Beach to Beacon returns as a live race, but with a smaller international peloton

Cars pass the TD Beach start line at the Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth, which will be held on Saturday as an in-person race for the first time in three years. Ben McCanna / Personal Photographer

CAPE ELIZABETH — Paint along the start line is barely noticeable on this isolated stretch of Highway 77, between the Crescent Beach State Park entrance and the Spurwink River that marks the border with neighboring Scarborough.

You can see the “A” because it falls along the double yellow line of the pavement, but the S, T, R and T are faded, worn from over 1,000 days of car traffic since the last time thousands of pairs of running shoes have come their way. from here to Portland Head Lighthouse.

The TD Beach to Beacon 10K returns to Cape Elizabeth on Saturday morning for its first in-person race in three years, albeit with a smaller field of elite international runners, who have dominated the event since its inception in 1998. The pandemic coronavirus forced the cancellation of the race in 2020, and the race was run as a virtual event in 2021.

“I missed the annual gathering,” said Joan Benoit Samuelson, the race’s founder and Olympic gold medalist who grew up in Cape Elizabeth. “I miss seeing friends and I’m looking forward to this year’s race because there are a lot of people in Maine’s only racing community that I haven’t seen.”

This year, proof of vaccination is required to participate. As of Monday afternoon, 18 slots remained available before the field was declared full, a process that took months rather than a frantic few minutes in March. Three years ago, 6,419 participants reached the finish line of Maine’s largest road race.

“When we opened registration, it wasn’t a keyboard rush like we had experienced in 2018 and 2019,” said Dave McGillivray, longtime race director of Beach to Beacon as well as the Marathon of Boston. “We were like, ‘What’s going on here?’ People have been out of there for two, two and a half years. We thought they would rush. They didn’t rush back, by any stretch of the imagination.

Like many runners, McGillivray is cautiously optimistic that Beach to Beacon will reclaim its place as a premier road race. The word he keeps coming back to is perspective. He said it’s important to remember “what we were, what we just went through and what we are now”.

SMALL ELITE FIELD

Only eight international riders (three from Japan, two from Kenya and one from Ethiopia, Morocco and Thailand) have been confirmed among an elite mostly American field of more than two dozen. Of the previous 44 champions, 39 were from Africa, including 34 from Kenya. In 2019, 15 of the top 100 runners came from outside of North America.

Larry Barthlow, who has assembled the international Beach to Beacon peloton since its inception, said flights from Kenya and Ethiopia have soared to around $3,000, a cost borne by race officials. Additionally, many embassies have closed or reduced staff amid the pandemic, resulting in a huge backlog of people waiting for visas.

“It takes months in some countries just to get appointments,” said Barthlow, who described this year’s international field as “very small”.

Barthlow noted that the World Championships in Athletics, held last month in Oregon, was among several high profile events scheduled for this year. The Commonwealth Games are underway in Britain, with the European Championships on deck in Germany. Africa held its championships in June. All of these events crammed into one summer means fewer international elites are opting for Beach to Beacon, where winning male and female runners each take home $10,000.

Ben True, from North Yarmouth, whose victory in 2016 remains the only time a US citizen has won Beach to Beacon, male or female, is scheduled as one of this year’s elite runners – but he doesn’t is not sure if he can race on Saturday. True, 36, said on Monday he was battling an illness, adding that “we’ll see how I feel in a few days for a last minute decision.”

The competitive peloton will start from the start line in the same order as in 2019. The wheelchair division starts at 7:55 a.m., followed by the elite women at 8:00 a.m. and the general peloton, led by the elite men, at 8:00 a.m. :12. There will be no rolling start for the general field.

NEW FEATURES

Since the race began in 1998, McGillivray and Samuelson have been tweaking and tinkering, always trying to improve the event in different ways. This year, for example, they’re adding an all-abilities event on Friday called Beacon Walk, Run, Roll developed in partnership with 2022 run beneficiary, the Cromwell Center for Disabilities Awareness. For those whose disabilities may prevent from running the full 6.2-mile course on Saturday, Friday’s race – sandwiched between the High School Mile at 4 p.m. and the Kids’ Fun Run at 6 – will start at the line d traditional finish and will cover four-tenths of a mile.

The ongoing pandemic, however, means that some aspects of racing will be different. The reluctance of past or potential host families to host elite athletes in their homes forced organizers to reserve a block of hotel rooms.

“It’s new and a bit disappointing,” said race chairman David Backer. “Not that families aren’t ready to open their doors. It’s just disappointing because I know what a wonderful attraction it is for an elite athlete to stay in someone’s home.

Backer, and several others, will be hosting this year. About 10 families who have done so over the past few years are opting out this time around, which is understandable given COVID concerns, said Terri Patterson, who has taken over the role of foster family coordinator. . Patterson said international travel is also difficult in the current climate, both in terms of cost and reliability. This leads to shorter stays.

“We usually have around 35 to 40 people that we house,” she said. “Usually they arrive on Thursday and most depart on Sunday, but some arrive a bit later and depart a bit earlier due to COVID travel restrictions.”

Hotel costs are not the only additional expenses. Labor and fuel prices have risen, and much of the signage and barriers that provide the infrastructure for the race are trucked in from Massachusetts. The race entry fee has been increased from $55 to $65.

“We’re probably not going to break even this year on our spending, but I think it will be close,” Backer said. “Fortunately, we have a surplus to handle this.”

The nonprofit lost nearly $34,000 in 2020 as a result of the race’s cancellation, according to its federal tax returns. His 2021 tax form has yet to be filed, but Backer said Beach to Beacon showed a slight profit with virtual racing. Samuelson had received a $50,000 stipend in previous years but did not accept any compensation in 2020 or 2021, Backer said.

ALSO FEWER VOLUNTEERS

The participation of volunteers, who must also be vaccinated, was a little slower than expected.

Volunteer coordinator Chandra Leister said the elimination (for this year) of one massage therapy tent means a redistribution of volunteers to about 800 other positions throughout race week. Overall, she is happy with the turnout but would welcome another 50 people by Saturday morning.

“There are a few critical areas where I would like to have more volunteers,” she said, noting that people can register on the race’s website. “We have a number that play more than one role.”

Backer said attendees will find Saturday’s experience “just as fun as it has been every year in the past.”

“It will go down as the finest finish line in the country,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. And it will be hot. That hasn’t changed either.

The weather forecast calls for a temperature of 71 degrees at the start of the race, with the mercury rising 5 degrees at 10 a.m.


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Sandy A. Greer