CAPE ELIZABETH — Tragedy and tired legs took a substantial toll at the top of the elite running roster in the week leading up the 18th TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race.

Nothing will be different to the naked eye, however, when the crush of competitors leaves the starting line near Crescent Beach State Park on Saturday morning bound for Fort Williams and Portland Headlight.

There’s still a staggering field of more than 6,400 runners, heavy with world-class talent, Maine flavor, rich tradition and recreational charm. Records will be in jeopardy. More prize money than ever is up for grabs.

Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson’s vision for a pavement-pounding spectacle in her hometown shows no signs of slowing down or releasing its grip on the running community’s consciousness. By comparison, a delegation of 2,400 answered the call of the starter’s pistol in the 1998 inaugural event.

“That is one of the most special things about the race to me,” Samuelson said, “is that it seems to have inspired so many new runners and brought so many older runners back.”

A record field of 6,494 lined up in 2014.

This year’s competitors hail from 41 states, plus Washington, D.C., and 15 countries. Open online registration to fill out the field elapsed in under five minutes. At least 120 “legacy runners” will continue their streak of having competed every year.

Yes, the pack is thinner at the front, but with legitimate reason.

North Yarmouth native Ben True, third place overall a year ago and a favorite to claim the new $5,000 prize for top American finisher, withdrew earlier this week.

The 29-year-old cited fatigue and his need to prepare for the World Championships in Beijing later in August. True took second in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the U.S. Championships in June and spent much of the summer chasing the 5,000-meter qualifying standard for worlds.

“Of course we are disappointed that someone of Ben’s caliber will not competing,” Larry Barthlow, elite athlete coordinator, said, “but certainly we understand his reasons and wish him all the best in Beijing.”

Kenya is synonymous with the TD Beach to Beacon, its runners having won 14 of the previous 17 men’s races and 12 on the women’s side. And few people are more closely connected to that distance-racing powerhouse than Zane Branson, the team’s longtime athletic manager.

That delegation and the running world at large were shaken this past Saturday by the news that Branson died of cardiac arrest after a morning run. In the aftermath of that loss, many Kenyan runners didn’t make the trip to Maine. They include 2013 women’s winner Joyce Chepkirui, 2012 women’s runner-up Emily Chebet-Muge and former men’s marathon world record holder Patrick Makau.

“We were all so saddened to hear the news,” Barthlow said. “Understandably his athletes are still in shock and many of them simply don’t feel like competing at this time.”

Don’t discount the chance of another Kenyan title, however, as three runners carrying that banner will be among the heavy favorites to win the race in Branson’s honor.

Steven Kosgei-Kibet, 28, has been knocking on the door for several years. He was fourth in 2010 and runner-up in 2012 and 2014. His time of 27:43 last year was a personal best and put him six seconds off the winning pace set by countryman Bedan Karoki, who is not back to defend his title.

Stanley Biwott, 29, is a “defending champion” in some respects. He hasn’t tackled the TD Beach to Beacon since winning in 2012. Much of his focus has shifted to marathons. Biwott won the 2012 Paris Marathon and ran 2:04.55 as runner-up in the 2014 London Marathon.

And it would be foolish to forget Micah Kogo, 29, who again is attempting to join Gilbert Okari as a three-time winner. Kogo broke the tape in 2011 and 2013 before settling for fifth in 2014. He was a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters, has been a world record holder (27:01) in the 10K and was second in the 2013 Boston Marathon.

In the aftermath of the Kenyan withdrawals, Barthlow and race organizers scurried to fill the vacancies. One late entry is three-time Commonwealth Games champion Moses Kipsiro, 28, of Uganda. This is only Kipsiro’s second road race in the United States, but his PR of 27:52 in the 10K compares favorably with previous winning times here.

Even without True, three Maine runners will challenge in the elite and American divisions.

Riley Masters, 25, of Veazie, who starred at Bangor High School and was an All-American at Maine and Oklahoma, won the Maine division in 2013. He ran a PR of 13:17.97 in the 5,000 at the Payton Jordan Invitational in May and finished ninth at that distance in the U.S. championship.

“It feels great to be back in Maine,” Masters, who now makes his home in Seattle, said. “It’s always special. It’s one of the best road races in the world. It’s the perfect way to end what has been a busy year for me.”

Brunswick’s Will Geoghegan is the defending Maine men’s champion. Competing for the University of Oregon, Geoghegan was fourth in the 5,000 at the NCAA championships.

Ethan Shaw of Falmouth also is a past winner in the Maine men’s division. Two local runners, Kelton Cullenberg of Farmington and Luc Bourget of Auburn, are among the contenders this summer.

Chepkirui’s absence could open the door for Gemma Steel of Great Britain to become the first back-to-back women’s winner since Catherine Ndereba dominated the race from 1998 to 2001.

Steel, 29, used a fabulous finishing kick to beat U.S. Olympian Shalane Flanagan last year.

Wude Ayalew of Ethiopia returns after running the second-fastest women’s TD Beach to Beacon in history in 2010. Lineth Chepkurui beat her to the line.

Other elite women’s contenders include Alexi Pappas of the U.S. and Diane Nukuri of Burundi. The Maine women’s title is up for grabs with Michelle Lilienthal not back to defend. Erica Jesseman of Scarborough, the 2013 winner, will have to fend off Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunkport, Emily Durgin of Standish and Sheri Piers of Falmouth.

Men’s and women’s elite winners receive $10,000. The addition of $23,000 for the top five Americans, male and female, has increased the total purse to more than $90,000.

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