CAPE ELIZABETH — Since it was launched in 1998, the number of competitors in the TD Beach to Beacon 10K has more than tripled and the road race has achieved world-class status.
For the fourth time in race history Saturday morning, race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson will join some of the top runners in the world at the starting line.
From winning the Boston Marathon in both 1979 and 1983, to winning the first- ever women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles in 1984, “Joanie” has become a household name, inspiring athletes across the globe.
But despite all of her successes, and the success of “Joanie’s Race,” Samuelson’s humility hasn’t faltered.
“I told legacy runners last night that this is an event to celebrate their accomplishments,” Samuelson said Wednesday at Fort Williams Park. “I really (don’t) deserve to be in their company … my hat is off to those athletes … the fact that these people have made it to the starting line and finish line all 20 years is pretty amazing.”
She said that amid all of her achievements, the founding of the Beach to Beacon 10K has been her biggest accomplishment in the sport. Whether it would have been possible without her win in Los Angeles, she’ll never know, but to Samuelson, the two are “part and parcel.”
“I would say you always feel better about giving back and providing opportunities to others,” she added.
The 6.2-mile course beginning near Crescent Beach State Park and ending at the historic Portland Head Light used to be nothing but a familiar route where Samuelson, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, enjoyed training at the start of her running career.
For the past two decades, on the first Saturday in August, it becomes a stage for more than 6,500 runners, thousands of spectators, and 800 volunteers.
Samuelson decided she would run the course every five years. When she doesn’t compete, she greets and congratulates runners as they cross the finish line.
“I really enjoy that because you never know who is going to come in first and you never know what stories are going to unfold in the middle or at the back of the pack,” Samuelson said. “It’s not only inspirational to see the elites come through … but often times there are runners who never thought they would be able to finish, so it is a huge accomplishment for them.”
Samuelson believes that running can change people’s lives, the way it did hers.
“I never expected to become an Olympian, really,” Samuelson said. If you had asked her as a 15-year-old in what sport she saw herself competing, she would have said skiing.
“I had dreams and aspirations of making it as a ski racer,” Samuelson, now 60, said.
But those dreams were brought to an abrupt halt during her sophomore year at Cape Elizabeth High School. After breaking her leg training for the ski season, she began running the moment the cast came off to get back in shape – and fell in love.
“I kept challenging myself with longer and longer distances,” Samuelson said. “So there was a silver lining in that skiing accident.”
Now living in Freeport with her husband Scott and kids Abby and Andres, Samuelson hasn’t slowed down.
Just last week she ran in her 31st Quad-City Times Bix 7 road race, held annually in Davenport, Iowa. Samuelson shattered the 60-and-over women’s course record and won the women’s master division for the 15th time.
On Oct. 8, she hopes to set another world record for her age group by finishing the Chicago Marathon in under three hours.
But for now, Samuelson is happy to be on her home turf, where it all began, celebrating “her” race’s 20th year and all those involved.
“There was really a benefit to growing up in such a beautiful town. I just wanted the rest of the world to see how fortunate I was to live and train in Cape Elizabeth,” said. “I’m looking forward to running on Saturday … there’s a lot of work and thought that is put into making this event what it has evolved into 20 years later.”
• Route 77, Sprague Hall to Kettle Cove Road, 6 a.m.-10 a.m.
• Route 77, Kettle Cove Road to Old Ocean House Road, 7:30 a.m.-10 a.m.
• Crescent Beach State Park, 7:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m.
• Route 77 at Hill Way, 7:30 a.m.-10 a.m.
• Old Ocean House Road, 7:30 a.m.-10 a.m.
• Shore Road south of Fort Williams Park, 7:30 a.m.-11 a.m.
• All of Fowler Road (except shuttle buses), 7:15 a.m.-10 a.m.
• Scott Dyer Road eastbound, 6:45 a.m.-8 a.m.
TD Beach to Beacon founder Joan Benoit Samuelson will compete in the 10K Cape Elizabeth road race Aug. 5 for just the fourth time since the annual race was created in 1998.