CAPE ELIZABETH — Riley Masters remembers the first time he ran the TD Beach to Beacon 10K. He was a Bangor High student, about 17, and it was a turning point in his life.

“This was my first exposure to elite running,” he said Friday at the prerace press conference. “Just looking at it, I saw some of these amazing athletes and I realized what people could do.”

And what he could do.

Masters, a 25-year-old Veazie native who now lives and trains in Seattle, is among the talented newcomers who are leading a resurgence in U.S. men’s distance running. That group includes Ben True, who grew up in North Yarmouth; Will Geoghegan of Brunswick, who now lives and trains in Eugene, Oregon; and Eric Jenkins of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Like Masters, Geoghegan said he had his appetite for distance running whetted at Beach to Beacon.

“It was the first place I’d been where it’s a celebration of distance running,” he said. “You have thousands and thousands of people who are doing it for fun, and you also have the elite runners, who are incredible.”

True pulled out of Beach to Beacon on Wednesday as he prepares for the world championships in Beijing in late August. Four other elite runners pulled out as well, for various reasons: Kenyan’s Stanley Biwott and Paul Kipchumba Longyangata on the men’s side, and Ethiopians Meselech Melkamu and Yerbrugal Melese on the women’s side.

But Larry Barthlow, who coordinates the elite runners for the race, said the field, especially the U.S. field, is in good shape.

“I don’t like to talk about the old days because these are the days, now, that you’ll be talking about,” Barthlow said of U.S. distance running. “I think the kids believe. And I also think the more talented athletes are going into distance running.”

Masters agreed: “I think the future is now for American running and, truthfully, for Maine running as well.”

Masters, Geoghegan and Jenkins should be among the leaders in a talented field of U.S. runners in Saturday’s race, which begins at 8:05 a.m.

The three have run some of the best times among Americans this year in the 5,000 meters.: Jenkins a 13:07.33, Geoghegan a 13:17.85 and Masters a 13:17.97.

“It’s exciting,” said Jenkins, who was a teammate of Geoghegan’s at Oregon last year. “It’s an exciting time, the resurgence of U.S. running, and it’s always nice to be mentioned as part of it.

“Really, though, I’m just doing the best I can.”

Masters and Geoghegan don’t think it’s a coincidence that Maine is well represented among the nation’s best distance runners.

Topped by Beach to Beacon founder Joan Benoit Samuelson, the state has a rich history of producing talented distance runners.

“I think the winters here produce tough people,” said Geoghegan. “And you have to be tough to be a distance runner.”

Masters, who ran at the University of Maine for three years, then transfered to Oklahoma, also said Maine’s high schools prepare their runners well for the next level.

And it’s not just among the male runners. Emily Durgin, a Cheverus graduate, excels at the University of Connecticut. Bethanie Brown of Waterville is a top runner at Iowa.

“I think we’re really starting to get Maine on the map for the sport,” said Durgin, who’ll compete in Saturday’s race.

She added that she likes going to big meets and seeing fellow Mainers like Brown and Geoghegan and Masters. “We’re almost like a little cult,” she said. “It’s cool to have that Maine connection.”

Geoghegan hopes his course knowledge will be a factor, especially against Jenkins, who remains a training partner. “I know the course a little better than he does, so hopefully I can use it to my advantage,” he said. “And I’ll need every advantage I can get.”

For Masters, it’s also a chance to see how far he’s come since that first race eight years ago.

“There was quite a bit of a gap between me and the elite runners then,” he said. “I’m slowly closing it.”