CAPE ELIZABETH — Stephen Kosgei Kibet looked over his shoulder and almost felt relief. No one was in sight.

After finishing second twice, including last year, and fourth another time, the 28-year-old Kenyan finally won the TD Beach to Beacon 10K on Saturday. He pulled away from the lead pack in the final mile to finish first among a record 6,598 participants in the 18th annual race.

Kibet’s time was 28 minutes, 28.2 seconds, nearly 12 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, Moses Kipsiro of Uganda.

Complete Beach to Beacon results.

It was another near-perfect edition of the race, founded by Joan Benoit Samuelson and run on the roads where she trained while growing up here. While weather conditions seemed ideal at the start – Samuelson called it a “bluebird day” – the day warmed quickly and the pace was slow for just about everyone.

But it was a day of celebration all around. Hundreds of fans lined the streets, some setting up hours before, others having breakfast on their lawn. They banged pots, played music, waved banners and cheered – loudly – as the runners ran past.

Among those who passed by were Boston Marathon bombing victim Karen Rand McWatters and 90-year-old Dottie Gray, who started the race an hour before the other runners. McWatters, a Westbrook native, volunteered last year but soaked in the atmosphere as a participant this year. She promised to return, but not on the course.

“I’ll go back to volunteering,” she said. “I’ll always volunteer. I know what this race means.”

Kibet wasn’t the only elite runner to win a first title Saturday. Women’s winner Wude Ayalew, a 28-year-old from Ethiopia, overtook Burundi’s Diane Nukuri in the final 200 meters, to win in 31:55.5. She finished second and sixth in her previous visits.

“This was the one race she wanted to win in the U.S.” said Larry Barthlow, the race’s elite runner coordinator. “She really wanted to come here and win this race. She felt really confident.”

Most elite runners do.

But on this day, Kibet and Ayalew had the winning strategies.

Kibet waited until the fifth mile to make his move. The men’s race was particularly slow compared to most years – their first two miles were run in 4:48 and 4:52 – but picked up late. The original pack of 15 or so dwindled to five after the third mile – Kibet, Kipsiro, Kenya’s Daniel Salel and Micha Kogo, and Eric Jenkins of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

They remained closely packed until they passed Pond Cove, just shy of the five-mile mark. That’s when Kibet started to pull away.

“I knew I could do it,” said Kibet. “I said in my mind, ‘Now I want to go.’ If they wanted to come with me, come.”

No one could. Jenkins, who finished fourth and was the top American male (earning the $5,000 prize that goes with that title), said, “They picked it up a bit and I got gapped a bit.

“That downhill mile (entering Pond Cove) was tough. There were some surges before that I was able to cover, but they really laid it down on that downhill mile and I kind of dropped back a bit.”

Kibet never let up. As he entered the final stretch, he looked around. “I saw no one around me,” he said. And that was the best feeling he could have.

Kipsiro finished second in 28:39.7, sprinting past Salel in the final 50 meters. “I waited,” said Kipsiro, who didn’t want Salel to know he was right behind him. “I waited and then I sprinted.”

The women’s race also began at a slow pace. “Nobody came out to push the pace,” said Nukuri.

Defending champ Gemma Steel of Great Britain was coming off two months of recovery from an Achilles injury and wasn’t at full strength. She stayed with the lead pack for the first couple miles but then slowly dropped back.

“They didn’t struggle today,” she said of the other leaders.

So it became a three-woman race between Ayalew, Ethiopia’s Sentayehu Ejigu and Nukuri. Nukuri held the lead until the final 200 meters. But even though she trailed, Ayalew told Barthlow that she “knew she would win coming into the park.”

With 200 meters to go she passed Nukuri, who knew she wasn’t going to catch Ayalew.

“When she did, it wasn’t like she was struggling,” said Nukuri. “She was smooth. Honestly, today I did everything I could to win, but I didn’t. And I’m happy with that.”

Jenkins was equally pleased about being the first American male. “That was the main goal,” he said. “Anything after that was a bonus.”

Alexi Pappas of Eugene, Oregon, was the first American female in 32:56.9. She won that title with a last-second sprint, edging Liz Costello of Newton, Massachusetts, who finished in 32:57.6.

“I wanted to be the top American as much as I wanted to be anything,” said Pappas, who walked the final half-mile of the course on Friday to visualize what she had to do Saturday. “I pumped as hard as I could and knew I would not regret putting everything into that last stretch.

“I felt brave and I surprised myself.”

The temperature warmed as the race progressed, but there were no medical emergencies, just a medical tent full of runners laying in bathtubs of ice to bring their body temperatures down.

Medical tent director Chris Troyanos, who has directed the race’s first-aid team for 14 years, said the influx of overheating runners was normal.