CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — The economic downturn has affected a lot of things over the course of this year, but not Saturday morning’s Beach to Beacon 10K.
The race, founded by Joan Benoit Samuelson 12 years ago, sold out in record time once again this year, with all 6,000 bib numbers secured in an astounding 1 hour, 45 minutes back in March.
Samuelson would love to accommodate more participants, but as is the case in any road race — whether you have 6,000 competitors or 60 — safety is a primary concern, especially in a small town like Cape Elizabeth where the 6.2-mile race is run on quiet, small-town roads.
“That’s the hardest part of the race for me, I mean I hate to deny access to any form of physical activity for people,” Samuelson said as she held court on a hot, humid Wednesday morning at Fort Williams Park.
But if a runner goes down while on the course and medical personnel cannot assist them, that would be disastrous.
“Our primary concern is the safety of the runners. It would be terrible if we couldn’t access a fallen runner, that’s why we have to limit the field,” Samuelson said. “We keep trying to figure out how can we accommodate more people and we did the best we could given the circumstances with the popularity this year.”
There are a number of reasons why this race, which begins at 8 a.m., has risen in popularity over the last decade. It’s a breathtaking course with a plethora of ocean views, a vast amount of spectators pour out of their homes to cheer runners from across the state, country and world, and runners make this a stop on a nationwide racing tour.
“It’s a destination race, people from around the country want to run a race in every state and this is the race they choose in Maine,” Samuelson said.
It’s also a popular race for high school runners, as its normally the last one they choose to run on their summer training program before cross country practices start in mid-August, while some local teams, such as the Cape Elizabeth football team, run the race together.
Many locals were out for an early-morning jog Wednesday on the Cape roads which make up the course.
“It is so accessible, and there aren’t many places or many communities where its hard to find a place where nobody runs,” Samuelson said.
Running can also be good for mental health.
“It’s a great way to blow off steam, to relieve stress,” Samuelson said.
One Beach to Beacon feature that has changed this year is the 1K fun run for kids, normally run on race morning after the 10K has been completed, will commence tonight at Fort Williams, which will give the youngsters their own moment in the spotlight.
This is certainly a special year for Samuelson, as this is the 25th anniversary of her victory in the 1984 women’s Olympic marathon in Los Angeles, the first such race for female competitors.
“It doesn’t seem like its been 25 years, because I’m still just as passionate about the sport as I was back then,” said Samuelson, whose last competitive marathon was in the Olympic Trials in Boston last spring.
Two of the runners who represented Maine in that race are heavy favorites in the Maine women’s field Saturday in Sheri Piers and defending champion Kristin Pierce-Barry.
Falmouth’s Piers is having an outstanding season, with one of the highlights being a breakthrough run at the Boston Marathon, in which she finished 11th overall among women and third among U.S. competitors in 2 hours, 37 minutes, 4 seconds.
If she and Barry are on their A-game, Barry’s 2008 course record of 34:37 could be in serious jeopardy.
“I think Sheri, she really wants to set a PR on this course which would be a course record. She’s ready to go,” Samuelson said.
The same can be said for Ben True in the Maine men’s division, and this race is the Yarmouth runner’s race to lose.
True won last year’s race going away in 31:02, besting his nearest Maine competitor by 47 seconds, and the scary thing is, he was treating that race as a training run and is in better shape this year.
An example: His 23:27 effort over a challenging 5-mile course at the Clam Festival Classic in his hometown recently, a race which Samuelson witnessed.
“Ben had a phenomenal race at the clam festival, he’s running extremely well, he was very impressive,” she said.
The men’s course record is 30:34, owned by Eric Giddings, which could also fall.
On the elite women’s side, the favorite appears to be late entry Aheza Kiros of Ethiopia, who owns the fastest 10K time ever run by a woman at 30:04.
Defending champion Ed Muge of Kenya leads a throng of favorites on the men’s side, with James Kwambai of Kenya and three-time champ Gilbert Okari, also of Kenya, expected to contend, too.