CAPE ELIZABETH — Every fifth year, Joan Benoit Samuelson joins the field of the TD Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race instead of watching it unfold from a bench seat in the lead press truck.

Although initially reluctant to do so at the race she founded, she acceded to prodding from fellow organizers and has come to enjoy the experience.

“The race changes in five-year increments,” she said Wednesday morning from near the finish line at Fort Williams Park. “It changes every year to some degree, but when I ride the press truck, I see them go by in a flurry.”

Making the journey by foot from Crescent Beach to the Portland Head Light affords Samuelson the opportunity to “absorb what’s happening along the course, the spectators who gather to cheer runners on, the signage, things like that,” she said. “I have a greater appreciation for what’s actually happening out there, the people who really make this event what it is.”

What she’ll miss in this 20th edition is seeing a stellar elite field that includes five former Beach to Beacon champions, three Olympic medalists and three other Olympic runners.

Samuelson, the 1984 gold medalist in the inaugural Olympic women’s marathon in Los Angeles, was in the truck a year ago when for the first time in race history, an American broke the tape. That it was North Yarmouth native Ben True made the moment even more special.

“It was very exciting to have an American finally win the race,” Samuelson said, “and very much homegrown. I think he had a huge impact on aspiring athletes in the state, not just in the sport of running but in all sports.”

True headlines an elite men’s field that includes 2015 Beach to Beacon champion Stephen Kosgei Kibet of Kenya and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000 meters Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia. Four-time U.S. Olympian Abdi Abdirahman and 2012 Canadian Olympian Cam Levins are also in the mix.

Two others to watch for: Kenyans Stephen Sambu (outsprinted to the finish by True in April’s American-record-setting BAA 5K) and Leonard Kiplimo-Barsoton (world cross country silver medalist).

“He’s done some stuff internationally but he hasn’t put up that big number on the road yet,” elite athlete coordinator Larry Barthlow said of Barsoton. “The plumbing is there, though.”

Mary Keitany of Kenya followed her Beach to Beacon victory with wins in London and New York. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Like True, Mary Keitany of Kenya returns to defend her title. She set a course record of 30 minutes, 45 seconds, last year and since then won the London Marathon (in 2:17:01, fastest time ever for an all-women’s race) and the New York Mini 10K in Central Park.

“Mary Keitany is the hottest athlete in the world not on the track,” Barthlow said. “She decided not to go to the world championships (which start this weekend in London), where she would have been the favorite in the marathon. She’s as good as anybody on the planet.”

For the second straight year, elite women will embark at 8 a.m., 12 minutes ahead of the rest of the field. Hot on Keitany’s heels will be 2015 champion Wude Ayalew of Ethiopia, 2013 champion Joyce Chepkirui of Kenya and three-time Olympic medalist Meseret Defar Tola of Ethiopia, who won gold in Athens (2004) and London (2012), and silver in Beijing (2008), all at 5,000 meters.

The top Americans are Shalane Flanagan (silver medalist at 10,000 meters in Beijing and 2014 Beach to Beacon runner-up), and Jordan Hasay (third at Boston this spring in her marathon debut and fourth at the 2014 Beach to Beacon).

Included in the prize purse of $90,000 – paid out to the top 10 finishers, men and women – is $23,000 for American men and women, going five deep. It’s the third year of prize money for U.S. runners.

“That’s enhanced the American depth greatly,” Samuelson said. “I think on the American side and on the women’s side, there’s going to be some great racing.”

Other top American women and their colleges: Erin Finn (Michigan); Emma Bates (Boise State); Kathie Matthews (Boston University); Margo Malone (Syracuse); Emma Kertesz (Toledo); and Sarah Pease (Indiana).

Besides True and Abdirahman, American men in the hunt include Brunswick native Will Geoghegan (2014 Maine men’s champion), Jonathan Grey (fourth in Saturday’s Bix 7-Miler), Aaron Braun (sixth here in 2014), half-marathoner Ty McCormack, and steeplechasers Dan Huling and Mason Ferlic.

Last year’s men’s race was a tactical affair that started with a pedestrian (for world-class runners) first mile of 4:51. In that sort of strategic race, True is likely to enjoy an advantage because spectators will be bellowing his name.

“I know that the race means a lot to him,” said True’s former coach, Tim Broe. “I think that course really suits his unique talents. Anybody, no matter who you are, is going to have a tough time beating him on that course.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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