Among the approximately 6,500 runners who will make their way from Crescent Beach to the Portland Head Light on the first Saturday in August is a group of more than 100 who will be doing so for the 20th consecutive year.

Impressive streak, to be sure. Organizers of the TD Beach to Beacon 10K refer to them as Legacy Runners, perhaps because it sounds more appropriate than Streakers.

Most of the 117 Legacy Runners who entered this year’s race list Maine as their residence (98). And of the Mainers, folks from Cape Elizabeth (27) and neighboring Scarborough (14) are most prevalent.

But there are a handful from away, including a few from far away.

“It’s one thing to get out of your front door and run down the street and bang it out 20 times,” said race director Dave McGillivray. “It’s another to get on an airplane.”

Or make a long drive from out of state. The long-distance Legacy Runners provide “another testament to this event,” McGillivray said. “That’s why we have an obligation to make it the best race we can.”

What keeps these runners coming back year after year, especially those traveling from afar? What drew them in the first place?

Here are a few of their stories:

udy Kirchoffer doesn’t know how many more years she’ll able to run the race, but by gosh, she’s determined to find some way to the finish line. Photo by Gameface

WISCONSIN TO CRESCENT BEACH

Judy Kirchoffer and her husband Pat raised seven children in Waukesha, Wisconsin – between Milwaukee and Madison. She started running back in the 1970s, usually after sunset, after Pat came home from work.

“I ran in the dark in big old sweats,” she said. “I still do all my training in the dark. It’s crazy but I’ve tried to run during the day and I just don’t like it.”

The Bellin Run, a 10K race held in Green Bay each June since 1977, is a personal favorite of Kirchoffer, who also regularly runs the Bix 7-miler in Des Moines, Iowa. Twenty years ago she saw a full-page ad in Runner’s World magazine for the Beach to Beacon.

“I had seen Joan Benoit because she comes to Wisconsin (for the Bellin),” Kirchoffer said. “I followed her from college and when she did the Olympic marathon. The fact that she was in charge was a huge attraction.”

So the Kirchoffers made their first trip to Maine in 1998 and have returned every summer.

“We absolutely fell in love with Portland and the race,” she said. “Little did I know it would get to 20. The race has not gotten old. The course is still exciting and gorgeous.”

Judy was 61 for the first race. Nineteen years later, she has reached a milestone birthday but prefers that the number not be mentioned.

In conjunction with past Beach to Beacons, the Kirchoffers have taken side trips to Old Orchard Beach, Camden, Bar Harbor and Quebec City. They stay in the Old Port and make sure to hit Becky’s Diner, Gilbert’s Chowder House, Beal’s Ice Cream and a few other favorite places.

Her postrace ritual is cheeseburgers and french fries at Rosie’s on Fore Street.

Before the race, Pat will drive Judy to within a mile or two of the start line and she’ll walk in. He brings warm clothes to the finish line and awaits her arrival.

“I don’t know if I would ever do it without him,” she said. “He is so wonderful for not being a runner.”

Judy has won a few age-group awards but never first place because the indomitable Polly Kenniston of Westbrook is the same age. All the Kirchoffer children have L.L. Bean travel alarm clocks, thanks to gift certificates redeemed by their mom.

As much as Beach to Beacon has made changes to keep it current, Kirchoffer loves the fact that the race hasn’t added a 5K, or included a beer garden or allowed dogs on course.

“Joanie, she just knows how to run a race,” Kirchoffer said. “She’s kept it professional.”

Travel plans call for a Tuesday arrival. They’ve never come close to missing the race but Judy worries about airline unpredictability. She also wonders how many more years she can continue to run.

“I say to my husband, just get me to the starting line and I’ll crawl if I have to.”

John Blanchard, 71, grew up in South Portland and never dreamed the roads he biked on would be the ones he’d run on so many years later. Photo by Gameface

BIRTHDAY BOY

John Blanchard turns 71 on Saturday for his 20th running of the Beach to Beacon. He and his wife Kathleen are retired and living in Nokomis, Florida, but they spend summers in Harrison in western Cumberland County.

“I grew up in South Portland,” he said, “so I used to ride my bike on a good portion of what is now the race course and go swimming at the finish line. It’s just a great race, a great view.”

The drive from Harrison to Cape Elizabeth takes more than an hour, so the Blanchards usually leave well before sunrise and arrive about an hour before the start.

“My wife wogs,” Blanchard said of Kathleen, meaning a cross between walk and jog. Kathleen Blanchard missed the first year and a few more since.

They also take part in the Bridgton 4 on the Fourth and the Waterford Fall Foliage 5K. After retiring at age 50 from what was then New England Telephone, John Blanchard worked at L.L. Bean for a year and then taught sixth grade in Waterford for 13 years before a second retirement.

“When you run in it every year, it becomes habit,” he said. “It’s a tradition. When I can’t run anymore I’ll walk in it.”

His favorite spot on the course is the Pond Cove area of Shore Road. He can see a house on the point that brings back youthful memories.

“When we were kids, we used to sneak in and swim there,” he said. “The water didn’t seem as cold as it does now.”

Dave McSherry, 62, will run his 20th Beach to Beacon on Saturday and wants to run 30 more. Photo by Gameface

BUCKET LISTER

Like Kirchoffer, Dave McSherry of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, learned of the race through an ad in a running magazine.

“Once I saw that Joan Benoit Samuelson’s name was attached to it, I decided it would be a great race to do,” he said. “She has always been one of my running heroes. I can still see her (at the 1984 Olympics) with the painter’s cap coming around the track. That was just a magical moment for anybody who loves running.”

Samuelson’s involvement piqued his interest enough to make the nine-hour drive to Maine. What keeps him coming back?

“It is, to me, the most beautiful course imaginable for any race, but particularly for a 10K,” McSherry said. “It’s point to point, so well organized, the support, the volunteers, I could gush on and on. It’s obviously my favorite race of the year.”

McSherry, 62, is a program analyst for the Navy. He typically runs 75 or more races a year and in 2014 completed more than a hundred 10Ks (it was actually 122).

That was one bucket list item. A second was to run a race on each of the 366 dates of the calendar, over many years.

“Like most obsessed runners,” he said, “I kept a spreadsheet of all the races I’ve run.”

The toughest dates to complete were Christmas and Christmas Eve. He got them by driving to North Carolina for a 5K, then driving north to Connecticut to run on Christmas morning.

He almost missed the 2007 Beach to Beacon because his job had taken him to Japan during the registration period and his Internet connection wasn’t good. The registration window closed, but race organizers responded to his letter explaining his situation.

“Within a year or two they offered the legacy runners a guarantee to come in,” he said. “That is a blessing that we don’t have to compete with the three or so minutes to fill 6,500 slots. I’m always telling people I know, you ought to come up some year, but it’s hard to get in.”

An annual tradition for McSherry is visiting the flagship L.L. Bean store in Freeport. One year he went straight there instead of checking in at his regular motel in Old Orchard Beach (“It’s a place right on the beach. They actually know me by name and hold a room for me.”).

He settled into a comfortable chair in the book section and was perusing a particular tome when in walked the race founder and her husband, Scott Samuelson.

“I had one of Joan’s books in my hand,” McSherry said. “She said, ‘My, you must have been hard up for reading material.’ What I should have done is ask her to sign it but I didn’t. You know, when you’re star struck … what do you say to somebody who’s that famous and that great of a runner? That was such a thrill for a fan.”

McSherry said he has one more item on his running bucket list. He would like to run the first 50 Beach to Beacon races, which would keep him active through age 92.

“I promised all my friends who are still alive, I would pay their way up to Cape Elizabeth for the celebration,” he said. “Of course, somebody might have to drive me up there.”

The Obert sisters, from left, Margaret, Elizabeth and Mary Ellen, replenish after the 2013 Beach to Beacon. All three sisters live in Massachusetts, and have run all 19 previous B2Bs. Photo by Mary Ellen Obert

THE THREE SISTERS

There are actually five Obert sisters from North Andover, Massachusetts, and as kids they would come to southern Maine for a vacation. They also happened to be neighbors of Dave McGillivray, the Beach to Beacon race director, and used to babysit his sons, Max and Ryan.

Mary Ellen Obert, 43, still lives in North Andover with her husband, Jorge Jimenez, and two children. Her twin sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth, 40, live in neighboring Andover.

“We probably heard about it from a flyer or word of mouth,” Mary Ellen said. “When we first started out, you didn’t think it would turn out to be a must-do every year.”

But it did. The initial draw and love for the area blossomed into: “The Great Race, everyone’s favorite, the one you’d never miss.”

Mary Ellen is a nurse, Margaret a paramedic, and Elizabeth does outpatient transport for an ambulance company. So there have been many overnight shifts and understanding colleagues who rearranged schedules to accommodate race weekends.

“Even if it comes down to the wire, it always worked out,” Mary Ellen said.

All three sisters ran in high school and college. In the early years, they shared a hotel room. Now they rent rooms for a week at the same guest house on Scarborough’s Pine Point, a place known as Sea-Ward that Obert called a diamond in the rough.

Her son Ryan is 5 and will run the Kids Race for a third time this year. Sarah, 2, has yet to make her Beach to Beacon debut. Her husband, Jorge, has not run the race; somebody has to watch the kids.

As for the running itself, “Some years are PRs and some years you’re just struggling to finish,” Mary Ellen said. “Some years I’ve been pregnant and just checked it off. You get a little crazy but it’s a great event.”

The Obert sisters took part in another McGillivray event, the DMSE Classic, last weekend in North Andover. The event includes a 5K, 10K and half marathon.

“Any race he does, all the T’s are crossed and all the I’s are dotted,” Mary Ellen said. “There’s nothing that gets missed.”

Their parents have come to Cape Elizabeth on occasion and their sister Caroline also has run the race, but only Mary Ellen, Margaret and Elizabeth have toed the line every year.

Certain parts of the course stand out for Mary Ellen: the Shower of Power, the arch of firetruck ladders, the green-and-white balloons at each mile marker, the crowd of spectators on the median at the turn onto Shore Road from Route 77, the music at Mile 5.

“There’s always little sections where they lift you up,” she said. “And then, no matter how many times you run that race, there’s always that fake finish when you turn into the park.”

On the grassy strip before the lighthouse, each year, is Samuelson, the woman who envisioned this race, the woman who ran the same roads growing up in Cape Elizabeth not far from Fort Williams Park.

“She’s always at the finish line,” Mary Ellen Obert said. “Even though the race got bigger and bigger, she still does it. We’re still star-struck around her. She has this quiet manner about her but she’s still a celebrity.”

Obert said she doesn’t remember much about the first race other than parking challenges and long lines. She used to beat her sisters to the finish, but now simply hopes to keep sight of them for as long as she can.

“I tell everybody I know this is my favorite race,” she said. “I encourage people to put it on their bucket list because it’s worth it.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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