Beach to Beacon returns after 2-year absence: 'It's great to be back!'

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Aug. 6—CAPE ELIZABETH — A carnival of calves, quads and cowbells came back to this seaside town Saturday, after an absence of 1,099 days.

More than 5,000 runners paraded over the roads of Cape Elizabeth on a warm and cloudless morning in the 24th edition of the venerable TD Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race. Because of the pandemic, the race was canceled in 2020 and held virtually in 2021.

"It's great to be back!" said Joan Benoit Samuelson, the race founder who grew up in Cape Elizabeth and went on to win the inaugural women's Olympic marathon in the Los Angeles Games of 1984.

Along the route, which winds onto Old Ocean House Road before returning to Route 77 and continuing onto Shore Road until entering Fort Williams for the finish along a well-watered strip of green grass in sight of the lighthouse, spectators were abundant if not as thick as in past years.

The folks near the Mile 5 marker who grill bacon were back, enticing runners with mouth-watering scents of breakfast. (Beach to Bacon, reads their sign.) Bands and music added merriment and encouragement.

"It was so fun," said Amy Davis, a Wisconsin native who placed fourth among all women. "The crowds get into it and the community, and it propels you forward. You feel like you're never alone. That was really cool."

Davis, 25, is the daughter of Nan Doak-Davis, a former national marathon champion who competed alongside Samuelson back in the day.

Befitting the 50th anniversary of Title IX legislation that opened doors long closed to female athletes, the women's field on Saturday featured a dramatic race led for long stretches by Standish native Emily Durgin, a graduate of Cheverus High in Portland and the University of Connecticut.

The 28-year-old Durgin, now living and training in Flagstaff, Arizona, was runner-up by nine seconds to Fentaye Belayneh of Ethiopia. In her American road-racing debut, the 21-year-old Belayneh covered the 6.2 miles from Crescent Beach to the Portland Head Light in 32 minutes, 7 seconds.

No American woman has won Beach to Beacon. The only American man to do so is North Yarmouth native Ben True, six years ago. On Thursday night, True decided for health reasons to remain home in New Hampshire.

True's absence paved the way for Mathew Kimeli, 24, of Kenya to run away from the men's field. Hampered only by a brief entanglement with yellow caution tape after he turned onto Shore Road in Mile 4, Kimeli crossed the line with arms upraised in a winning time of 28:39.

Belayneh and Kimeli each received $10,000 for their victories. Durgin took home $5,000 for second place and another $5,000 as the top American finisher.

Because her connecting flight was canceled Thursday night, Durgin rented a car with her boyfriend and drove to Maine from Philadelphia on Friday, stopping at her favorite Connecticut diner (in Vernon) along the way.

"It was less stress because I knew I was coming to a familiar place," said Durgin, whose parents picked up their luggage from the Portland jetport. "If I was going anyplace else, I probably would have gotten back on the plane and gone back to Phoenix."

Once on the course, Durgin said she was surprised by the relatively pedestrian early pace — the first mile passed in 5:12 — until she realized her competitors were playing it safe amid hot and humid conditions.

"Then I found myself leading the whole race," she said. "This is the first time that I've seen myself in the lead. It was not a super-familiar feeling."

Kimeli's time was the slowest for a men's champion in race history. Belayneh's was the slowest winning women's time since 2011.

"The race was humid, and a lot of slopes," said Kimeli, who was forced to stop to remove the tape from his leg when he couldn't shake free from it. "Thank goodness we were not in a group. Maybe I would fall down if we were in a group."

Twenty seconds passed before the surprise runner-up, Athanas Kioko, passed beneath the final banner. A recent graduate of Campbell University in Georgia, the 27-year-old Kioko registered for the race on Monday, picked up his four-digit bib number Saturday morning after a travel nightmare rivaled only by that of Durgin, and picked off two runners in the final mile to beat every invited elite athlete save Kimeli.

Two flight cancellations Friday morning in Atlanta forced Kioko to accept a diversion to Chicago, endure a four-hour layover, and eventually wind up in Manchester, New Hampshire. After a brief night in a motel, some Kenyan friends from Boston picked him up at 4:30 a.m. on their way to Maine. He got his bib at Cape Elizabeth High School less than an hour before the race, hopped on a bus to the start and enjoyed a 10-minute warm-up before the gun fired.

"Due to traveling, my lower back was a bit painful," Kioko said. "But right now, I'm not tired."

The Maine resident category saw a pair of first-time winners. Biddeford native Sam Mills, 21, whooped with joy before crossing the finish line in 31:09. Aly Ursiny of Yarmouth, 34, a mother of two who moved here from Boston last winter, was the fastest Maine woman in 36:17.

The combination of heat and humidity contributed to 41 runners being treated in the medical tent. Nine had symptoms severe enough to require ice-bath immersion to lower their core temperatures (the highest recorded was 107 degrees). Another dozen had orthopedic issues. One dehydrated runner was dispatched to a local hospital.

"It's far lower than what we expected," said Dr. Mylan Cohen, the race's medical co-director. "We think people throttled back (Saturday) because conditions were ripe for a lot of people being hurt."

Approximately 30 percent of the registered field of 7,661 didn't show up. Organizers counted 5,341 finishers.

Hermin Garic of Utica, New York, won the men's wheelchair race in 23 minutes, 10 seconds. Yen Hoang of Champaign, Illinois, won the women's wheelchair division in 26:51.

One course record fell. Karolyn Bowley, 53, of Middletown, Rhode Island, won the senior women's category (age 50 and older) in 37:47, cutting more than 40 seconds off the mark established by Mimi Fallon of Walpole, Massachusetts, in 2015.

One runner making her Beach to Beacon debut was 2020 U.S. Olympian Rachel Smith, who was married last September and grew up in Sanford as Rachel Schneider. She placed fifth Saturday, three seconds behind Davis.

Now living and training in Flagstaff, Smith, 31, said Beach to Beacon had been on her hope-to-run radar for two decades. Her brother and his wife also ran Saturday.

"Joanie is such an inspiration," she said. "The way she has empowered women's running (makes her a) huge role model for me and the entire running community. So to get to finally come back and do her race and be a part of getting to witness the awesome Maine community, it was a special, special day."