the day by cheering participants on along the route. Such sideline enthusiasm is invaluable to Trail to Ale runners.

It’s a close second to a slice of Portland Pie, anyway. Third, if you count the Shipyard.

But definitely more appreciated than a banana.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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