Joan Benoit Samuelson, founder of Beach to Beacon, now in its 25th year, says the now-iconic road race is her way of giving back to her hometown. File photo / Portland Press Herald

Joan Benoit Samuelson is always moved by the number of people she grew up with who come out to support her and the TD Beach to Beacon 10K, either by running it or cheering from sidelines. Many of her former Cape Elizabeth classmates regularly plan reunions around Beach to Beacon, she said.

“Some of my closest friends are people I grew up with in this town,” Samuelson told The Forecaster Wednesday.

Before becoming the first women’s Olympic Games marathon champion and winning the gold medal in 1984, Samuelson spent her days training in Cape Elizabeth.

It was during that barrier-breaking Olympics marathon in Los Angeles that she decided, should she win, she would do something for the people who helped her cross that finish line. This Saturday, for the 25th year, she’ll host the TD Beach to Beacon 10K in her hometown.

“I’d promised myself in the darkness of the tunnel leading to the coliseum that I’d give back to my community and the sport that had given so much to me. I didn’t know exactly what that would look like, but I wanted to do something,” she said.

“I had this idea for a road race because most of my training was done on the roads here in town,” said Samuelson, a 1975 graduate of Cape Elizabeth High School.


The race begins at 7:50 a.m. Saturday at the Crescent Beach State Park entrance and finishes at Fort Williams. The inaugural race took place in 1998, drawing 2,408 runners. In 2019, 6,417 finishers from nine countries and 42 states crossed the finish line in what has become one of the premier road races in the U.S. More than 7,500 participated last year after the race’s in-person pandemic hiatus.

Cape Elizabeth has “some of the most beautiful roads I’ve run on anywhere in the world,” she said, and now, “the best runners in the world come here to run.”

“I know the landmarks and I know the sense of community this town fosters,” she said.

“It was an idyllic childhood for me. I came to Fort Williams to play tennis, to Casino Beach to swim, had a year in the town hall for sixth grade when they were building the high school, and then I graduated in ’75. Our motto was, ‘we can survive ’til ’75,'” she recounted fondly.

One of her favorite race memories, she said, was the year when the town made a bigger than life-sized banner of her to display, which appeared to be emerging from the fog on that cloudy day.

“That surprised me,” she said, laughing.

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