CAPE ELIZABETH – Exhaustion and confusion marked the final seconds before the first woman crossed the finish line in the TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race Saturday.

Margaret Wangari-Muriuki of Kenya, the leader for almost the entire race, suddenly slowed up just before the finish, sped up again to be the first woman to cross the line, then fell to the ground.

She finished in 31 minutes and 52 seconds — just six-tenths of a second before runner-up Emily Chebet and 2.5 seconds before Lineth Chepkurui.

Chebet and Chepkurui, who set the course record of 30:59 when she won in 2010, are also from Kenya.

As Wangari-Muriuki was approaching the finish line, race officials were trying to direct her to the left so she could run through the tape as the first female finisher.

Race director Dave McGillivray said he stopped instructing her to go there once he realized how close the other women were and that running diagonally could cost her the race.

Wangari-Muriuki said she thought she had exhausted all of her energy just before she got to the finish line, and suddenly slowed down within a couple strides of the finish, but managed to pick up her feet again and get over the line.

“I gave myself the courage,” she said after the race.

Seeing Wangari-Muriuki relax her pace, Chepkurui thought the race was over and also slowed down, which allowed Chebet to slip into second place.

Still, Chepkurui said she was “so happy” with the results, considering it was the most competitive race she’s entered since coming back from a sciatic nerve injury.

Chepkurui, 24, overcame Wangari-Muriuki while inside Fort Williams, but she only kept the lead for about 150 meters.

“I pushed to the maximum, but my speed wasn’t enough,” Chepkurui said.

Wangari-Muriuki, 26, who was running Beach to Beacon for the first time, just came off a win at the Bix 7-miler in Iowa on July 28.

Although, it was “very hot,” she said, “the race was good, the course was good.”

Chebet was also running the race for the first time, though her husband, Ed Muge, the race’s winner in 2008 and 2009, had tried to convince her to run it before. Chebet, 26, said she’s previously chosen to go to other races on the weekend of Beach to Beacon, but saw who was running this year and decided to join her spouse.

The top three female runners ran most of the race as part of a pack of six that included Kenyan Rita Jeptoo (finished fourth), Ethiopian Wude Ayalew (seventh), and Renee Metivier Baillie (first American female, fifth overall).

Baillie, 30, of Bend, Ore., said American women have to believe they can keep up with the African runners or else they never will.

“You’ve got to give it a shot,” said Baillie, who stayed with the lead pack for about 41/2 miles.

She finished in 32 minutes and 31 seconds — her personal record. 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

lbridgers@pressherald.com

Twitter: lesliebridgers