Dan Curts routinely went to the TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race as a teenage running standout growing up in Ellsworth, but only as a spectator.
“It’s such a cool event,” Curts said of the annual Cape Elizabeth race that was the brainchild of Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson and attracts a field of 6,500 recreational and world-class runners each year.
Curts, a recently graduated track and cross-country standout at Iowa State University, now has his eyes on Saturday’s 22nd annual Beach to Beacon for a different reason — the chance to win what is considered the unofficial Maine road-racing championship.
He’ll bring to the race considerable credentials, including his standing as the reigning Big 12 Conference champion in the men’s 5,000-meter run as well as a third-place finish at 10,000 meters in his first attempt at that distance on a track.
Curts fell short of his ultimate goal of qualifying for last month’s NCAA championships, but he sees the Beach to Beacon as the first miles in what he hopes is a long post-collegiate running career.
“I’ve got a long way to go to where I want to be,” he said, “but I think I’m trending in the right direction.”
The 23-year-old Curts, an 11-time state champion in cross country and track at Ellsworth High School and an NCAA Division I All-American in the indoor distance medley relay as well as a three-time All-Big 12 cross-country runner at Iowa State, ranks as one of the favorites to claim in-state bragging rights at the Beach to Beacon.
Other top contenders are defending Maine Beach to Beacon men’s champion Ryan Smith of Farmington, two-time race winner Jesse Orach of Auburn and veteran Will Geohegan of Brunswick.
The top five Maine men and women finishers are eligible for cash prizes ranging from $1,000 each for first place to $100 for the fifth-place male and female finishers.
“Now I’m able to collect prize money if I get some,” Curts said of his newfound post-college status. “It’s a great race. I’m pretty pumped to be able to run it this year.”
Curts lacks racing experience on the roads, with most of his previous work coming on the track or cross-country trails.
He has run one other road race this summer, a 2-mile event in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, on the Fourth of July that he bested a field of 1,800 runners with his time of 8 minutes, 54 seconds.
Curts is familiar with the Beach to Beacon course from his earlier visits to the race. He also planned to drive the 6.2-mile course Thursday and then run the last half of the route Friday as a final familiarizing training effort.
“I’ve been doing a lot of workouts on the roads in Ellsworth and in the Bar Harbor area,” said Curts, who is training this summer with current Ellsworth High School coach and former Stanford University All-American Louis Luchini.
“The workouts have been going well, running has been going well. I’m healthy, so it will be a good test of what I’ve been doing.”
While he’s happy to be spending the summer back home, he’s likely to relocate in the fall in pursuit of his running career.
“I’d really love to get into coaching eventually,” Curts said. “But for the foreseeable future I want to see what I can do on the track, and I feel like I’ve got considerable room for growth from where I’ve been the last couple of years. I’m pretty excited.”
Curts aspires to follow the examples set by former Bangor High School track standout Riley Masters and North Yarmouth native Ben True, both now veterans on the American distance-running scene.
The 29-year-old Masters finished sixth, and True, now 33, placed seventh in the 5,000 at the recent U.S. outdoor championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
“Ben’s been incredibly consistent at such a high level now, and Riley can be considered in the same way and is a good example of someone who’s getting progressively better,” Curts said. “That’s the name of the game.”
Curts is not sure where he will place his distance-running focus in the future, but do not be surprised if he turns to a different event.
“It’s tough to say,” he said. “I think I’m probably better suited for the 5K than the 10K, and I also want to experiment with the steeplechase.”
That steeplechase adds a water barrier and hurdles to typical track running, but that’s not completely unfamiliar territory for Curts.
“We’d run through town as a [cross-country] team during high school,” he said. “We’d run past a for-sale sign at a house, and I’d just jump over it or I’d jump over the fence as we were running back to the track. Or we’d be running through the woods and there’d be a downed tree, and I’d jump over it.
“I’ve always wanted to do the steeplechase, and moving forward that’s where I’m looking. I think it’s a good spot for me.”