CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — To some it might have looked like an act of gamesmanship.

But to Stanley Biwott, it was merely an act of friendship to pass up a cup of water handed to him by a race volunteer and instead pass it to fellow Kenyan Stephen Kipkosgei-Kibet as the two battled for the lead five miles into the 15th annual Beach to Beacon 10K road race Saturday morning.

“He is a friend and he said he needed some water,” said Biwott, “but he was on the other side of the water so I gave him the water.”

The drink may have helped Kipkosgei-Kibet momentarily, but it was the 26-year-old Biwott who took charge late in the race to win with a time of 27 minutes, 59.3 seconds, 2.3 seconds ahead of his occasional training partner.

Biwott, who earlier this year set a course record of 2:05:11 at the Paris Marathon, used that endurance not only to emerge from a modest pack of elite runners but to overcome warm, humid race conditions.

“I started marathoning in 2006,” he said. “I had the endurance. These races give me more speed.”

Biwott used that speed near the Mile 2 marker to break up the initial pack of runners, leaving himself, Kipkosgei-Kibet and Silas Kipruto to take charge of the race.

But the 6-foot-4 Kipruto, who led for most of the first four miles, fell off the pace just before the Mile 5 marker, leaving a two-man battle to the finish.

Kenyan runners dominated both the men’s and women’s divisions of this event, which was conceived by native Mainer and 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson and this year featured a record field of 6,117 finishers from 17 countries, 44 states and more than 240 different Maine communities.

Led by Biwott and Kipkosgei-Kibet, nine of the top 10 men’s finishers were from the African distance-running hotbed, as were the top four women’s finishers — a group led by race winner Margaret Wangari-Muriuki, who held off Emily Chebet at the finish line by 0.6 seconds with her winning time of 31:51.6.

“The weather was very hot, and everybody was very strong,” said Wangari-Muriuki, who slowed noticeably just before reaching the finish line and was nearly passed at the tape. “I have never run with such people. Six of us were all running together near the very end, it was very difficult to win.

“At the finish line, my friend was trying to get ahead of me, and I said to myself I can’t be in front from the first of the race to the last and then have someone pass me. No, I give myself courage. I had to win.”

Biwott and Wangari-Muriuki — both first-time Beach to Beacon participants — each won $10,000 from the total purse of more than $60,000.

Top American finishers were Sean Quigley, 27, of Boulder, Colo., and Renee Baillie, 30, of Bend, Ore. Quigley, the 2010 U.S. 20-kilometer champion, finished 11th overall in 29:43.9. Baillie, the NCAA cross-country runner-up in 2001 and 2004, had the fifth-fastest time in the women’s field with a 32:30.6 clocking.

Biwott and Wangari-Muriuki’s winning times were well off the race records (27:27.7 for the men by Gilbert Okari in 2003; 30:59.4 by this year’s third-place woman, Lineth Chepkurui, in 2010), a fact attributable to temperatures in the mid-70s, bright sunshine and 60 percent humidity when the race began shortly after 8 a.m.

“I went to Atlanta and raced in the Peachtree (Road Race on July 4) and there it’s humid as anything, so I figured Beach to Beacon couldn’t be worse,” said Sheri Piers of Falmouth, who had the top Maine women’s time of 34:21.9. “But let me tell you, it was worse because not only was there humidity but the sun was out. At least at Peachtree it was humid but there was no sun, there was cloud cover.

“It was so hot out there today, I’d have to say it was probably the hottest one I’ve ever run. That’s what I feel like.”

Piers, 41, hoped to break her Maine women’s race record of 34:17 set in 2009 but settled for winning the Maine women’s division by 1:20 over Erica Jesseman of Scarborough. Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunkport was third in 36:29.9, followed by Carly Dion of Biddeford (37:48.5) and Jaclyn Johnson of York (38:00.9).

“I took out the mile a little too fast and I knew I was going to pay in that last mile because that last mile’s a grind,” said Piers. “I’m not too happy with my time, I feel like I’m in better shape than that, but I guess with the conditions I can’t expect any different.”

Jesseman, 23, has battled injuries for much of the year and didn’t expect to challenge Piers.

“It wasn’t the best time, but it was good for a day like today,” she said. “Last year I ended up in the medical tent and it wasn’t as hot as it was today, so as I was running I was praying to God to help me through and he really did.”

Two Falmouth natives battled for the Maine men’s division title, with 22-year-old Ethan Shaw pulling away from 24-year-old Jonny Wilson over the final mile to win in 30:37.9.

Wilson, also second in last year’ Beach to Beacon Maine men’s competition, moved out to an early lead but Shaw tracked him down.

“He was probably only five or 10 seconds ahead of me,” said Shaw, a recent Dartmouth College graduate. “I know he likes to go out harder than I do, so I was just trying to keep pace and not lose him early.

“I caught him at about five miles, and it was a real close finish from there. We were neck and neck on a lot of the hills, and I just was able to pull ahead by a little bit.”

Wilson finished 14 seconds behind Shaw in 30:51.4, followed by Robert Gomez of Saco (31:51.8), Will Geoghegan of Brunswick (32:27.6) and Josh Zolla of Freeport (32:28.6).

Samuelson ran the race with fellow marathon champs Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter. They finished in 1:10:08.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...