CAPE ELIZABETH – Joan Benoit Samuelson welcomed the shade.

With the sun baking the manicured lawn surrounding Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park on Tuesday, Samuelson took cover on the lighthouse’s porch. Out of the sunlight, Samuelson also tried to shirk the spotlight.

But she couldn’t.

Saturday, the fort, the lighthouse and the adjacent fields will be decorated for a birthday party. The TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10k -“Joannie’s race” – is turning 10.

“It was my idea, but it’s certainly not my race,” Samuelson said.

She started to list off all of the people for whom she is thankful, from sponsors to race director Dave McGillivray, to the organizing committee and race president Dave Weatherbie, to the volunteers.

“They really are the backbone of this event,” Samuelson said. “Sure I wanted to give back to a sport and a state that’s given me so much over the years, but without the rest of it, there would be no race.”

The starting line

Without Samuelson, the concept would never have existed.

After years of running the roads of her home town, it was her idea to hold the race, and it was her pitch to People’s Bank CEO Bill Ryan that led to the funding. Ryan bit, and a race was born.

“He didn’t even hesitate for a second,” Samuelson said. “I can’t really thank him enough for sharing that dream.”

Samuelson called on McGillivray, who runs Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises, to help with logistics. McGillivray also directs the Boston Marathon.

“She called me and asked me if I would be interested in being … the ‘start coordinator,'” McGillivray said.

“I started thinking that if Joan is the founder of this, and this is her vision, I can only imagine that this thing is going to be something special.”

He came to Maine to meet with Samuelson. He left with a new title – Race Director.

“I started thinking, ‘What have I gotten myself into,'” McGillivray said. “I was thinking, ‘Can I do it?’ and I told myself, ‘I’ll find a way, I’ll get this done.’ We did, the first year was very successful, and as they say, the rest is history.”

Milestones

Gilbert Okari of Kenya set the course record with a blistering time of 27:28 in 2003, the first of three consecutive wins. That year, the three fastest 10K road race times in the world came from the Beach to Beacon.

There have been other great milestones in the race’s history.

In the wake of the September 11th tragedy, a group of firefighters from New York City ran the 2002 race.

“Running with the firefighters from New York City in 2002 was emotional,” Samuelson said. “To see the Cape Elizabeth ladder truck and the South Portland ladder come together to hold up the American flag, talk about partnership.”

In 2000, Libbie Hickman thought she had unseated defending champ Catherine Ndereba, only to have Ndereba out-lean her at the finish line. Media coverage confirmed Ndereba’s win, and finish-line cameras made their debut the following year.

In 2005, South Portland High School student Eric Giddings shocked the field when he set a new Maine record, running the course in 30:34. Most people at the finish line didn’t see him cross.

In 2006, Alevtina Ivanova of Russia set a new women’s course record, beating Ndereba’s 2001 mark by seven seconds.

“For a number of years, we’ve had the fastest time in the world over 10,000 meters on the road,” Weatherbie said.

Open to all

The elite runners are great, say race organizers, but they are still a minority among the more than 5,000 people who annually toe the line.

“I also wanted this race to showcase Maine runners,” Samuelson said. “I wanted to make sure they felt this was a special event.”

The allure for so many runners – in Maine and across the country – is the chance to rub elbows with some of the sport’s elite.

Try running onto the field at Fenway Park, even during warm-ups, to say hello to Manny Ramirez, race organizers said.

Or do your best to stroll alongside Tiger Woods at Augusta National during Masters week.

In Cape Elizabeth, there are no worries, and interaction is encouraged.

“You can’t do that at Fenway Park, you can’t do that in the Garden, you can’t do that at Augusta National, you can’t do that in the Tour de France, you can’t do that at Wimbledon,” Samuelson said. “That’s what so special about road racing in general.”

No end in sight

Samuelson will run this year’s race, the second time she’s done so.

“It’s very hard for me to run this race,” she admitted. “I said from the get-go I wasn’t going to run this event, this is my opportunity to be on the other side, to give back to the town and to the state, the sport and all of the people who made my career possible.”

But, in this special 10th anniversary edition, Samuelson made an exception, much like she did in 2002.

“All I can remember about that race was thinking, ‘I can’t believe we’re in Cape Elizabeth.’ I couldn’t believe I was in my home town on these relatively small roads,” Samuelson said. “I saw children with hand-made international flags, the aid stations, everything was seemingly perfect. To think this is actually happening on these roads that I’ve logged hundreds and hundreds of miles on is pretty amazing.

“It’s been a great run thus far. I hope we continue to run it for many more years.”


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