CAPE ELIZABETH – A cool breeze and overcast skies greeted the elite runners assembled beneath a large white tent near Inn by the Sea for the traditional Friday press conference heralding today’s 14th running of the Beach to Beacon 10K road race.
By the time it was over, and the runners were assembling on the grass for a group photo, the sun had broken through and Allan Kiprono was smiling.
Of course, Kiprono always seems to be smiling. A year ago he was wide-eyed and eager, and making his American road racing debut in Cape Elizabeth.
That his bib read “Alan” didn’t bother him in the least. He wore a necklace of green plastic beads that he called “just bling” and found himself in the lead after 2 miles with only fellow Kenyan Wilson Chebet ahead of him as they entered Fort Williams.
Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia wound up kicking past both Kenyans, but Kiprono held on for second place, a time of 27 minutes, 42 seconds that remains his personal best at 10 kilometers, and a check for $5,000.
“That has given me a chance to know,” Kiprono said, “I can do it.”
Wearing a plaid short-sleeved button-down shirt, khaki shorts and lime green flip flops, Kiprono, 21, looked as if he’d feel at home in the Old Port, just another college-age kid on summer break.
Instead he’s a working professional about to run his eighth race of the year. He won the Bellin Run 10K in Green Bay, Wis., in June and finished second in three other major races: the Bix 7-miler in Davenport, Iowa; the Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, Wash.; and the Crescent City Classic 10K in New Orleans.
Prize money has enabled him to buy a new house for his parents, “to give them a good life, and then I can focus on my future life,” he said.
Kiprono also became friends with Anders Samuelson, son of the Beach to Beach founder, who spent time at a training camp in Iten, Kenya, earlier this year.
“It was about three weeks with him,” Kiprono said. “We used to train together early in the morning.”
Kiprono said he lost his green necklace on the plane ride back home last year but doing so didn’t diminish the memory of his dazzling debut.
“When I come here,” he said, “I feel comfortable.”
DAVE MCGILLIVRAY, the race director, has a tradition of celebrating his birthday by running a corresponding number of miles. He’ll turn 57 later this month and is beginning to regret not using his 50th to start counting back down so he’d only have a 10-miler awaiting his 90th birthday.
“I’m ready to do it,” McGillivray said. “I’m just waiting for the weather to cooperate.”
As fit as he is, McGillivray said he’s not ready to reel off 57 miles in temperatures above 80.
McGillivray, who has directed every Beach to Beacon, announced his retirement Friday. But noting he’ll be putting five children through college, he said his retirement wouldn’t take effect until 2050.
“I’ll be 95 and I’ll be directing this event,” he said. “As long as you’ll sponsor it and you’ll have me, I’m sticking around.”
IN EXPLAINING the reasons for the success of the Beach to Beacon, McGillivray listed six. The first five:
1. Top-notch organization.
2. Elite athletes and the home-stay program.
3. An aesthetically-pleasing course.
4. Generous sponsors.
5. Widespread community support.
The sixth, which he called the secret ingredient only found here in Maine, is the race founder, Joan Benoit Samuelson.
Take the first five “and sprinkle it with a little bit of Joanie,” McGillivray said, “and you’ve got the best possible event in the world.”
TODAY MARKS “the TD Bank Charitable Foundation giving away its 420,000th dollar to communities in Maine,” according to Larry Wold, president of TD Bank in Maine.
Each year, in concert with the race, the foundation awards $30,000 to a beneficiary, which this year is Day One, a nonprofit agency providing substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment and aftercare programs for Maine youth.
By granting additional race numbers to all past beneficiaries for purposes of fund raising, the race president, David Weatherbie, said Wold’s figure has nearly been doubled. “It’s actually over $800,000 over the 14 years that we’ve been able to raise for these Maine-based charities,” Weatherbie said.
DAVID FAULKNER, executive director of Day One, said Maine is among the nation’s top 10 states in adolescent substance abuse.
“A statewide survey found that 75 percent of parents said it wasn’t a big problem,” he said, “and 75 percent of kids said it was.”
Alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs are the biggest culprits among Maine youth. Day One’s mission is to dramatically reduce adolescent substance abuse in the state by working with families, communities, schools, police and corrections.
“The tendency is to deny it; the tendency is to ignore it,” he said. “But we can’t.”
JOAN BENOIT SAMUELSON didn’t sound like she’s ready to throw in the towel any time soon.
She said this year’s event already has gone beyond any of the previous Beach to Beacon races.
“I’m not retiring until you do,” she told Dave McGillivray, the race director, “so you’re stuck with me.”
SAMUELSON LIKENED the event’s organizing committee to a family. “When you talk about a Maine work ethic, you see it among this organizing committee,” she said. “They work tirelessly. They work throughout the year. They’re never recognized for the volunteer of the year award because they’re just too good.”
Naturally she segued into the winners of that award, bestowed at a gathering Wednesday night. The Berman family of Cape Elizabeth has hosted runners for five years and Dr. Jeff Berman, an eye surgeon, was instrumental in diagnosing and arranging for corrective surgery for an Ethiopian runner, Dejene Berhanu, with a droopy eyelid condition.
This year the Bermans are hosting Lucas Rotich of Kenya and introduced him to bocce Thursday morning.
A PARTICULARLY large contingent of top Maine runners attended the event.
Weatherbie, the race president, introduced all three of the state’s women’s favorites, Sheri Piers of Falmouth, and Kristin Barry and Erica Jesseman of Scarborough, as well as five Maine men. Jonny Wilson and Ethan Shaw of Falmouth, Matt Rand of Cape Elizabeth, Josh Zolla of Freeport and Louie Luchini of Ellsworth all drew applause.
Another fleet Mainer, Matt Lane of Yarmouth, showed up to pick up a bib with his daughter, 2-year-old Madeleine, whose mother Erin is a two-time Foot Locker cross country national champion.
“If she ends up being an American record holder, it’s not going to be because of me,” said Lane, a former All-American runner at William & Mary. “She can thank her mom for the good genes.”
Erin gave birth a little over a week ago to a boy, Matthew Jr.
DIANE NUKURI JOHNSON of Burundi actually attended high school in Canada — outside of Toronto — and college at the University of Iowa. She speaks French as well as English and her native language of Kirundi. She also stands 6 feet in sneakers.
Last week she was third at the Bix 7-miler and said she had no problems with the heat.
Eleven years ago she was Burundi’s sole female track and field athlete at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
BOAZ CHEBOIYWO, a late entrant, is making his fourth appearance in Cape Elizabeth. He placed fifth in 2008, second in 2009 and eighth last year.
“I would like to go one step further,” he said while receiving a massage. “I’d like to win this race.”
Cheboiywo, 33, lives in Michigan. After a down year, he said his training has picked up considerably the past two months and he might be in the thick of things today.
“It’s good to be the underdog,” he said, “not to be the hunted one.”
PORTLAND HAD the most in-state registrants for the Beach to Beacon, with 912, according to numbers supplied by Jason Wolfe, the race’s public relations guru. Cape Elizabeth followed with 829, then Scarborough (428) and South Portland (423).
Madawaska was the northernmost point, with two entries, while Kittery was the southernmost point with seven.
In all, runners from more than 200 Maine cities and towns will run the race.
PIERS, BARRY and Jesseman have been training together all summer and look to be the top contenders for the Maine women’s championship.
But winning that division is not really that important to them.
“Our goal is to have our best times and run together,” said Jesseman, the recent New Hampshire grad, who at 22 is 15 years younger than Barry and 18 years younger than Piers.
So winning really isn’t important?
“If I won and had a slow time, I’d be disappointed,” said Jesseman. “It’s all about the time.
“Yeah,” said Piers, “I’d rather be third and run a (personal best) than win it with a slow time. I think for all of us, the Maine title is not what this is about.”
Jesseman is thrilled to be running with Piers and Barry, and said she’s looking to join them at longer distances.
Even though she doesn’t like the distance training right now — she’s still got some speed in her young legs — she wants to run a marathon with them.
“I would really like to qualify to run with them in Houston (at the U.S. Olympic trials in January),” she said.
“In a couple of years, (the marathon) will be my main focus.’
– Staff Writer Mike Lowe contributed to this report.