SOUTH PORTLAND – He’s never stood in a crowd of 5,000, waiting to start a 10-kilometer road race. He’s never finished a race longer than a 100- or 200-meter sprint. Eddie Hamilton has never heard spectators cheer his bib number or his effort to run up the last hill inside Fort Williams Park.

In fact, Hamilton has never run up a hill after running six miles of roads. He’s never watched the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K road race, let alone run in it. He lives about 10 miles away from the course, but his world and the world of this race have never crossed paths.

Until now. He and three teammates got word they were entered in the race about three weeks ago. Their training? Twenty laps around the flat track that sits inside the security fence at the Long Creek Youth Development Center. Not exactly a simulation of Cape Elizabeth’s undulating roads.

Run on a track and you can see the finish line. Running to the finish line at Fort Williams more than six miles away from the start is an act of faith.

Saturday morning, as they sat in a meeting room at Long Creek, a juvenile correctional facility, they really had no idea what awaits them next week. Dave Grant, a member of the Long Creek security team and coach of the newly formed track team this spring, surprised his runners by telling them he’ll introduce them to the course a day or two before the race.

“I just want to finish,” said Hamilton, while the other three nodded their heads. Stepping off the course because of fatigue is not an option. Their young lives have been punctuated by bad decisions, wrong choices. Next Saturday, they won’t be running from something. That might be a heady feeling to those whose freedoms have been curtailed.

Please, no jokes about any of the four veering off course to an escape route. They’ve earned the trust and privilege to run this race with no monitors. They’ll appreciate the two hours or so of freedom and being part of a race that never grows old to the thousands of fans, family and friends that line the course. They won’t carry the label of juvenile offender on their backs.

When the crowds cheer encouragement, they’ll feel the same adrenaline rush and be pulled along with the other runners.

“Running has become my addiction,” said Jeff White, an 18-year-old from Saco. “I’ve felt the (runner’s high). I know it feels better than the other highs I’ve had. When I don’t run, it feels like withdrawal.”

He’s at Long Creek because of problems with his own substance abuse. So is Hamilton, also 18 and from Portland. A third abuser and runner from Old Orchard Beach couldn’t be identified for this column because he is a juvenile, and while he joined the conversation, his family didn’t sign a media waiver. The fourth runner, Nick Pommenville, 18, of Biddeford, couldn’t control his anger some time ago and lost his freedom.

The substance abusers have weekly meetings with staff from Day One, a South Portland-based substance abuse treatment agency, and not coincidentally this year’s beneficiary of money raised by the race. Joanne Grant, the Day One program director at Long Creek, can’t point to success stories every week, but she can point to the runners and say lives have been given a new direction.

“I feel like the counselling has helped change my thinking,” said Hamilton. Maybe his words were an exercise in saying the right thing. But trust has to start somewhere, or why even try?

So little in their past experience has prepared them to run Beach to Beacon. Three of the four were sprinters on the small track team. They have no understanding of pacing. Even Coach Grant, who will run, was a sprinter. They’re all learning on the fly, so to speak.

“We’re all competitive,” said White. “If someone passes you, you want to pass them back. In a long race like this, you can’t.”

Lights out for most at Long Creek is 9 p.m., except for those who earned the privilege of reading for a little bit longer. A new day begins some time after 6 a.m. The Long Creek runners aren’t sure what they’ll have for breakfast on race day. They’re worried it may come back up from nervous stomachs while waiting for the race to begin.

Afterward, they plan to run to the ocean. It’s been awhile since they’ve taken a dip.

At Long Creek, they’ve learned to understand who they are. After the race they’ll know a little more.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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