Early Saturday was not the time to seek solitude in this upscale, waterfront burg, as more than 6,000 runners and spectators immersed themselves in a glorious, scenic and dramatic Maine morning.

In an atmosphere of clear, blue skies, refreshingly crisp air and a spectacular view of Casco Bay, Johannes Mabitle ignored his surroundings.

He wanted to be alone.

Catherine Ndereba and Johannes Mabitle, winners of the first Beach to Beacon. Staff photo by Herb Swanson

The 30-year-old runner from South Africa never quite freed himself from the lead pack. But he did manage to finish a stride ahead of two Kenyan competitors in a memorable finish to the historic, first Peoples Beach to Beacon 10K road race, which ended at postcard-perfect Fort Williams Park.

Mabitle was a surprise winner of the inaugural race, running in a personal-best time of 28 minutes, 18 seconds – one second ahead of the favored Kenyans, second-place William Kiptum and third-place Peter Ndirangu.

About four minutes later, the drama continued as another tight race ended. Kenyan Catherine Ndereba sprinted ahead to win the women’s competition, in 32:15, closely followed by American Libbie Hickman (32:17) and another Kenyan, Helen Kimaiyo-Kipkoskei (32:18).

Hickman hardly despaired over not winning. Standing in the shadows of the Portland Head Light, she spoke with enthusiasm about the race, the largest running event in Maine history.

“A perfect day and a gorgeous course,” she said. “This is a race that people will want to come to. This is a vacation for me – and I’m working. What a good feeling.”

No one felt better than Joan Benoit Samuelson, the founder and soul of this race. Samuelson, the Maine native and 1984 Olympic gold medalist, conceived and organized the race, yet she continued to duck the continual praise heaped upon her …

She referred to the people who made the race happen, as well as Peoples Heritage Bank, the chief sponsor and distributor of more than $50,000 in prize money, including $7,500 each to Mabitle and Ndereba.

Others also cashed in from among the 2,408 finishers of the race (there were 3,000 registrants). The masters (40 and over) winners – Oregon’s Steve Plasencia (29:37) and Washington’s Kim Jones (34:35) – each received $2,000. Top Maine finishers – Ogunquit’s Bob Winn (30:52) and Harpswell’s Julia Kirtland (34:56) – took home $1,000 checks.

– From the Aug. 2, 1998 edition of the Maine Sunday Telegram

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