Highlights galore at Beach to Beacon
Once again, the state's premier road race delivered a bevy of thrills.
The 17th running of the annual TD Beach to Beacon 10K through the streets of Cape Elizabeth Saturday morning featured a mixture of expected results and a few surprises and Maine runners once again stole their share of headlines.
Bedan Karoki of Kenya and Gemma Steel of Great Britain were the men's and women's champions, respectively, but that was only the beginning of the story.
Brunswick's Will Geoghegan won the Maine men's title, while reigning women's champion Erica Jesseman ran another strong race, but this time placed second to record-setting Michelle Lilienthal, of Portland.
Karoki, 23, set the pace for a record-setting field of 6,494 runners from 14 countries, 42 states and more than 260 Maine cities who finished the race, 1984 Olympic marathon champion and Cape Elizabeth native Joan Benoit Samuelson's brainchild, amid overcast, cool and humid conditions, then pulled away from his final challenger, countryman Stephen Kibet, on an uphill grade near the 5-mile mark of the scenic 6.2-mile route that ended in the shadow of Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park.
Karoki defeated Kibet by six seconds to win the overall title with a time of 27 minutes, 36.4 seconds.
“I’m very strong on the hills,” Karoki said.
North Yarmouth native and former Greely High star Ben True, who went on to compete at Dartmouth College before becoming a top-notch professional, had to settle for third in a best-ever American men's time of 27:49.8.
“The race went out pretty quick. I was surprised how fast we were going,” True, who lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, said. “I saw the 5K time and thought we had gone out pretty quick. I got a little hesitant at that point, and that’s when those two guys put a little gap on me. I should have really tried going with them and seen where I would have been. They didn’t finish too far ahead of me and they both collapsed at the end and were clearly exhausted, so it might have been quite a different race if I had put a nice surge with them in that middle part.”
True’s time also was the fastest road 10K by an American since Mark Nenow ran 27:48 in 1985, according to Runner’s World. The only other American road 10K faster than those two times is the U.S. record of 27:22 that Nenow set in 1984.
Defending race champion Micah Kogo of Kenya finished fifth in 27:56.4.
The women's finish was even closer as Steel edged American Shalane Flanagan by a step as both top women’s finishers were timed in 31:26.5.
“I’ve had a few sprints, but I’ve never had to run that fast in my life,” Steel said. “I’m not a track runner, and I didn’t really want to have to rely on that against Shalane because she’s such a tough and fast runner, but I pulled it out of the bag anyway.”
The elite women’s field for this year’s TD Beach to Beacon opened up Thursday when defending race champion Joyce Chepkirui and Emily Chebet, the 2012 runner-up, weren’t cleared by the Kenyan Olympic Committee to compete in Maine after winning the gold and bronze medals in the 10,000-meter run Tuesday at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
That left a battle between Steel, who came in second last year, and Flanagan, a native of Marblehead, Mass.,, whose 2:22:02 clocking at this year’s Boston Marathon was the fastest time ever recorded by an American woman in that race’s 118-year history.
Flanagan took a slight early lead, but Steel soon caught up.
“I just kind of crept up on her,” Steel said. “At about 3-and-a-half miles, I got neck-and-neck with her and made myself known. From then on I just tried to stick with Shalane like glue. And at about 5 miles when it started to get tough I tested her out, and then it was just a battle all the way.
“I didn’t want to be too polite, but I just had to grit my teeth and be like a little Jack Russell (terrier), nipping at her heels until the end.”
Lilienthal, who moved to Portland from Minnesota shortly after competing in last year’s race, set a race record in 33:38.8 to break the previous mark of 34:16 set by Falmouth’s Sheri Piers in 2009 to take the Maine women's crown.
Jesseman, of Scarborough, was second in 34:16.5 — 1.1 seconds faster than her 2013 winning time — while Piers was third in 35:45, taking the Masters (40 and over) and Maine Masters titles in the process.
“Actually I think knowing the course is very helpful,” said Lilienthal, a former All-Big Ten runner at the University of Wisconsin who plans to run the New York City Marathon in November. “I hadn’t run it before last year, and this year having raced it before and done a couple of long runs on the course, just knowing the ups and downs and turns did help a lot. Usually I go by the mantra ‘ignorance is bliss,’ I don’t really want to know the course, but I think for this race particularly it was helpful.”
Jesseman, who missed the Maine women’s record by 0.6 seconds last summer, broke the old mark by 0.5 seconds this year.
“I’m very happy but I’m also a little disappointed because I wanted to break 34,” she said. “That was the ultimate goal but I just couldn’t do it.
“This was one of the smartest races I’ve ever run. I paced off a couple people, I had a game plan and I really don’t know how I could have tweaked it. I just didn’t have it at the end and sometimes that happens.”
Piers was third overall — and first in the Maine women’s masters division — with her time of 35:45.0, recently graduated Greely High star Kirstin Sandreuter, of North Yarmouth, was fourth in 36:26.6, followed by Kristin Barry, of Scarborough (37:00.6).
Geoghegan, a recent Dartmouth graduate, won the Maine resident men’s title for the first time, placing 16th overall with a time of 29:53.
The 22-year-old Geoghegan, who will run at the University of Oregon next winter, improved on his second-place finish of a year ago by besting runner-up Jonny Wilson of Falmouth, who scored his fourth straight top-three Maine finish with a time of 30:26.9.
“I wanted to be the top Maine resident, they luckily don’t count Ben True anymore,” said the 22-year-old Geoghegan. “I was second here last year and thought it was attainable, and I also thought if I was feeling good I might be able to break 30.”
Geoghegan hadn’t run much competitively since suffering a fractured metatarsal this spring but still was able to the other in-state hopefuls in the field just two days after he returned from a trip to Ireland.
“This is my first serious race of the summer and I didn’t prepare for this the way I generally prepare for a race,” he admitted. “I haven’t really been doing any workouts, just distance runs because I just wanted to come in here and see what I could do and have fun because it’s such a fun event.
“With any race, once you’re a day or two out you’re as prepared as you’re going to be so you just have to relax and try to be mentally ready on race day.”
Geoghegan ran at a fairly consistent pace while averaging 4:49 per mile.
“I went out in 4:36, which was pretty fast, and I felt like every mile was getting slower so I ended up pretty close to that 30-minute barrier but I was able to sneak under it,” said Geoghegan, who will compete in indoor and outdoor track at the University of Oregon next season while pursuing a Master's degree.
“I wasn’t able to race at all this spring and started easy running again in mid-June so I’m still transitioning into doing my first workouts. I’ll probably be pretty sore after today.”
Henry Sterling, of South Freeport, was next among the Maine men in 31:39.4, followed by Robert Gomez, of Portland (31:45.45).
Andy Spaulding, of Freeport, was the Maine men’s masters champion in 33:27. Portland's Bill Mariski won the Seniors (50 and over) division in 36:48. Kevin Castille, of Lafayette, La., was the overall Masters (40 and over) winner in 29:56. Antonio Nogueira, of Glen Ridge, N.J., was the men's wheelchair winner in 24:04.
Cape Elizabeth's Christina Kouros won the women's wheelchair division in 39:33. Kathryn Martin, of Northport, N.Y., won the Seniors (50 and over) division in 40:18.
Local male age group winners included Cameron Ashby of Brunswick (14 and under, 41:44), Robert Hall of Scarborough (15-19, 32:52), Byrne Decker of Yarmouth (45-49, 34:37), John Mollica of Cumberland (60-64, 39:06) and Robert Coughlin of Cape Elizabeth (75-79, 1:00.13).
Local female age group winners included Christine Twining, of Brunswick (35-39, 39:52), Mary Pardi, of Falmouth (40-44, 38:47), Kathryn Nielson, of Cape Elizabeth (60-64, 49:08), and Gretchen Reed, of Portland (70-74, 52:39).
More than $60,000 was awarded to the runners, including $10,000 for the overall male and female winners, $5,000 for the second place winners and cash prizes for the top 10 finishers and in the different categories. Maine resident winners received $1,000.
The beneficiary of this year’s race is Rippleffect, a Portland-based non-profit youth and community development organization leading outdoor adventure programs on Cow Island, in area schools and in the mountains of western Maine, which received a check for $30,000.
The 18th version of the TD Beach to Beacon 10K will be Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015.
Bangor Daily News staff writer Ernie Clark contributed to this story.