The TD Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race has long been a very quick sell out. For participants, just getting into the race is a test of will and internet connectivity endurance. This year the race sold out in just over four minutes, which is just barely enough time to fill out the registration information and hold your breath for about 60 seconds until you get the confirmation screen.
Once the 4,000 general registration slots are filled, there is a lottery to fill 1,950 remaining slots. The lottery is open to both individuals and teams alike. Also, this race allows transfers for those runners who have a spot but cannot run the race. So even if you don’t get in during those two minutes in March, you still have a chance to run this race.
Registration morning is like, well, playing the slots in Vegas. There is an element of winning when you get in and a giant let down when you don’t. I’ve been on both ends of the registration process and let me just say the winning end is so much better.
Beach to Beacon is a point-to-point race that runs from Crescent Beach State Park through the quaint seaside town of Cape Elizabeth, Maine and finishing at Fort Williams State Park. Runners are bused to the starting point from satellite parking lots that are in nearby towns. I have always parked at the SMCC lot in South Portland and I find the buses and the volunteers very well-organized. We line up like kindergarten kids in single file and the driver counts us to make sure only 48 are in line. There are always jokes about holding hands to walk to the bus — it’s just the start of a really fun day.
Once loaded on the bus, no seat is left vacant. If you are sitting single in a double seat, you have to raise your hand until the space next to you is full. This process is a something that always elicits laughter and comments from the bus passengers. Part of the laughter is nervousness and part is just the general atmosphere of the entire day. Fewer than 20 minutes after the bus takes off from its starting point, you are dropped off on US Route 77 near the start line.
The Race Excitement
Upon exiting the bus the excitement of the day becomes very real. Heading down the road to the start line the vibe is just electric. Music from the speakers that are set up on the side of the road is filling the air making me want to dance while walking down the road. Volunteers are lined up in pop-up shelters to offer runners oranges, bananas, coffee, water, suntan spray, wet wipes and some awesome lip balm that the sponsor has added their brand onto. As we walk down the row of tables the last volunteer we encounter is working to separate our trash from the compostable food and the recyclable materials. The overall goal of the race committee is to have a zero-waste event by recycling and composting over 90% of the waste produced by the race.
Another fabulous feature of this race is something only a runner can appreciate: an enormous row of clean and well-stocked port-o-potties! They are arranged in banks of four, with each bank facing in an opposite direction to aid in traffic, err… flow. It’s pretty obvious when you get there that there is one queue for each of the 15 banks of four, that’s 60 potties for one race!!! Excuse the pun, but the movement toward the potties is always quick and efficient, allowing for multiple visits before the race.
Doing research for this blog I found out a lot about the stories of the people who run in this race. Not only do we have world-class elite runners, but we had wheelchair athletes compete, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor and a spunky 92-year-old woman all striving to give their best shot at achieving a goal they have set for themselves. Although some of these people got to start the race before the traditional gun start, they were in no way any less of a part of the event.
The coastline of Maine is a very rough and scenic view. We ran on tree-lined streets that smelled of fresh pine, coves that were so low to the water you could imagine the sea coming up to your feet and roads that were lined with tall granite cliffs.The course started on a flat part of Route 77 but there was a mix of uphill and downhill sections starting at around mile four. Why do race directors insist on putting uphills in the last half of a course?
We ran through a town center with tons of cheering spectators and the site that always makes me stop and take a deep breath. There is something about an American flag being suspended between two ladder trucks that absolutely takes my breath away. Maybe it’s patriotism or maybe it’s something that reminds me of my dad who was a firefighter. Each year I stop and take the same picture:Once we clear town center we take a sharp right and head up a small, thankfully shaded uphill. This is always one of the loudest parts of the race. People come with signs and cowbells and any noise maker they can find to cheer the runners on. Once you head up the hill and around a corner (only to head up another hill) the quiet starts to descend on you and it is then that you realize just how loud that corner really was! During this moment of Zen, the lighthouse guy appeared to me. Or actually appeared then quickly passed me.
Yes, a guy dresses up and runs in a lighthouse costume. And he’s fast. Because of the costume he starts in the back and very quickly works his way towards the front of the pack, climbing hills with ease. I’m not really sure how or why but he’s been a staple of the race for a couple of years. When was the last time you ran a race with a lighthouse?
Thinking about this, during the last mile we run some very steep hills. The last one that routes us into the park is steep enough that you feel like you need to lean forward with a vengeance. Also we finish on grass. How does Lighthouse Guy manage this with a building strapped to his back? He must have super Lighthouse Guy powers or something!
The Finish Line
I still have nightmares about this finish line. With the exception of someone playing “Shout” on the way into Fort Williams, the entry to the finish line is torture. We make a “wicked” shaap turn into the park, up a hill (that many needed climbing ropes to get to the top of) and down a gate-lined chute that must be a half mile long. If that wasn’t enough, the course narrows to the point where there is no place for spectators to cheer and it becomes silent for a few seconds. It’s at this point that your lungs are locked and your legs are screaming for death that you find the place in your soul to suck it up, dig deep and finish this bad boy.
We cross the finish line on the grass and then we are directed to walk, stumble or crawl another 200 yards and up another hill to get water. This is the absolutely hardest part of the race. Your body is spent and you can’t get water until you climb another @#$!*&$ hill. Thank goodness the course is filled with medical volunteers to catch us and resuscitate as necessary.
Once you’ve recovered from the finish line frenzy and you’re sitting someplace with a beautiful view of Casco Bay and an ocean breeze cooling you off, you realize what an awesome race it is. The course is one of the nicest in the area and the support from both the incredible volunteers and the locals is second to none. It’s easy to see that a lot of pride goes into the planning and inception of this race. If you ever get the urge to run a 10K in Maine in August, Beach to Beacon is the only way to go. Just remember you have less than four minutes to get in.