CAPE ELIZABETH — Stressing safety concerns and admitting heartache for limiting the size of the field, race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson has an envious problem with no obvious solution.

Too many runners want to be at the starting line Saturday morning for the Beach to Beacon 10K.

Even though organizers increased the field for the 12th annual race to 6,000 runners, the field filled up within minutes after online registration began earlier this year. 

“We want to accommodate as many people as we can as safely as we can,” Samuelson said on Wednesday. “Obviously, some people are going to be disappointed because we need to
keep the race smaller than some people would like us to.

“The runners’ safety is our primary concern. We expect some attrition,
and we watch those percentages very carefully. We thought we could
increase the numbers a bit, again expecting some attrition.”

With the course through the tight roads of Cape Elizabeth — the race starting near Crescent Beach and ending in the shadow of Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park — and the need not to overwhelm public safety officials, 6,000 runners is as large a field as officials feel the race can support.

The restrictions haven’t prevented the Beach to Beacon from becoming a destination race for runners from Maine and beyond. The list of entrants includes runners from 43 states and 16 countries.

“This race increases in size and popularity for a variety of reasons,” Samuelson said. “There are people from around the country who make it a goal to run in
a race in every state. This race is very appealing to those people. I
think people come watch the event and they’re inspired by what they see
passing in front of them, and then say, ‘Maybe I can do that.’ And I
guess the push for improved health among our population in light of
diabetes and obesity issues, people are realizing that they need to do something that improves their own health and wellness. Running is a very accessible and
affordable sport.”

Of course, another reason for the race’s popularity is the chance to run with some of the world’s elite runners. Since the race began in 1998, some of the best runners in the world, including Olympians and world champions have added the Beach to Beacon to their summer schedule.

This year’s men’s field includes defending champion Ed Muge of Kenya, who has been training at altitude in his homeland. His top challengers include popular three-time champion Gilbert Okari (2003-2005) and James Kwambai, who earlier this year ran a 2:04:20 marathon in Rotterdam to post the third fastest marathon in history.

“The men are known more for their marathon talents,” said Samuelson, “but with Gilbert in the race, I think they’ll rise to the occasion. A 2:04 marathon, that translates to a very fast 10K.”

The visa problems that are preventing Edith Masai from defending her title has left the women’s field wide open. Lineth Chepkurui, who has already won five races this summer, has recorded the fifth fastest 10K in the world this year (30:31). Former world champion Berhane Adere of Ethiopia holds the sixth fastest 10,000 meter ever recorded (30:04) and 2008 Russian Olympian Mariya Konovalova ran a 30:31 in the Russian championships earlier this year. 

In addition to Masai, the women’s field lost top American distance runner Deanna Kastor to an injury. Kastor is the current American record holder in the marathon.

“The same foot problem she sustained during the Olympic marathon has
acted up, so she pulled out,” Samuelson said. “She’s planning on a New York City half
marathon in a couple of weeks en route to a fall marathon. I’m
disappointed not to have her, but as an athlete I understand that she
has to race events in her best interest.”

The race continues to attract the best Maine runners, with the Maine division having the unofficial title of Maine Road Race Champion. Samuelson says Ben True of North Yarmouth and Sheri Piers of Falmouth both have an excellent chance to crack the top 10 against their world-class rivals.

Race officials continue to tweak the event, looking for ways to improve the experience for the runners and spectators. Samuelson is most passionate about the effort to make the event as green as possible. In addition to limiting the use of paper and using products that are compost-friendly, the organizers have teamed with Nike this year to recycle old running shoes as part of its Reuse a Shoe Project. The old shoes are ground up and used in track surfaces, basketball courts and other surfaces.

“This excites me because running is a pure sport,” Samuelson said. “There is no other athlete who is as close to the earth on a daily basis as a runner.”

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