Runners exit the finish line area in Fort Williams Park after completing the 2019 Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth. More than 6,500 had registered for this year’s race, which was canceled on Wednesday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

With the Tokyo Olympics postponed for a year and most major road races postponed or canceled, Joan Benoit Samuelson was hoping the 2020 TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race in Cape Elizabeth could be “one of the bright lights of the summer.”

Instead, Maine’s largest road race became the latest sporting event to be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers announced on Wednesday.

Founded by Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic women’s marathon gold medalist, the race had been held annually since 1998 and has become one of Maine’s premier events each summer. This year’s race was scheduled for Aug. 1.

“It’s really the only right decision,” said Samuelson. “It was a gut-wrenching decision. But there are people enduring hardships beyond what you or I can comprehend and we needed to take that into consideration. This is the year we had to look at the larger community and say, ‘This is what we need to do.'”

The announcement came a day after Gov. Janet Mills released her four-stage plan to reopen the state’s economy. Even on July 31, the plan tentatively would prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people. More than 6,500 runners registered for this year’s Beach to Beacon.

“It was difficult on an emotional level but it wasn’t difficult on a rational level,” said race president David Backer. “It was a decision we knew we had to make, as much as it pained all of us to make it. I think now more than ever people need these celebrations of life to buoy their spirits. We all view the Beach to Beacon as a celebration of fitness and life. It’s a fun gathering and a celebration of life.

“The size of it made it inevitable, the decision to cancel it.”

Backer said the $55 registration fee would be refunded to all those who registered. And all 2020 registrants will receive the opportunity for early entry into the 2021 race.

“We recognize when people registered in mid-March it was with the knowledge that the pandemic was spreading and there was at least some chance the race would not be held,” he said. “But the fact that the race filled up as quickly as it did shows people were simply hopeful there would be a way for this event to happen and people would have a way to get together and celebrate fitness. We thought it was important to refund the fees.”

Race officials also said that the 2020 race beneficiary, JMG, will remain the beneficiary for the 2021 race.

Beach to Beacon race director Dave McGillivray and founder Joan Benoit Samuelson look on during a media conference prior to the 2016 Beach to Beacon. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Samuelson and race director Dave McGillivray, also the race director of the Boston Marathon, said they considered postponing the race until the fall. But Samuelson said, “There were too many unknowns, too much uncertainty. We decided to put all our energy into next year.”

“I think one of the difficulties with a postponement is, still, the uncertainty,” said McGillivray. “You don’t want to postpone something, then have to cancel it. Secondly, finding the right date becomes an issue. It’s a summer event. You put it into the fall, or early winter if you went into November, then what does it actually become? You could tone it down to the bare basics … but the consensus was, we want the race to be what everyone has built the race to be, and not anything less. Let’s think of other ways to celebrate running at the time.”

Many prominent road races have already been pushed into the fall, including the Boston Marathon, now scheduled for Sept. 14.

Samuelson said moving the race into the fall presented other issues, including finding a date that didn’t to go head-to-head with any school or club events on a weekend or finding enough volunteers in the fall rather than the summer. “There were so many considerations,” she said. “When you put everything on the table, the most prudent decision was to take it off the books this year and come back stronger than ever before in 2021.”

Over the years, the race has grown considerably, from an inaugural field of 3,000 runners to well over 6,000. Last year’s race had 6,413 finishers.

It has become one of the most prestigious 10Ks in the nation, drawing elite runners from across the globe and the U.S.

“Joanie has done an incredible job building it up,” said runner Rob Gomez, who is also on the race’s board of directors. “The decision to cancel the Beach to Beacon will be felt not only in Maine, but across the region and the country. But I think everyone will understand given the circumstances.”

Rob Gomez assists Jesse Orach across the finish line at the 2017 Beach to Beacon 10K. Orach had been leading runners in the Maine men’s division before collapsing yards from the finish. Gomez, of Portland, ensured that Orach would cross the line first. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Gomez, 36, was involved in one of the race’s most dramatic and memorable finishes in 2017, when he picked up the leader of the Maine men’s division, Jesse Orach, who had collapsed within yards of the finish line, and pushed him across first.

“As any runner involved with Beach to Beacon, you want the race to go on,” said Gomez. “But the safety of everyone involved, whether runners, spectators, volunteers or sponsors, means more than running a race. If you’re not sure the race can be safe for everyone participating in it, it’s impossible to hold it.”

Larry Wold is one of the race’s 103 legacy runners, those who have run the 6.2 miles every year. He is also the Maine president of TD Bank, the race’s primary sponsor.

The decision to cancel, he said, is hard, especially for those runners looking to race in what is considered the unofficial Maine 10K championship. But looking at the bigger picture was much more important.

“You don’t want to be unwise about it,” he said. “You just don’t. This race is surrounded by so much good. It’s not just the good athletes who made this such a special event. In fact, the elite runners become bit players in it. Its impact on the larger community will be felt, not just on those who run.”

And losing the race for a year, he said, may strengthen the bonds of the volunteers, sponsors and host families.

“As a sponsor, we’ve given so many people the opportunity to make a contribution to this race, either as a runner, spectator, sponsor,” he said. “This may provide an opportunity to give them another way to channel that good to something else for a year. And I think they will appreciate the race that much more a year from now, and in so many ways strengthen the race.”

McGillivray said race officials are looking to find a way to celebrate the event even if it can’t be run.

“We’re going to spend the next few months figuring out what we can do to keep people connected and to support local charities,” he said. “We’re going to do something. It won’t be a road race, but it will be something.”


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