CAPE ELIZABETH — Sheri Piers and her training partner Kristin Barry agreed that there was no way they would run the first mile faster than 5 minutes, 30 seconds.

So when the two Maine runners passed the one-mile mark in the TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10K, Piers gasped when she looked at her watch.

The pace? 5:18.

“When I saw that, I knew that would come back and bite us at the end,” Piers said.

Ben True had a similar experience. One month shy of heading West and joining the renowned Oregon Track Club, the Greely High School and Dartmouth College product stayed near the back of the lead pack of 10 African runners. True hit the mile mark at 4:23. 

“Yeah, that was a little quicker than I probably wanted … but I felt great,” True said, smiling at the thought of that opening mile.

Realizing such a pace was running suicide, True backed off immediately and settled into a 4:40 pace.

While both runners admitted to struggling through some of the later stretches Saturday on the 6.2-mile course, both Piers and True ran races that produced an unfamiliar sight in the 12-year history of the Beach to Beacon — Maine runners in the top 10. Both runners snuck in at No. 10 and also broke the course record for Maine runners.

No Maine runner — male or female — had ever finished in the top 10 before True and Piers broke up the usual pack of elite world-class runners.

True, 23, obliterated the former men’s mark, crossing the finish line in a sizzling 29:10 — nearly a minute-and-a-half faster than the former mark of 30:35. Mixing it up with the pack of mostly Africans produced a record that is likely to stand for many years.

“I wanted to go out and hang on to the back of them,” True said. “I knew a few guys would start coming back throughout the race. I just wanted to get myself in position so when they started breaking off the pack and started to string out, that I’d be able to move up.

“I did that a little bit. I wish I had run a little faster and was a little further off the pack, but that’s racing. I didn’t bring my best race, but it was a good effort.”

That effort earned True $2,000 in prize money, which will help seed True’s burgeoning professional running career in Oregon. 

Piers, 38, of Falmouth, fought off her “demons” to break the tape in 31:17, knocking 20 seconds off of Barry’s one-year old course record to also pocket $2,000.

The fast, early pace contributed to Piers’ moment of doubt midway through the race.  

“The demons entered my head a little bit, but you go, ‘you know what, today is the day you’re going to hurt,'” Piers said. “You have to shut them down right away because it is such a short race.”

Barry, who missed valuable training time with an injury, hung on for third in the Maine women’s division, 32 seconds behind runner-up Susannah Beck, who was the fastest masters (over 40) finisher.

Mandy Ivey of Paris, who will captain the Colby College cross country team this fall, cracked the top five in 39:07. 

While the Maine runners created the buzz with course records and top-10 finishes, the Kenyan runners maintained their grip in the men’s division. Ed Muge held off a late challenge from countryman Boaz Cheboiywo to win the men’s race for the second consecutive year. His winning time of 28:04 was 12 seconds slower than last year’s victory. It was also the slowest winning time since 2002.

Kenyans have won the last 10 Beach to Beacon races.

Three-time champion and crowd favorite Gilbert Okari, who has run little the past couple of years due to injuries, pressed the early pace on the flat sections of the course, but the downhill portions proved to be Okari’s downfall.

“After 3½ miles, my left knee began hurting,” Okari said. “So, I had to let them go on the downhills.”

Them, included Muge, Cheboiywo and Ethiopian runners Ibrahim Jeilan Gashu and Tekestre Kebede. Within a half mile, the race was on when Muge threw in a 4:21 split during the fifth mile, with Gashu close in pursuit.

According to eventual runner-up Cheboiywo, that spurt won Muge the race.

“I felt really strong all the way through, but when they took off, I held back,” said Cheboiywo, who was fifth last year. “I needed to go with them. They worked together, and they gapped me so it was hard to close on them.

“If I had gone with them, I think I would have won the race, but second is pretty good. I didn’t push myself to the limit and I just had too much left at the end.”

Cheboiywo did close the gap over the final mile, but ran out of space and finished four seconds behind Muge. Gashu, at 20 the youngest elite runner in the field, took third and Okari hung on to place fourth. 

In the women’s division, Irine Limika of Kenya broke away from a four-woman pack with two miles remaining to post a six-second victory over Morocco’s Nadia Ejjafini. Former world champion Berhane Adere of Ethiopia recovered from a nasty fall, which left her arm, hip and knee bloody, to finish third.

The early portion of the women’s race was more like a race on the track, with the pack jostling and bumping one another for position.

“There was some bumping,” Limika said. “It get’s like that sometimes. It’s nothing personal.”

All the bumping had nothing to do with Adere’s spill, who was clipped by a male runner a couple of miles into the race.

A pre-race favorite, Adere fought her way back to rejoin the leaders, but she had nothing left for the late hills. That was where Limika made her break.

Limika will represent Kenya at the world championships in Berlin later this month, competing in the marathon.

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Local runners in the top 400

21. Jeff Caron 31:53

40. Tyler Gasud 32:55

223. Amanda Ivey 39:07

238. Mark Bancroft 39:34

267. Scott Brown 40:08

301. Michael Trundy 40:57

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