Runners exit the finish line area in Fort Williams Park after completing the 2019 Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth. More than 6,500 had registered for this year’s race, which was canceled on Wednesday. Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald

The 2020 TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race in Cape Elizabeth has been canceled in response to the coronavirus pandemic, race organizers announced Wednesday.

The race, founded by 1984 Olympic women’s marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, had been held annually since 1998 and has become one of Maine’s premier outdoor events each summer. This year’s race was scheduled for Aug. 1.

“It was difficult on an emotional level but it wasn’t difficult on a rational level,” said race president David Backer. “It was a decision we knew we had to make, as much as it pained all of us to make it. I think now more than ever people need these celebrations of life to buoy their spirits. We all view the Beach to Beacon as a celebration of fitness and life. It’s a fun gathering and a celebration of life.

“The size of it made it inevitable, the decision to cancel it.”

The announcement came a day after Gov. Janet Mills released her four-stage plan to reopen the state’s economy. By July, the plan tentatively would prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people. More than 6,500 runners registered for this year’s Beach to Beacon.

“This has been a heartbreaking decision for all of us but is the right and only decision to be made at this time of uncertainty and unknowns,” Samuelson said in a press release. “The TD Beach to Beacon 10K will return next year, consistent with the enduring nature of our sport, team and community.

“As we run apart, we gain new strengths and appreciation for those who keep pace with us in our daily lives, especially those who have been on the front lines of this pandemic with selfless endurance and courage.”

Backer said the $55 registration fee would be refunded to all those who registered.

“We recognize when people registered in mid-March it was with the knowledge that the pandemic was spreading and there was at least some chance the race would not be held,” he said. “But the fact that the race filled up as quickly as it did shows people were simply hopeful there would be a way for this event to happen and people would have a way to get together and celebrate fitness. We thought it was important to refund the fees.”

Over the years, the race has grown considerably, from an inaugural field of 3,000 runners to well over 6,000. Last year’s race had 6,413 finishers.

It has not only become Maine’s largest road race, but one of the premier 10Ks in the nation, drawing elite runners from across the globe and the U.S.

“Joanie has done an incredible job building it up,” said runner Rob Gomez, who is also on the board of directors. “The decision to cancel the Beach to Beacon will be felt not only in Maine, but across the region and the country. But I think everyone will understand given the circumstances.”

Gomez, 36, was involved in one of the race’s most dramatic and memorable finishes in 2017, when he picked up leader Jesse Orach, who had collapsed within yards of the finish line, and pushed him across first.

“As any runner involved with Beach to Beacon, you want the race to go on,” said Gomez. “But the safety of everyone involved, whether runners, spectators, volunteers or sponsors, means more than running a race. If you’re not sure the race can be safe for everyone participating in it, it’s impossible to hold it.”

Both Backer and Gomez said the race will return in 2021 stronger than ever.

“This will make everyone just that much more appreciative of the 2021 race,” said Gomez.

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