CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Ed Muge had his competition right where he wanted them.
The pack of 12 runners he was dueling in Saturday’s TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10K are some of the world’s best marathoners, and they set a tactical, slow pace on a course known for blistering early splits.
Problem was for the pack, this was a 6.2-mile race, not 26.2, and Muge is blessed with great speed.
The 26-year-old Kenyan started to push the pace five miles in, and only Boaz Cheboiywo would respond.
Muge won the duel inside Fort Williams, winning his second straight race title in similar fashion as last summer, completing the journey from Crescent Beach to the Portland Head Light in 28 minutes, 4.5 seconds.
Cheboiywo finished four seconds back at 28:08.9 while Gashu Ibrahinm-Jelian of Ethiopia took third in 28:19.7.
Rounding out the top five were three-time champ Gilbert Okari of Kenya at 28:21.8 and Tekeste Kebede of Ethiopia in 28:26.5.
Maine men’s winner Ben True of North Yarmouth wound up being the first American man to cross the finish line, posting a 29:10.3, a new course record in that division.
The women’s race had similar drama, with Irene Limika of Kenya emerging from a similar close-knit pack to take her first B2B crown in 32:06.1
Nadia Ejjiani of Morocco took second in 32:12.8 while Berhane Adere of Ethiopia recovered from a fall early in the race to finish third in 32:28.0.
Aheza Kiros, also of Ethiopia, took fourth in 32:30.6 while Rebecca Donaghue was fifth in 32:46.2.
Sheri Piers of Falmouth mirrored True’s top-10 overall finish with a 10th-place run of her own, clocking a 34:17.0 to also set a course record in the Maine division.
Ibrahinm-Jelian, Okari and Kebede were among the runners still within striking distance when the pack reached the fifth mile, which also signaled the beginning of some rolling — but tough — uphills.
So Muge knew the time was right, and his confidence kicked in, along with his speed.
“I wasn’t worried [about the pack],” he said. “I knew I was faster, they’re all marathoners.”
Cheboiywo, also a 10K specialist along with Muge, managed to stay within striking distance when the runners entered Fort Williams, but Muge had too much kick and too much experience after winning here in 2008.
“It came down to speed at the end [so] I’d have the advantage,” he said.
But early in the race, Muge was worried that the pace would be pushed beyond his liking.
“I didn’t want somebody to break away,” he said.
All signs point to Muge coming back and aiming for a three-peat, something Kibet accomplished from 2003-05.
“I’m really, really happy to come back here,” said Muge, along with Kibet the lone repeat Beach to Beacon winners.
In the women’s race, there was drama early and often, as Adere was inadvertently tripped from behind by a male runner and fell hard on her left side, but got back up and kept going despite bleeding.
She stuck with the pack that included Limika, Ejjiani and Kiros throughout, but Limika made a similar move that Muge did.
“In the fourth mile, I started to pull away. It was planned,” Limika said.
She added the humid conditions didn’t bother her any, as training in Kenya will get any runner used to such weather.
Limika also took the tough last mile in stride.
“I was feeling strong, I was excited,” she said. “I kept saying all the way up it’s tough, it’s tough, so I was going to push it.”
Limika, a first-time B2B participant, loved what she experienced.
“I like the weather, the people are so good, cheering, friendly,” she said. “They were calling my name, I was excited.
Limika will represent Kenya in the marathon at the upcoming World Championships.
A record 5,624 runners from 43 states and 16 countries completed the race.