August 8, 2010

Uphill or downhill, he often sets the pace

From staff reports

CAPE ELIZABETH - Wheelchair racers don't hear footsteps from the competitors chasing them. They hear whirring and a distinctive clack, clack.

click image to enlarge

Christine Snow-Reaser, left, of Dayton shares a laugh with Simonetta Piergentili of Wilmington, Mass., after completing the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K on Saturday.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Nearly three miles into Saturday's TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K, Craig Blanchette heard nothing but the cheering from race watchers. He won in 24 minutes, 12 seconds, or just over a minute faster than record-holder Patrick Doak of Carlisle, Mass.

Blanchette, of Battle Ground, Wash., had what he called a "technical race," opening his lead by powering up and over hills. "You have to decide if you're going to coast over the crest or crest hard," said Blanchette. "I went crest hard. And no one gets away from me on the downhills."

Blanchette, 42, is returning to competition after eight years of retirement. He returned in May to win the masters division in the Lilac Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, Wash. Joan Benoit Samuelson saw him there and invited him to compete in the Beach to Beacon. It was his first invite.

Born without legs, Blanchette was a high school wrestler. That upper body strength and a show-no-mercy attitude has made him a tough competitor. He's set 21 records in his career and won a bronze medal in the 1,500 meters in the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea.

Catherine Jalbert of Brewer was the only women's wheelchair entrant, winning in a time of 1 hour, 29 minutes, 50 seconds.

A COUPLE of crowd favorites returned.

Catherine Ndereba of Kenya is the undisputed queen of the Beach to Beacon. She won the first four races and five overall, and charmed Cape Elizabeth with her smile.

She returned Saturday for the first time in five years and thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

"It was all very beautiful," said Ndereba, who has been unable to race anywhere this year because of an injury. "I'm very, very grateful that I was able to run pain-free.

"It feels very good to be here. It's beyond explainable. I'm so happy."

Ndereba, who also wanted to see Joan Benoit Samuelson again ("She always makes me feel great."), finished sixth among the elite women with a time of 33:33, winning her age group (30-39).

Khalid Khannouchi, who won the men's elite race in 1999 and was an instant fan favorite, returned after a six-year absence. This was his second race of the year as he tries a comeback.

"I'm trying to do a lot of races and this is one of my favorite places to run," he said. "I feel like I have a lot of fans here. It's good to be back."

Khannouchi said he was running well until the last kilometer, when he felt some numbness in his foot, so he jogged the rest of the way. He finished in 33:11, 58th overall and first in his age group (30-39).

"This race is very special to me," he said. "You see the field today. Four guys under 28:00, it doesn't get any better in the U.S. It's a tough challenge when you come here, especially when running with these young guys. When you come here, you have to be at your best."

SCOTT SAMUELSON has attended hundreds of road races in his life, either as a runner or spectator for his wife, Joan Benoit Samuelson. But Saturday was the first time he served as a volunteer.

He was unable to secure a bib number when entries opened and had no luck in the lottery.

But he came away with a new appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes at such events.

"I'm really impressed with the professionalism of this whole gang," he said, standing beyond the finish line outside the medical tent. "They are all as serious about volunteering as the runners are about running. It's heartwarming to see that."

(Continued on page 2)

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