CAPE ELIZABETH – The TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race may bring in elite runners from around the globe to compete for thousands of dollars in prize money. But the heart of the race is, and always has been, the local runners and community support.
Race director Dave McGillivray oversees road races across the country, including the Boston Marathon, but loves coming here.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you get the impression that you’re an inconvenience. You’re shutting down roads. You’re inconveniencing businesses and residents.
“The opposite is true here. I honestly don’t ever recall one complaint from a business or a resident from this community. Everyone, I think, feels engaged, part of it. And that’s sort of the objective, to get the community involved so that they welcome it.”
Of course, having Joan Benoit Samuelson — the Olympic legend and Cape Elizabeth native — as the face of the race helps. She began her running career on these roads and dreamed of a way to give back to the community and state. The race is now in its 16th year.
“I think they rally around her, and her involvement, to feel part ownership,” said McGillivray. “It’s not just one person’s event, it’s the community’s event. They all own it. They take pride in it.
“And that’s a huge difference versus some place where there’s always hurdles and challenges. There are hurdles and challenges here, but there’s a spirit of cooperation where (they say), ‘We’ll get it done.’”
The runners certainly notice — from the fans lining the race course, to the volunteers who hand out towels and drinks at the finish line, to the host families.
Riley Masters of Veazie, a former runner at the University of Maine and Oklahoma who is now running professionally, said he can feel the pride the community takes in the race.
“I’ve always liked coming here since I started a couple of years ago,” he said. “There’s definitely some hometown pride.”
Throughout the news conference held Friday morning at the Inn by the Sea, race organizers spoke of the thread that ties the race to the community. They spoke of its impact on lives throughout the years — physically, emotionally and even economically.
Each year the TD Charitable Foundation selects a nonprofit organization as the race beneficiary. Over the years, according to Larry Wold, the president of TD Bank in Maine, the race has raised more than $750,000 for the beneficiaries.
This year’s beneficiary is The Opportunity Alliance, an agency that works with more than 20,000 Maine children, adults and seniors each year, helping with everything from mental illness and substance abuse treatment to homeless prevention to providing heating fuel assistance.
“They change lives,” said Wold, “just as I know this race has.”
Samuleson has heard stories over the years of someone who didn’t want to go to the race, then went to watch, then volunteered, then ran.
“The race has became an agent of change for the community and the sport,” she said. “We’re seeing people pulled off the sidelines who never thought they could complete 6.2 miles.”
This year, Rob Gomez of Saco senses an even stronger connection between the race and the community because of the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April.
The two races have always had a connection, starting with Samuelson (who first burst onto the national running scene there) and McGillivray.
“I think people really realize the greater connection running has to a community — what it brings to it, the greater good running can do,” said Gomez, one of the favorites in the Maine men’s race. “It just seems more important than ever because of that.”
McGillivray said as much in the news conference. The bombings “increased interest in our sport and did just the opposite of what they tried to accomplish.”
Sheri Piers of Falmouth said she has had several friends take up running since April. “They were so affected by what happened then,” she said. “They think about the people that were injured and the tragedy.”
And there are those, said Piers’ close friend and running mate Kristin Barry, who volunteer — who put up signs and hand out water — “just because they’ve heard about the race and they want to be part of it.”
Those are the people, said Samuelson, who will continue to make this more than simply a race.
“It’s an incredible team,” she said. “Every person who is involved with this race, whether they’re a sponsor, a volunteer, a host family, a runner, a spectator, every person and every story is so important to this race. It’s truly a collective effort.
“It’s a community that has gone above and beyond at every level in supporting this event. And what’s so great about this event is that it’s an uplifting event, an inspiring event.
“There’s so much bad news out there. People seem to be able to take a breather and say, ‘It’s Beach to Beacon week. Let’s do what we can to celebrate sport and life and where we live.’”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: