CAPE ELIZABETH – The bib number read, ‘2,659.’

That number, pinned to Donny Drake’s midsection, spoke volumes of the respect Drake had from race organizers prior to Saturday’s Beach to Beacon 10K road race.

Drake will likely have a much better number next year.

The former Deering High School state champion and current University of Maine runner set a 5:02 pace and finished in 31:15.8, leading all Mainers across the line to claim victory in the Maine men’s category.

“I didn’t expect myself to do this at all,” said Drake. “It was just kind of a surreal experience. I’m still kind of flustered right now. I didn’t expect it.”

Jeff Caron of Auburn, who ran at Maine with Drake and against him while running for Edward Little High School, finished a solid seventh, 1:25.7 behind Drake, despite twisting his ankle last Monday.

“I knew I’d be bumped down a little bit in the standings, but I put myself in contention in the first 5K,” said Caron. “It didn’t work out the way I wanted, but I was able to salvage a half-decent race, and I ran the same time that I ran last year. Considering what happened this past week, I can’t really complain.”

The victory surprised Drake as much as it did everyone else.

“I started back in the six-minute group,” said Drake. “I got out there, my legs felt pretty good, and I just kind of kept rolling. I went out a lot slower this year than I did last year, and that helped me a lot at the end.”

Drake quickly picked his way through the field, and passed Caron and Evan Graves of Presque Isle at about the two-mile mark.

“I knew when Donny passed me about two miles in that he was going to have a good race,” said Caron.

Graves and Michael Bunker of Gorham were the two oldest runners among the top eight Maine finishers this year. Both are just 24.

“You always hope all of these other guys do well, too,” said Drake. “The better they run, they continue to put Maine on the map.”

“Drake looked very strong out there,” said 2004 Maine men’s winner Ethan Hemphill of Freeport. “He passed us going up the hill to the 5K mark, and he was flying. There are a lot of these younger athletes now racing. That’s great for the sport.”

Hemphill had his worst showing in years at the Beach to Beacon, finishing back in 13th place with a time of 33:16.

“I’m really pretty flat right now,” said Hemphill. “As I was running, I was thinking pretty seriously about taking a break. I think I’ve been racing too much.”

Hemphill and his wife are expecting their second child in September.

“The timing might be perfect, I might take some time off and try to run some good fall races,” said Hemphill

Ben True of North Yarmouth, a former Greely High School and current Dartmouth College runner, followed Drake across the line in 31:48.8 to take second among Maine men, while 18-year-old Ayalew Taye, who ran for Portland High School and now runs at Cushing Academy in Massachusetts, took third.

“I started out well behind them, and I just kind of worked my way up,” said Drake. “They were just kind of hanging out. I don’t think they were racing as hard as they could, because if they were, at their performance levels, they probably could have won.”

Michael Bunker of Gorham is the first Maine man to cross the line eligible to accept the $1,000 top prize as the best Maine finisher, as the top three all have college eligibility remaining.

Bob Winn of Ogunquit won the Maine masters’ category and finished No. 10 overall for Maine men in a time of 32:57.5.

Repeat for Levan

The only major category winner who repeated this year came from the ranks of the Maine women.

Emily Levan of Wiscasset edged another former winner, Susannah Beck of Sedgwick, by 17.1 seconds to claim her second straight Beach to Beacon title.

“I struggled a bit in the second and third miles, but I kind of felt stronger the rest of the way.”

According to Levan, the race this year developed into one of strategy and consistency.

“The beginning is really hard in most races, but particularly in this race,” said Levan. “The first part of the first mile is really downhill, so you have to really hold back a little bit. I tend to go out too fast anyway, so I really have to hold back.”

The surprise in the category came from Erica Jesseman of Scarborough. Only 17 years old, Jesseman broke the plane of the finish line in 37:37.6, good for fifth among Maine women. Tina Meserve of Livermore was the top local finisher in that category, finishing eighth in 39:12.0.

The race, though, was Levan’s from the start

“I was more hoping for a specific time goal today,” said Levan. “I felt like if I hit my time goal, I’d probably place pretty well. I wish I’d run a little bit faster, but overall I’m really happy.”

Christine Reaser of Dayton was the top Maine masters’ woman, taking that title with a time of 38:08.0.

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