True story…Former Greely standout wins Beach to Beacon

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North Yarmouth’s Ben True, a one-time Greely High standout, celebrates as he crosses the finish line first at Saturday’s TD Beach to Beacon 10K. True became the first American champion in the race’s 19-year history.

Adam Birt photo.

More photos below.

Saturday’s 19th running of the TD Beach to Beacon, the state’s premier road race, was historic and memorable.

For the first time, the champion of the TD Beach to Beacon, which is the brainchild of Maine running legend and 1984 women’s Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson, was an American.

And not just any American.

It was North Yarmouth’s Ben True, the erstwhile Greely High standout.

True, 30, who now lives in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, faced stiff competition from Dathan Ritzenhein of Belmont, Michigan (who was runner-up) and Kenyans William Malel Sitonik, Daniel Salel and Micha Kogo, but he overcame humid conditions and broke the tape first in a time of 28 minutes, 16 seconds, 11 seconds faster than Ritzenhein.

“It was pretty humid out there,” said True, who received $15,000 in prize money for winning the race. “We had a very luxurious first mile, where we were taking it very easy, which made the race feel a lot nicer, but [we turned] it on later on. The crowds here are always amazing. I feel bad for the other people in the race, because it seems like everybody is just cheering my name.”

True, who also ran at Dartmouth College and just missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics in the 5,000 meter, did what he had to do to hold off his talented rivals.

“You just try to stay on it and keep grinding it out and not relax at all and just keep that foot on the gas pedal,” True said. “You just hope that one of you guys are going to falter first and hopefully it’s not you.”

The women’s champion was Kenya’s Mary Keitany, who set a new course record of 30:45. Defending champion Wude Ayalew (31:40) was runner-up.

Portland’s Michelle Lilienthal, 34, was the top Maine women’s finisher (34:53), making it two titles in three seasons, while Falmouth’s Shari Piers, 45, a three-time champion, came in second (35:59) while winning the Maine women’s Masters crown. Scarborough’s Erica Jesseman, last year’s champion, was third in 36:25.

“I haven’t been feeling that great for a little while,” Jesseman said. “I didn’t expect a lot today, I just wanted to come out. It was definitely way slower than I’ve done in a very long time here. I went out conservative. I love this race. It’s Joanie’s race. I’ve been trying to think about how many times I’ve run this, probably a dozen. I love coming back. Even though I wasn’t feeling well, I could hear people around me cheering for me. That’s really special. I’m happy and I feel blessed that I’m even able to do this. I’m happy for Sheri and Michelle. They’re awesome women.” 

Gorham’s Jesse Orach, 22, was tops among Maine men (31:31). Cape Elizabeth’s Liam Simpson, 20, (32:10) was runner-up. Portland’s Spencer McElwain, 27, (32:15) placed third.

Joseph Ekuom, of Kingston, New York, won the Masters Men title in 33:47. Tony Nogueira, of Glen Ridge, New Jersey, took the men’s wheelchair division title in 22:45, his 10th crown. Cape Elizabeth’s Christina Kouros, 21, won the women’s wheelchair title for the fifth time in six years with a time of 38:19. Senior division titles went to Cape Elizabeth’s Pete Bottomley, 54 (35:40), and Walpole, Massachusetts resident, Mimi Fallon (38:55).

The Johnny Kelley Award for the oldest finisher went to Portland’s Nora Stetson (88).

Open age group winners included Falmouth’s Karley Piers in the female 14-and-under (41:44), Portland’s Abigail Hamilton in the female 15-to-19 division (38:30), Scarborough’s Jacob Terry in the male 15-to-19 division (32:56), Cumberland’s Jen Rohde in the female 45-49 group (42:18), North Yarmouth’s Peter Sedgwick in the male 45-49 division (35:29), Cape Elizabeth’s Elisabeth Bostwick in the female 50-54 group (42:12), Falmouth’s Jeff Walker in the male 50-54 division (37:43), Portland’s Lauren Harrington in the female 55-59 group (43:45), Portland’s Bill Mariski in the male 55-59 division (38:05), Cumberland’s John Mollica in the men’s 60-64 division (40:55), Portland’s Arlene Hanson in the female 70-74 division (55:12) and Cape Elizabeth’s Michael Tracy in the men’s 80-and-over group (1 hour, 17 minutes, 24 seconds).

Freeport’s Andy Spaulding was the top Maine Masters runner, with a time of 33:47.5.

“Today went amazing,” said Spaulding. “The way the race played out, I was like 5:25 (the first mile) and I felt good. I’m usually eight or 10 seconds slower the second mile, but I was the exact same pace. Then I ran another one, like 5:26, and I was starting to get a little tired, but I was okay. I was tired, but on that last mile, you just survive the hills, you don’t lose ground and try to sprint the downs. Then you get into the park and it’s exciting.

“I think the overcast, and relative cool and a bit of a breeze, for me, you didn’t really feel the humidity until three, three-and-a-half (miles), so I thought it was palatable. You could still run okay today. Last year I remember feeling hot and flushed by two miles, mile and a half. That’s when it gets hard to run fast, when you’re sending so much blood to the skin. The first two miles, I was wondering if maybe we had a tailwind, because I couldn’t feel the breeze. But then when we were coming up 77, and on Shore Road, I felt it in my face, and it wasn’t strong, so it felt good.”

In all, 6,345 runners completed the 6.2-mile course, which wound its way from the starting point on Route 77 near Crescent Beach to the finish line at Fort Williams.

The day before the TD Beach to Beacon, the inaugural high school mile race was held. The winners were Castine’s John Hassett on the boys’ side and Lincoln’s Tia Tardy in the girls’ race.

Samuelson was pleased after yet another successful event.

“It was such an emotional day with our first Elite Women’s Start shining the light on the women and then to see Mary perform so brilliantly,” Samuelson said. “And then to watch Ben make us all proud with a truly historic run and just now to finish the race with Tom Carll and his son Shawn, who ran the race wearing the bib of his mother, Sherry, a legacy runner who passed away last week. This race has always been about the stories, at the front of the pack and at the back. So much inspiration, year after year.”

The race had an international feel, as 15 countries were represented. In addition, 43 different states and 265 cities and towns from Maine were represented. 

This year’s race beneficiary was My Place Teen Center. MPTC is a free, year-round, after-school youth development program for kids in Greater Portland, which received a $30,000 donation from the TD Charitable Foundation, the charitable giving arm of TD Bank.

The 20th TD Beach to Beacon will be contested Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017.

Current Sports staff writer Adam Birt and Wolfe PR contributed to this story.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

For the 19th year in a row, the state’s premier road race featured a throng of runners. A total of 6,345 completed the race.

Contributed photo.

Kenya’s Mary Keitany breaks the tape as the top female finisher in 30 minutes, 45 seconds.

Contributed photo.

Portland’s Michelle Lilienthal captures her second Maine women’s championship in three years with a time of 34 minutes, 53 seconds.

Adam Birt photo.

Freeport’s Andy Spaulding was the top Maine Masters male runner.

Adam Birt photo.

Yarmouth High standout Luke Laverdiere smiles after placing 134th overall and 19th in the 15-19-year-old male division with a time of 36 minutes, 36 seconds.

Adam Birt photo.

Falmouth’s Shari Piers was second among Maine women and won the Masters women title with a time of 35 minutes, 59 seconds.

Adam Birt photo.

Cape Elizabeth’s Christina Kouros wins the women’s wheelchair division for the fifth time in six seasons, posting a time of 38 minutes, 19 seconds.

Adam Birt photo.

Beach to Beacon champion Ben True is congratulated by race founder and 1984 women’s Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson.

Dan D’Ippolito photo.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.