Seth Poplaski, 34, of Hampden, is organizing an informal 10K in his hometown to coincide with the 2021 Beach to Beacon, which is being held virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Courtesy of Seth Poplaski

After canceling last year’s event due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers of the annual TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race are committed to holding the event this year — albeit in a virtual environment with fewer participants.

The event, which typically attracts thousands of runners from around the world to scenic coastal Route 77 in Cape Elizabeth in a race that ends in iconic Fort Williams Park, was among the summer’s most disappointing cancellations last year. While there won’t be an organized race this year, participants can register and report their Beach to Beacon progress online, running the race individually wherever they wish.

Almost 2,000 people have registered for Beach to Beacon’s first virtual event and 127 kids have signed up for the virtual kids’ fun run. As many as 8,000 runners participate in a typical year.

“We think those are great numbers,” said David Backer, president of the Beach to Beacon board of directors.

Backer said participants can run the race and report their progress anytime between July 23 and Aug. 8. The two-week period, he said, was deliberately chosen to coincide with the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“It’s a way for us, the race organizers, to stay in touch with our running community,” he said.

Registrants pay an entry fee of $35 — cheaper than the typical $55 fee — and will still receive a T-shirt, medal and car magnet, sent by mail, Backer said.

Erica Jesseman, 32, of Old Orchard Beach, who said she’s been running the Beach to Beacon since she was 12 years old, won’t be participating in the virtual event this year.

Jesseman said she’s happy to see some form of the Beach to Beacon happening, but for her, the excitement of running with a crowd is what makes the experience so special. She’s waiting until next year, when she hopes the in-person race will return.

“The virtual component for me, it’s not the same thing,” she said.

While Jesseman waits for next year’s race, Seth Poplaski is organizing an informal version of the Beach to Beacon in his hometown of Hampden this weekend. Poplaski, 34, has organized a 10K course starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday. The race will start and end at Discover Church at 270 Main Road.

Poplaski is an avid runner who belongs to several running clubs and started his own locally. He has run larger races, such as the Boston Marathon, and ran the Beach to Beacon for four years straight prior to 2020.

Last summer, he said, many races were done virtually or canceled altogether, which was understandable but still hard to take for the running community.

“Last year was such a weird year,” he said. “As a runner, it was really just kind of deflating.”

Poplaski reached out to Beach to Beacon organizers and received their blessing to hold his event in Hampden. Poplaski, who says he’s not tracking registration, hopes to see as many as 100 people show up on Saturday.  

“Out of any race of the year, that’s the one that I look forward to the most because of the atmosphere, the energy around it,” he said. “Any chance that I can bring a little spark to it is good in my book.”

Backer said he fully supported runners who wanted to compete in their own way and those who have opted out this year. Backer said he also loved hearing about Poplaski’s informal event.

“I think it’s wonderful. It just shows the creativity people have,” Backer said.

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