PORTLAND — Registration for the Beach to Beacon 10K road race — an event that never fails to raise a thought balloon for Eric Giddings — begins today for the general public.

“I think about it every year,” said Giddings, seated in a local coffee shop, a wistful look on his slightly scruffy visage. “Every time it comes around I’m like, ‘Maybe this will be the year.’ “

You may remember Giddings as the South Portland boy wonder who stunned the local running world by winning the Maine men’s division of the 2003 Beach to Beacon as a 16-year-old. Unnoticed by veterans in the race — including runner-up and two-time defending champion Andy Spaulding of Freeport — Giddings crossed the finish line without pomp or ceremony, 11 seconds ahead of Spaulding, only to hear Spaulding’s name mistakenly announced as the winner.

It was all sorted out soon enough, and Spaulding proved exceedingly gracious. Two years later, Giddings also proved his run was no fluke by setting a course record — since broken — of 30 minutes, 34 seconds.

Giddings went on to run for Stanford … and then … and then what?

As things turned out, the coach who recruited Giddings left for another school a few weeks before matriculation, and Giddings became one of a dozen track and cross country recruits in his class who lasted less than two years under the new coach.

“He had a completely different style,” said Giddings, who also dealt with a knee injury. “A couple people definitely vibed with it and those people did pretty well. But for the most part it fell apart. A couple people transferred.”

Fortunately for Giddings, he had another outlet for his passion and energy after hanging up his spikes during the outdoor track season his sophomore year at Stanford.

Art.

“I’ve always been into art,” said Giddings, a month shy of his 24th birthday, whose work can be seen on his website (webbieg.com). “My brother went to school for studio art and now he’s an architecture major. My uncle is a great artist. My neighbor, he’s going to school to be an art teacher. One of my best friends, he’s going to school to be an art teacher.

“So that was always a big part of my life, other than track.”

Giddings left Stanford in 2009 with a degree in sociology and came close to minoring in art. He works in the Americorps program, helping disadvantaged kids from Sagamore Village in Portland. On weekends he works in the Portland Museum of Art cafe.

With help from the Maine Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, Giddings and some friends set up an art collective (twentytwelveart.com). The limited liability company, among other things, allows participating artists to buy materials at wholesale prices.

“I’m not surprised at all,” about the transition from finish lines to drawing lines, said Dara Jarrendt, chair of the art department at South Portland High. “He always came across as a really nice, pleasant, even-keeled person (with) a variety of interests, who couldn’t really be pigeon-holed. Even when it came to materials he would use. He wasn’t afraid to try things and not be successful.”

It was at South Portland High that Giddings developed a style similar to pointillism, except that he uses non-intersecting lines instead of dots to indicate shading. The closer the lines, the darker the image. Looser means lighter.

From an original likeness of blues musician B.B. King sprung several other portraits, including Ethiopian distance star Haile Gebrselassie.

“Certainly his intellect is what gave him the most creative side to his art,” said Jarrendt, who also taught Giddings in middle school. “And not just the ability to make art, but also the ability to think through his art.”

Posters of his pen-and-ink drawings are available at Spun Arts & Apparel on Congress Street in Portland or through his website.

Graduate school is on his radar. Graphic design is a potential career. There’s another thing, too.

“I still enjoy running,” he said. “It’s not like I lost my passion. It was just that (collegiate running) got too serious. I felt like I was running for other people. I want to get back to that mentality of coming from within rather than from somewhere else.”

When Beach to Beacon registration for the general public opens today, Giddings will pass. He did, however, enter a lottery for the New York City Marathon and has begun training to run that 26.2-mile distance seriously in the fall of 2012.

“I would be pretty disappointed if I never finished a marathon in my life,” he said. “Just because for so long it was something I wanted to do.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]