FREEPORT – It was the first for Robert Gomez, the second for Erica Jesseman and the Fourth for everyone else associated with the 36th running of the L.L. Bean 10K road race on a warm and muggy Thursday.
Gomez, a 29-year-old from Saco, was making his debut over the challenging 6.2-mile course that begins on Bow Street, and has plenty of ups and downs before finishing right around the corner on Main Street.
“I had no idea what to expect,” Gomez said after crossing the line in 31 minutes and 52 seconds — more than a minute and a half ahead of the rest of a field of more than 1,300. “L.L. Bean is a hard course and I can’t believe I’m complaining about it, but it was hot out (Thursday). I just wanted to get in a good effort.”
Indeed, after a week of cold, drizzly weather, the temperature climbed to 73 degrees by the 7:30 a.m. start without a hint of a cloud in the sky.
“It’s a huge difference,” said Jesseman, 24, of Scarborough. “You don’t realize how much it’s going to be until you get out there. I really don’t run well in humidity so I’m ecstatic that I ran what I did.”
What Jesseman ran was a time of 35:34 that was more than a minute faster than her winning time a year ago (in more conducive conditions for running: a cool, light rain). She also placed 10th overall, came within 22 seconds of the course record set by Kristin Barry of Scarborough in 2008 and became the first woman to repeat in Freeport since local favorite Joan Benoit Samuelson won in 2005 and 2006.
Jesseman said trying to keep pace with fellow Dirigo Running Club members Andy Spaulding and Todd Coffin — both of Freeport — helped push her toward such a satisfying performance. She also gained a measure of redemption from her previous race, a 5K in Old Orchard Beach last month that she won, but in a time nearly two minutes slower than a 5K race she ran in Hollis, N.H., only two weeks earlier.
“I prayed a lot between that (Old Orchard Beach) race and this race,” Jesseman said. “I thought it helped tremendously. It made me believe in myself, gave me confidence and every day I felt a little bit stronger.”
As for Samuelson, the Cape Elizabeth native and 1984 Olympic marathon champion ran her adopted hometown’s signature race for the 28th straight year. Friends from Oregon are visiting, so she ran alongside 14-year-old Samantha Slusher of the other Portland at a 7:04 mile pace.
Both Slusher and Samuelson, now 56, won their age divisions by wide margins.
“It’s a great event,” Samuelson said. “Bean’s does a wonderful job, they bring out all the employee volunteers and then people from the town, and there are grass-roots water stations. It epitomizes an American community on the Fourth of July.”
The runner-up to Gomez was Josh Zolla, 27, of Freeport, who finished second for the third time in four years.
“I’ve been struggling with workouts and mileage,” said Zolla, the 2011 champion, “so I wasn’t expecting a fast time at all. But I kind of had to go out with (Gomez) because you never know.”
After the first mile, much of it downhill, passed in 4:54, Gomez opened a gap and steadily pulled away.
“When I hit the 5K mark,” Zolla said, “and it was time to go, I said, ‘Go!’ and my legs said, ‘Nope.’But it was great. This race never disappoints.”
Zolla finished in 33:28 followed by Andrew Combs, a 2006 Bowdoin College graduate now living in Cambridge, Mass., in 33:55.
The women’s runner-up was 18-year-old Bethanie Brown, a recent Waterville High graduate who plans to run at the University of Connecticut. Her time of 36:46 lopped nearly two minutes off her first 10K attempt, at Freeport last July.
“I had a pack of girls to run with for four miles, so that was really cool,” Brown said. “Once I lost those girls, then I had a guy in front of me that I tried to catch up to but hmm, I don’t know if I did. It was a hot day.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: