Somewhere between mile marker three and mile marker four, a few layers beneath the bright orange shorts and the copious amount of sweat that started escaping in mile one, I felt my hamstring.

It’s an uneasy sensation. When you feel that twinge, your body is trying to tell you to stop whatever you’re doing and take it easy.

That wasn’t an option on this day. Not across the halfway point of the most iconic road race in Maine, and one of the top races in the country at the 10-kilometer distance, and not when surrounded by more than 6,000 other runners and hundreds of fans, many of whom have endured far greater hardship than a tweaked hamstring.

The Beach to Beacon is a spectacle to behold. Begun in 1998 by Olympic and Boston Marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first race counted 2,408 finishers — barely more than a third of Saturday’s entries.

Each year, the race has grown in size. The field expanded to 4,000 in 1999, and to 5,000 in 2002, to commemorate the fifth year of the race. IN 2006, the race added 500 more spots, and still filled in then-record time — 46 days. That’s 45 days, 23 hours and about 55 minutes longer than this year’s race took to fill.

In every year since, the number of people finishing the race has increased. Some years, the increase was less than 50. But overall, it has been steady. Last year, 6,244 runners toed the line on Route 77 near Crescent Beach and crossed the finish line some time later at Fort Williams Park in front of Portland Head Light.

This year, based on the results, 6,490 made the journey.

It’s not an easy one to make. Given that Route 77 is a two-lane road, shoulder to shoulder is the collective posture of choice in the starting pen for better than 6,000 runners. Using a restroom pre-race means finding a semi-secluded place in the roadside trees and being less-than-shy about using the natural facilities.

Like in most races, the anticipation of the start can be your greatest enemy, particularly since the first quarter mile of the Beach to Beacon is downhill. Important for all runners looking for a specific time in the race is the ability to maintain a suitable early pace.

For those of us just looking to finish, it’s important to remember to save some juice for the last mile, which is full of hills.

But once the starter unfurls the lid on the mass of human sardines, the idea of being cramped disappears. The sea of people never dissipates, either. It can be a social race if you want it to be, it can be opposite that, but the option is there.

And the piece of this road race that truly stands out is the community support behind the event. It seems as though every resident of Cape Elizabeth either runs the race (600 entries are held aside for town residents only) or sits at the end of their driveway or along keep pieces of the route and offers support — music, funny quips, more cowbell (really).

The support heightens as runners near the park. It’s the toughest part of the course, and where runners need it the most.

But it’s all worth it when you round the final corner. Apart from the finish line itself, which is a welcome sight by this point, runners are treated to picturesque views of Portland Harbor, the clanging of buoys rocking in the waves that ultimately crash along the rocky shore, and seagulls communicating to each other to location of the latest jackpot of loose crumbs.

Thankfully, the hamstring held up. Without walking and without stopping, for the third consecutive year, I crossed the finish line, high-fived the always affable Joan Samuelson, and started walking toward next year.

The only regret I have about running the Beach to Beacon is that I didn’t allow myself to start doing it any sooner.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: