Cars pass the starting line of the TD Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth, which will held Saturday as an in-person race for the first time in three years. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

CAPE ELIZABETH – The paint along the starting line is barely discernible on this lonely stretch of Route 77, between the entrance to Crescent Beach State Park and the Spurwink River that marks the border with neighboring Scarborough.

You can see the ‘A’ because it falls along the roadway’s double yellow line but the S, T, R and T are faded, worn by more than 1,000 days of automobile traffic since the last time thousands of pairs of running shoes plodded their way from here to Portland Head Light.

The TD Beach to Beacon 10K returns to Cape Elizabeth on Saturday morning for its first in-person race in three years, albeit with a smaller field of elite international runners, who have dominated the event since its inception in 1998. The coronavirus pandemic forced cancellation of the race in 2020, and the race was held as a virtual event in 2021.

“I missed the annual gathering,” said Joan Benoit Samuelson, the race founder and Olympic gold medalist who grew up in Cape Elizabeth. “I miss seeing friends and I look forward to this year’s race because there are a lot of people in Maine’s running community alone that I haven’t seen.”

This year, proof of vaccination is required to participate. As of Monday afternoon, 18 slots remained available before the field was to be declared full, a process that took months rather than in a few frenzied minutes in March. Three years ago, 6,419 entrants reached the finish line of Maine’s largest road race.

“When we opened registration, it wasn’t a rush to the keyboard like we had experienced in 2018 and 2019,” said Dave McGillivray, the longtime race director for Beach to Beacon as well as the Boston Marathon. “We were saying to ourselves, ‘What’s going on here?’ People have been out of this for two, two-and-a-half years. We thought they would rush right back. They did not rush right back, by any stretch of the imagination.”


Like many runners, McGillivray is cautiously optimistic that Beach to Beacon will reclaim its place as a premier road race. The word he keeps returning to is perspective. He said it’s important to remember “what we were, what we just went through and what we are now.”


Only eight international runners (three from Japan, two from Kenya and one each from Ethiopia, Morocco and Thailand) have been confirmed among an overwhelmingly American elite field of more than two dozen. Of the 44 previous champions, 39 hailed from Africa, including 34 from Kenya. In 2019, 15 of the top 100 runners were from outside North America.

Larry Barthlow, who has assembled Beach to Beacon’s international field since its inception, said flights from Kenya and Ethiopia have soared to roughly $3,000, a cost incurred by race officials. In addition, many embassies shut down or reduced staff amid the pandemic, leading to an enormous backlog of people waiting for visas.

“It is taking months in some countries just to get appointments,” said Barthlow, who described this year’s international field as “very small.”

Barthlow noted that the World Athletics Championships, held last month in Oregon, was among several high-profile events scheduled for this year. The Commonwealth Games are underway in Great Britain, with the European Championships on deck in Germany. Africa held its championships in June. All those events crammed into one summer means fewer international elites opting for Beach to Beacon, where the winning male and female runners each earn $10,000.


North Yarmouth native Ben True, whose 2016 victory remains the only time a U.S. citizen won Beach to Beacon, male or female, is scheduled as one of this year’s elite runners – but he is uncertain whether he’ll be able to race on Saturday. True, 36, said Monday that he has been battling an illness, adding that “we’ll see how I feel in a few days for a last-minute decision.”

The field of competitors will go off from the starting line in the same order as in 2019. The wheelchair division starts at 7:55 a.m., followed by the elite women at 8 a.m. and the general field, led by the elite men, at 8:12. There will be no rolling starts for the general field.


Since the race began in 1998, McGillivray and Samuelson have tweaked and tinkered, always trying to enhance the event in ways large and small. This year, for example, they’re adding an all-abilities event on Friday called the Beacon Walk, Run, Roll developed in partnership with 2022 race beneficiary The Cromwell Center for Disabilities Awareness. For those whose disabilities may preclude covering the full 6.2-mile course on Saturday, Friday’s race – sandwiched between the High School Mile at 4 p.m. and the Kids’ Fun Run at 6 – will start at the traditional finish line and cover four-tenths of a mile.

The ongoing pandemic, however, means that some aspects of the race will be different. A reluctance of past or potential host families to welcome elite athletes into their homes forced organizers to reserve a block of hotel rooms.

“That is new, and a little disappointing,” said David Backer, race president. “Not that families aren’t willing to open their doors. It’s just disappointing because I know what a wonderful attraction it is for an elite athlete to stay in someone’s home.”


Backer, and several others, will be hosts this year. About 10 families who have done so in past years are opting out this time around, understandably given COVID concerns, said Terri Patterson, who has taken over the role of host family coordinator. Patterson said international travel is also difficult in the current climate, both in terms of cost and reliability. That’s leading to shorter stays.

“We usually have about 35 to 40 people that we house,” she said. “Usually they come in on Thursday and mostly they leave on Sunday, but some are coming in a little later and leaving a little earlier because of COVID-related travel restrictions.”

Hotel costs aren’t the only added expense. Labor and fuel prices have surged, and much of the signage and barriers that provide infrastructure for the race is trucked here from Massachusetts. The race entry fee rose from $55 to $65.

“We’re probably not going to break even this year on our expenses, but I think it’ll be close,” Backer said. “Fortunately, we have a surplus to handle that.”

The nonprofit lost nearly $34,000 in 2020 as a result of the race cancellation, according to its federal tax filings. Its 2021 tax form has yet to be filed, but Backer said Beach to Beacon showed a slight profit with the virtual race. Samuelson had received a $50,000 stipend in previous years, but did not accept any compensation in 2020 or 2021, Backer said.



The turnout for volunteers, who also must be vaccinated, has been somewhat slower than hoped.

Volunteer coordinator Chandra Leister said the elimination (for this year) of a massage therapy tent means a redistribution of volunteers to roughly 800 other positions throughout race week. Overall, she’s pleased with the turnout but would welcome another 50 people between now and Saturday morning.

“There are a few critical areas where I’d like to have more volunteers,” she said, noting that people can sign up at the race’s website. “We have a number who do more than one role.”

Backer said participants will find Saturday’s experience “every bit as fun as it’s been every year in the past.”

“It will remain the most beautiful finish line anywhere in the country,” he said. “That was not changed. And it’ll be hot. That hasn’t changed, either.”

Weather forecasts call for a temperature of 71 degrees at the start of the race, with the mercury climbing 5 degrees by 10 a.m.

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