CAPE ELIZABETH — Ever since three-time winner Emily Levan moved to Vermont, the Maine women’s race at Beach to Beacon has been dominated by two good friends: Kristin Barry of Scarborough and Sheri Piers of Falmouth.

Barry won the 2008 race. Piers won in 2009. Last year they crossed the finish line holding hands, although Barry’s timing chip – by three tenths of a second – made her the champion.

This year Piers and Barry have company. Erica Jesseman of Scarborough joined their Dirigo Running Club and has been training with Piers and Barry since graduating from the University of New Hampshire in May.

“They are two great inspirational ladies and I really enjoy training with them,” Jesseman said. “I don’t consider it racing against them. I consider it us trying to get our best times together. We’re all trying to pursue the record.”

That record is 34 minutes, 17 seconds, set by Piers two years ago. Whatever happens, don’t expect all three of them clasping hands across the line Saturday.

“No, that’s not going to happen,” said Piers, who turned 40 in May and qualifies in the B2B masters category for the first time. “But if we can all have a good day, we should be pretty close.”

In July, Piers won the L.L. Bean 10K in Freeport and finished second to Jesseman in the Clam Festival 5-miler. Jesseman, 22, also won Bridgton’s 4 on the Fourth and a 5K in Springvale (at a 5:21 pace).

Barry, 37, underwent knee surgery in early April and feels fully recovered, although she said missing five months of training means her fitness level isn’t what it needs to be to contend on Saturday.

“I’m making progress, but 10K is going to be a stretch,” she said. “I’ll kill myself to try and stay with them, but I don’t think that’s possible now.”

Still, Barry beat Jesseman in the Ocean Park 5K in Old Orchard Beach on Friday. Piers cautioned against counting out the defending champion.

“She’s probably the toughest person I’ve ever known,” Piers said. “I think she’s going to surprise herself.”

The Maine men’s field will not have a repeat champion. Yarmouth’s Patrick Tarpy, who has been tilting more toward triathlons than road races, will be attending a wedding instead of defending his title.

None of the leading men has won the race before, although Ellsworth’s Louie Luchini ran Beach to Beacon nine years ago as a 21-year-old Stanford University senior. Under strict instructions from his college coach, Luchini used the race as a training run and finished just over 30 minutes.

“So this will really be the first time he’ll be racing, and his first time as a Mainer,” said race president David Weatherbie. “He would be the heavy favorite.”

A 10-time All-America runner at Stanford, Luchini now serves in the state Legislature and hasn’t raced since winning the Tour du Lac 10-miler in Bucksport in late June. Then again, in doing so, he set a course record of 50:20.

Luchini said he hasn’t done any speed work lately, but has helped out at a few running camps since the House ended its legislative session. This spring he won a fistful of races, including the Mother’s Day 5K and Patriots Day 5-miler in Portland and the Sugarloaf 15K in Carrabassett Valley.

“I’m kind of clueless as to what kind of shape I’m in,” Luchini said. “I’d like to try to break 30 minutes and I think I can, but I do have a tendency to go out too fast. I was always a pretty aggressive racer.”

The course record is 29:10, set two years ago by two-time champ Ben True of North Yarmouth. True will be running this weekend, but on a track in London on Friday in an attempt to achieve the Olympic Trials ‘A’ standard for 5,000 meters.

Among the younger runners nipping at Luchini’s heels are Jonny Wilson and Ethan Shaw of Falmouth and Joshua Zolla of Freeport.

Wilson, 23, is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond in Virginia who has been the summer’s hottest local road racer. Last month alone he won Bridgton, Springvale, Clam Festival and Ocean Park.

Shaw, who was two years behind Wilson at Falmouth High, has been training in Hanover, N.H., where this fall he will be a senior at Dartmouth College. He has broken 30 minutes on the track for 10,000 meters.

Shaw, who placed fourth among Maine men a year ago, will be running with some college teammates and treating the race as a hard tempo run.

“If I get caught up in it a little bit I might run a decent time,” he said. “But I’m not looking to run anything spectacular.”

Zolla, 25, won a 10K in Freeport last month and was runner-up to Wilson in Yarmouth and Old Orchard Beach.

For the first time in memory, the wheelchair division also has a significant local presence, with Christina Kouros of Cape Elizabeth, Catherine Jalbert of Brewer and Michael Noyes of Bangor among the five athletes entered.

“It’s such an exciting race to have in Maine,” Luchini said. “The spectators are awesome. When I was training, this would be the down time for me, but my brother and I would go and watch it most years, just because it’s such a great event.”

 

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

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH