CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Riley Masters took a low-key approach to his last appearance in the TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race.
Sure, he already had earned All-America honors in the indoor mile at the University of Maine as well as become the first Black Bear to run that distance outdoors in less than 4 minutes by mid-2010.
But as a 20-year-old college kid on summer break, that year’s Beach to Beacon was mostly a chance to check out the scenery of the coastal route and stretch himself out at the longer 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) distance — though his time of 31 minutes. 58.1 seconds still was good for 35th place overall in a field of nearly 5,700 finishers.
Three years later, so much has changed for the Veazie native and 2008 graduate of Bangor High School.
The 23-year-old Masters eventually transferred from Maine to the University of Oklahoma, where he added to his All-America resume by running the NCAA’s fastest 1,500 meters in both 2012 and 2013 and becoming the Sooners’ record holder at that distance (3:37.19) before graduating this spring.
Now he’s a professional runner, having signed a contract in June to represent Brooks Running, a outdoor gear and sporting goods company based in Seattle.
And after spending the last three weeks in Europe getting a taste of the professional running scene, Masters returned to Maine on Monday with a more ambitious goal for Saturday’s 16th edition of the road race Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson built.
For there’s a $1,000 prize waiting for the top Maine men’s and women’s finishers in the race, and additional cash awards down to fifth place in each division.
“I’ve run it before but not seriously, not competitively, just for fun,” said Masters. “But with the chance to come home and the prize money out there now for being the first Mainer, I wanted to give it a shot.”
While Masters specializes in shorter distances, he still looms as one of the top contenders for home-state honors in the race, which is set to start at 8 a.m. along a course that runs from near Crescent Beach State Park on State Route 77 to Fort Williams Park in the shadow of Portland Head Light.
Others expected to challenge for that title include Saco’s Rob Gomez, the fastest Mainer in this year’s Boston Marathon (2:22:53) and third among in-state runners in the 2012 TD Beach to Beacon, and Jonny Wilson of Falmouth, the Maine men’s runner-up in the race each of the last two years.
Ethan Shaw of Falmouth was last year’s TD Beach to Beacon Maine men’s champion in 30:37.7, while Ben True of North Yarmouth set the course record in that division of 29.10.3 in 2009.
“Anything around 30 minutes would be a time I could see myself running,” said Masters, “but I want to be competitive with the other Mainers, so I’ll try to run whatever it takes.”
Among top contenders for the Maine women’s title will be defending champion Sheri Piers of Falmouth, Erica Jesseman of Scarborough and 19-year-old Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunkport, if her training schedule at the University of Oregon enables her to make the cross-country trip to compete.
For Masters, the TD Beach to Beacon represents a final major event in a long running season that began with the indoor and outdoor seasons at Oklahoma and has continued throughout the summer with his introduction to professional track and field.
After returning home to Bangor and winning the Walter Hunt Memorial 3K on July 4, he left for the London suburb of Teddington, from where he was based for three weeks while competing at track meets in Belgium, Ireland and Sweden.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Masters, “and I got a good chance to get my feet wet in the pro game and racing different distances against a lot of good competition. The running went very well, it was a very good opportunity for me and I was still pretty competitive because I was coming right out of the college season.”
Masters also discovered some of the differences between running as a collegian and as a professional.
“It’s a lot different than college because in college you have a schedule already set up based on the conference season and the championship meets,” he said. “Now you might basically just jump right into a race, you might not know where you’re running until the last minute.
“But you’re also training more, and lifestyle-wise there aren’t as many distractions.”
Masters will remain in Maine for a couple of weeks after the TD Beach to Beacon to rest up after what has been the lengthiest year of his running career to date with the combination of college and pro schedules, then he’ll head out to his new home in Seattle.
He plans to run another road race in Hawaii in September, then gradually gear up for the indoor season and the 1,500 at the U.S. indoor championships in Albuquerque, N.M., in February, which he hopes will lead to a berth at the 2014 indoor world championships the following month in Sopot, Poland.
But for this week, at least, he has a longer distance in mind.
“The 10K is not really my specialty, I’m more a middle distance runner,” Masters said. “But I’m very fit right now, very strong aerobically, so I think 10K is a good distance for me right now.”