CAPE ELIZABETH – It’s not every competition where 14-minute milers are greeted at the finish line with handshakes and high fives from an Olympic gold medalist, but Joan Benoit Samuelson’s Beach to Beacon 10K is not your ordinary road race.
Resplendent in red after running the 6.2-mile course herself alongside fellow marathon legends Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter and 77-year-old former L.L. Bean president Leon Gorman, Samuelson welcomed walkers and runners as if they were long-lost friends.
Behind her, half a dozen volunteers in red vests with large white crosses below the word “MEDICAL” watched for anyone suffering unduly from the heat and humidity.
Yes, it was another hot time in Cape Elizabeth Saturday morning, with approximately six dozen runners treated in the medical tent and one transported to a local hospital, albeit with abdominal pain that first cropped up on Friday.
Even so, more folks made the journey by foot or wheelchair from near Crescent Beach to the Portland Head Light on this first Saturday in August than in any of the previous 14 editions of this annual event: 6,177.
“There were a lot of people out there struggling,” Samuelson said, “but they knew their bounds, and they were walking and running and jogging accordingly.”
With few clouds, temperatures in the mid 70s and barely a breath of wind, Saturday was not a day for records. Stanley Biwott of Kenya was the only runner to finish in under 28 minutes. His time of 27:58.6 was the second-slowest for a winner in nine years.
Only once since 2002 has the winner taken longer to pass beneath the arch of green and white balloons inside Fort Williams, when Ed Muge ran 28:05 in 2009.
Muge placed fifth Saturday in 28:18, but his wife, Emily Chebet, nearly stole the women’s title when each of the two women ahead of her, fellow Kenyans Margaret Wangari-Muriuki and Lineth Chepkurui, misjudged the finish line.
Wangari led from the start but was closely followed by Chepkurui, Chebet and Rita Jeptoo as they turned through the Old Gate into Fort Williams after negotiating the hills of Shore Road. Chepkurui, the course record holder and 2010 champion, pushed ahead at Mile 6 in the backstretch of the park, where on non-race days dogs are allowed to frolic off leash.
Summoning one last burst of energy, Wangari surged back into the lead and headed for victory — only to downshift shortly before the finish and come to nearly a full stop, oblivious to the two volunteers stretching a formal “break tape” a few yards to her left.
Race director Dave McGillivray noticed Wangari’s confusion and beckoned her forward. She took a few steps, crossing the official finish line, and crumpled in a heap moments before Chebet and Chepkurui, who had slowed when it seemed a Wangari victory was inevitable, flew past.
“She said she just got dazed and confused,” said Larry Barthlow, the elite athlete coordinator. “It happens to everybody.”
Wangari won in 31:51.6 with Chebet six tenths of a second behind. Chepkurui was another two seconds behind followed four seconds later by Jeptoo in one of the closest, most crowded conclusions in race history.
All four Kenyan women were faster than last year’s winning time of 32:09 by Aheza Kiros of Ethiopia.
“I didn’t see the tape,” said Wangari, helped to her feet moments later by McGillivray. “That is why I stopped. My legs were very tired. I couldn’t even stand.”
First place for both Biwott and Wangari was worth $10,000, with prize money paid out nine more places.
Of the top 10 men, nine hail from Kenya and one from Ethiopia. The top 10 women include three Americans — Oregonians Renee Baillie of Bend in fifth and Julia Lucas of Eugene in sixth and Rebecca Donaghue (State College, Pa.) in 10th.
In the Maine women’s category, Sheri Piers of Falmouth won her second straight title and third overall, in a time (34:23) six seconds off the course record she set in 2007. At 41, Piers also won her second straight women’s masters title, thus doubling her prize money to $2,000.
Erica Jesseman, 23, of Scarborough was runner-up for the second year in a row, a minute and 20 seconds behind Piers. Recent Kennebunk High graduate Abbey Leonardi was third (36:29) in her Beach to Beacon debut.
No other Maine women managed a sub-6:00 pace per mile. Among Maine men, two former Falmouth High teammates battled for the title, with Ethan Shaw overtaking Jonny Wilson in the final mile to win by 14 seconds in 30:37.
Shaw, 22, is a recent graduate of Dartmouth College and Wilson, 24, ran for the University of Richmond. Each ran a sub-5:00 pace, with Saco’s Robert Gomez finishing a minute behind Wilson in third.
“There’s no other race like it,” said Shaw, who won $1,000 to $500 for Wilson. “The whole state really comes together for this race and it’s cool to be on the center stage even once a year. It doesn’t happen very often.”
In the battle for fourth place, Will Geoghegan of Brunswick passed a wobbly Josh Zolla of Freeport one second before finishing, although Zolla, 26, collected the fourth-place prize money of $200 because Geoghegan, a Dartmouth junior, retains collegiate eligibility.
Zolla also broke a record nobody wants — highest core body temperature ever recorded in the Beach to Beacon medical tent: 109 degrees.
“They put me in a wheelchair, dragged me in there and stuck me in an ice bath to get the temperature down,” said Zolla, sitting quietly after his ordeal, a white towel draped over his shoulder. “They got me to sit up, do the walk test and finally released me.”
Organizers praised a medical team that, including ham radio operators, numbered 106 volunteers. The team treated roughly 70 patients, the majority in ice immersion baths, and sent only one to a local hospital.
The race “didn’t overtax Maine Med or Mercy or anything in the public safety (realm),” said Chris Troyanos, the race’s medical coordinator. “Especially with what you guys have going in Portland (the music festival on the Eastern Prom), that’s what we want to do. That’s what we’re designed to do.”
Adam Goode of Bangor, who finished within a minute of Zolla, also wound up in the medical tent. Afterward, he sounded delighted to trade stories and temperature readings. His peaked at 107.
“There’s a story with every runner out here,” said Samuelson, the 1984 gold medalist in the inaugural women’s Olympic marathon, “and their stories, I hope, will continue for many years to come.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: