‘The voice’: Andy Schachat welcomes runners to the Beach to Beacon finish line

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The 20th running of the TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race was a time to commemorate icons who come back year after year to compete or as volunteers.

Whether it is the wide smile of Ben True, the first American and native Mainer to win the 10K in 2016, or race founder and Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, whose larger-than-life photo hung from Portland Head Light through the Aug. 5 mid-morning fog, there seemed to be an iconic face at every corner of Fort Williams.

Andy Schachat’s face may not be recognizable for those familiar with the race. But his voice is iconic.

“I’m so sorry, I should’ve recognized that voice,” one volunteer exclaimed after asking Schachat for his pass to enter the VIP tent.

For 19 years, Schachat has been filling the park with live race updates and commentary from his post in the announcer’s booth just above the finish line.

Schachat has been passionate about running for many years. He began competing in road races across New England in the early 90s, and for many years wrote columns for New Hamphire newspapers.

While competing, Schachat realized that many races would have someone announcing from the start line, but not the finish.

“I thought to myself, ‘I could do that,’ he said. “I could add some flavor to the local road race scene.”

The 1996 Market Square Day 10K in Portsmouth, New Hampshire – the state’s largest road race at the time – was the beginning. Schachat had run the race in years past, but in 1996, he felt he wasn’t in peak shape.

“I still wanted to be involved in the race and I thought (announcing) was a great way to do so,” Schachat said.

And so began his “weekend career.”

Since then, Schachat has announced more than 1,000 races, including the New Bedford Half Marathon, the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race, and what he calls “the Super Bowl of races,” The Boston Marathon.

While he says there is nothing like the Boston Marathon, Schachat recognizes the “Beach to Beacon has an intimacy and personal touch that is very unique.”

Schachat attended the 10K the year it stepped off in 1998, while working with Granite State Race Services to track each runner’s race time down to the millisecond.

“That year, they had one announcer at the start line while the race was going on,” Schachat said. “There were hundreds of spectators at the finish line with no one giving any information about the race until the one announcer got to the finish line just before the first runner.”

So, in 1999, Schachat came back to take his now 19-year post at the finish line.

“(TD Beach to Beacon) is one of the most special races in the country,” Schachat said. “It’s not only Maine’s largest, but it has an elite field. … When I’m announcing the names at this race, I’m announcing some of the greatest runners in the world.”

Elite or not, Schachat said that one of his favorite things about announcing is being there late in the race, when people are fulfilling a personal goal of finishing, and he gets to announce their names.

On Aug. 5, a smile spread across Schachat’s face as he almost flawlessly reeled off names as runners crossed the finish line, often less than seconds apart.

But, the race isn’t all smiles. It’s hard work, requiring long hours on your feet, an expertise in the sport and its competitors, and the ability to react quickly to changing events. Even after 19 years, Schachat said he still gets nervous in the hours leading up to the start.

This year, he arrived at Fort Williams around 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, sporting a new pair of spotless, white Nikes. Identical pairs were worn by other race officials, including race President Michael Stone, race Director Dave McGillvray, and fellow announcer Toni Reavis.

A good pair of shoes is important to Schachat, who, at 62 years old, suffers from severe arthritis in his right leg.

“I was told I could have knee replacement surgery, but I wouldn’t be able to run again,” Schachat said. “I’m just going to stick it out until I can’t anymore.”

Along with physical strains on race day, Schachat also faced technical difficulties when his computer system froze. As runners cross the finish line, they pass over a timing belt that is supposed to send a signal to his computer, listing the runner’s full name, hometown, and time.

Luckily, Schachat had a backup plan. On another computer, which had been playing his upbeat iTunes play list throughout the race, Schachat began manually entering bib numbers. As he did so, names and stats would pop up on the screen.

“I take special pride in this backup system,” Schachat said, “Not many races have this.”

And so the show went on.

Towards the end of the race, as spectators started clearing out to make their way to the awards ceremony, Schachat kept things interesting by adding unique titles, like Bob Randall the Rock Star, and quick anecdotes to runner’s names as they crossed the finish line; many of them pointed and smiled in his direction.

“I’ll add something, like a hometown football team, to add a little flavor,” he said.

This year, Schachat announced one very special name, “Joanie Benoit Samuelson,” as she crossed the finish line for the fourth time in race history.

The honor was Schachat’s, but Samuelson recognized him in return.

“The crowd and the runners really respond to him. He encourages them through their final steps crossing the finish line,” Samuelson said. “He really is the voice of this race.”

And Schachat plans to be for years to come.

“I will continue as long as possible and as long as I am asked to be there,” he said. “… It can be very exhausting, but I have such a blast doing it that I just don’t mind.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Andy Schachat announces the names of runners who crossed the finish line at the 20th Annual TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race Saturday, Aug. 5, at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. It was the 19th consecutive year Schachat did the honors. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)

After running 6.2-mile Beach to Beacon course in 39 minutes 19 seconds – a 10K record for women 60 and older – race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson hung around the finish line to shake hands and congratulate runners coming in after her. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)