By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
CAPE ELIZABETH, ME, USA (31-Jul) — Here at the 18th annual TD Beach To Beacon 10-K press conference, there was a metaphorical divide between the elite athletes. Roughly 25 of the nation and world’s best sat in white chairs behind race founder and 1984 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Joan Samuelson, race director Dave McGillivray, and other event dignitaries. Standing towards the front was Larry Barthlow, the elite athlete coordinator, who spoke of America experiencing a resurgence and new golden age of distance running.
He called it a re-birth, a new generation, an “explosion of distance running” talent from sea to shining sea, with some of America’s top talents gathered here in the quaint town along the Atlantic coastline. Name-dropping the likes of Bill Rodgers and Samuelson, he looked at the bunched group with great hopes and expectations.
Seated, the American runners were separated by a small, three foot aisle, a break in the rows of chairs for easy access in and out. Yet in a way that little green gap could represent the current and future generations, the latter towards the left of the grassy passage and the former to the right. All will battle for a $23,000 USA-only prize purse presented by Dunkin Donuts, to be awarded in addition to open prize money in less than 24 hour’s time.
In the back row, American Aaron Braun smiled, flanked by Christo Landry and Chris Solinsky. The trio –all under 30-years-old– were part of the “veterans” group.
“It’s great to see kind of a mix of generations. The old guys sitting next to each other, me, Abdi [Abdirahman, a four-time Olympian], Christo, Chris Solinsky, and then the young guys that are just graduating, getting to taste –I think– their first road race and see what the professional roads scene is like,” said Braun, 28.
The young guns Braun spoke of include Will Geoghegan, 23, who recently graduated from the University of Oregon and now represents Nike. A native of Brunswick, Maine, Geoghegan is competing in his seventh consecutive TD Beach to Beacon 10-K, though his first as a professional.
Geoghegan’s fellow millennials –Eric Jenkins, Riley Masters, and Maksim Korolev– also are racing, all within their first or second year as professionals.
Depending on the age, each athlete is approaching tomorrow’s race here differently. For Braun and Abdirahman, it is a fun test of fitness, a mid-summer contest before they each buckle down and begin marathon training in anticipation of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles on February 13.
Others, like Geoghegan, Jenkins, and Masters, are coming off long track seasons that saw them compete all through Europe in the last month. Native New Englanders, it’s a chance to cap off this stage of the summer stretch of racing with a competitive race on the roads against both domestic and international competition.
Braun speaks passionately about the race, telling Race Results Weekly the event has always been on his bucket list. It presents an exciting chance for the father of one to race against the up and coming generation, athletes who could be his main competition in the years to come.
“I know for me my first professional road races made me absolutely fall in love [with the roads] and drew me more and more away from the track. I think there’s a good combination of marathoners here that can see how they compare to the pure speed of the younger guys,” he said.
Even better, a large pay day awaits the top athletes from the red, white, and blue when they reach the finish in Fort Williams. The top American will take home $5000; no American man or woman has won this event since its inception in 1998.
“This is like a U.S. Championships quality field, even before Ben [True, last year’s third place finisher] pulled out. With him in there, there were two sub-13:10 guys [and] Abdi and Christo, and so many amazing times and yet this isn’t a U.S. Championships,” said Braun. “Hopefully this shows other races around the country that if you bring a little American money you’ll get some great American runners. It’s a great thing for the sport.”
As for the young guns, their eagerness to compete is trumped by their relaxed mentalities.
“I’ve been happy with how things have been going. I’m not going to put any pressure on myself, and go out there and expect a good hard race,” said Jenkins, fresh off a 13:07.33 5000m personal best. “It’s going to be good. These guys are all really good at racing, especially road racing, so I’m going to have my hands full. I’m just really expecting to hang as long as I can and be competitive throughout.”
He continued: “I’ve never really ran a hard 10,000m yet in my career so this will be a good chance to test myself and see how I stack up.”
Geoghegan will have experience on this hilly course, giving him a bit of a leg up on the other racers.
“I’m really excited. This is my seventh or eighth Beach to Beacon in a row, it’s a race I’ve always done for fun and now I’m able to do it as my job. That’s really exciting for me,” he said, quick to acknowledge his older and even more experienced competition. “There’s a lot of people who can mix it up with the international guys up front.”
The American women are led by USA National Cross Country champion Laura Thweatt, B.A.A. High Performance teammates Sarah Pagano and Katie Matthews, and New Balance’s Liz Costello. Their top international competition is Great Britain’s Gemma Steel, the reigning champion.
Six miles from the start is an entrance to the finishing straight in Fort Williams, a grassy stretch that leads to Casco Bay and the majestic Portland Head Lighthouse. The 200-meter homestretch is the same lush green color as that path that divided young from “older” at today’s press conference. It could be where the American race is decided on Saturday.
A total of $23,000 for American citizens, made possible by local owners of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in Maine, will be paid five-deep: $5000-3000-2000-1000-500. These amounts are in addition to the overall, 10-deep purse for all-comers which begins at $10,000. The total prize money purse is now over $90,000.