CAPE ELIZABETH – When the Beach to Beacon was first run 14 years ago, 3,000 runners took to the scenic route from the start at Crescent Beach to the finish at Fort Williams. On Saturday, more than twice that number will make their way through the streets of Cape Elizabeth in the 15th annual race.

The 10K, founded by Maine running legend Joan Benoit Samuelson, has turned into not just the biggest race in Maine, but one of the most-renowned events of any kind. It is a staple on the state’s sporting calendar that attracts top talent from around the world. The race draws more than 6,000 runners and more than 10,000 spectators, and organizers make a large donation to charity, $30,000 this year to the Center for Grieving Children.

It has become so popular that just gaining entry has become a race in itself. This year, the 4,000 places open to general registration were pounced on in six minutes.

While the numbers and reputation of the race have swelled, some things have remained constant. Five local runners – Bob Payne of Raymond, Jeff Small and Peter McDonald of Scarborough and Michelle Flynn and Marti Blair of Cape Elizabeth – are among a select group that have participated in every Beach to Beacon since its inception, and will be back with their bibs Saturday for another go.

Though he knew it would be a great event, McDonald said that when he signed up for the first edition of the Beach to Beacon, he didn’t know the race would become the spectacle it has.

“I knew it would be the biggest in the state of Maine, but I wasn’t sure how many world-class runners it would have,” he said. “But with Joan Benoit’s recognition I was sure it would be first-class and she’d be able to attract some really good runners.”

For Blair, who lives just a half mile away from Fort Williams and walks home after the race, the Beach to Beacon is special not because it attracts world class talent, but because it’s a become a world-class event that has maintained a local feel.

To emphasize that, every year she wears her son’s old Cape Elizabeth cross country shirt, which she says usually gets plenty of cheers from spectators.

“It’s the only race I do, it’s the only race I’ve ever done,” she said. “What brings me back is that I like the way it’s very pluralistic. What I liked is that when it first started out it was the people’s Beach to Beacon and I still feel like it has retained that sense, that it’s kind of a race for anybody.

“It really inspired me to do it, the fact that it’s a hometown local support race that anybody could enter.”

Payne has been running in races throughout the country for 36 years, including a streak of 15 straight Boston marathons. He’s finished second in his age group five times at the Beach to Beacon, and he was the first Maine finisher at four of the first five races, which he said he said is one of the best events he’s ever been a part of.

“It’s a special race, it’s the largest race in Maine, but it’s equal to a lot of other races I’ve run and probably even better, “ he said. “The crowd is one of the greatest, it equals the Boston Marathon crowd, it really does. This one doesn’t take a backseat to any of them.”

While Payne had been running for 22 years before the first race, the original Beach to Beacon was the first race Flynn had ever run in. But from that race she caught the running bug, and has run multiple marathons and triathlons since.

“I just found it to be inspirational and exciting and the crowds were amazing, and that was the beginning of my running experiences,” Flynn said of the first Beach to Beacon. “From there I started running pretty much every race I could find locally. It all started right here.”

The 15th go-around could be the most memorable yet for McDonald. Not only will his wife Heidi be joining him in the race for the ninth time, but so will his 13-year-old son Sean, participating in his first Beach to Beacon.

“He’ll be way ahead of me,” McDonald said with a laugh. “Hopefully he’ll have water out for me at the end of the race.”

Small grew up in Cape Elizabeth not far from the course. He said he usually sees the same people at the same mile markers every year, and that running in such a big event on the roads he used to bike as a kid enhanced the experience.

“It’s a perfect venue,” Small said. “I think it’s great to be a part of it, and now that I’ve done it for almost 15 years I wouldn’t miss it, even if I have to walk it.

“I’ve got an 8-year-old daughter and I’m already talking to here about planning her wedding. Just not the first weekend in August.”

While Small is already planning around that potential problem, Blair is running headlong into it this year. Her son is getting married on Saturday in Turner, but that won’t stop her from running. She plans to run the race at 8 a.m., shoot home and shower, and make it up to Turner for the 1 p.m. ceremony.

“You know if you don’t (run) you lose your status with the registration,” Blair said. “I tend to be the one who is loyal to traditions or loyal to certain events, so once I establish loyalty to something it takes a lot for me to break it.”

Sometimes keeping the streak going hasn’t been easy for the others either. Payne had triple bypass surgery in 2008, but said he “never intended” to miss the race that year.

Twice during the race MacDonald has strained muscles, one year straining his calf at mile 4.5 and limping the final 1.7 miles and another year badly straining his inner thigh at Mile 2 and slowly jogging the last 4.2 miles. Last year, he was diagnosed with a degenerative hip condition, but will still be at the starting line Saturday.

“I had to keep going to keep my streak going,” McDonald said.

Flynn’s streak was almost stopped by a more severe malady. In 2004 she was diagnosed with cancer, and her final chemotherapy treatment was scheduled for the day before that year’s race. Though the doctors recommended she not run, Flynn pushed back the appointment so she could compete in the race.

“Crossing that finish line in 2004 was pretty amazing, with my husband on one side and my daughter on the other,” she said. “Granted my time was pretty slow, but I finished.”

All five streakers said they felt lucky to have been able to run in each of the first 15 Beacons, and when asked how long they intended to keep the streak going, all five streakers responded the same way as long as possible.

“I’ve never really believed in streaks,” Payne said. “But this one here is just special, and that makes me want to come back and keep it going.”

Bob Payne of Raymond is an avid race runner who said the Beach to Beacon atmosphere ranks with any event he’s experienced. “The crowd is one of the greatest, it equals the Boston Marathon crowd,” he said.  
Jeff Small of Scarborough grew up in Cape Elizabeth. “It’s a perfect venue,” he said of the Beach to Beacon.
Marti Blair of Cape Elizabeth has kept each of the T-shirts she has earned for running the Beach to Beacon, but on race day, she always wears her son’s old Cape Elizabeth cross country shirt.
Not even cancer could keep Michele Flynn away from the Beach to Beacon. In 2004, she held off her final chemotheraphy treatment to take part in the race.
Peter McDonald of Scarborough will for the first time this year run the Beach to Beacon with his son, Sean. “He’ll be way ahead of me,” McDonald said.

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