CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine -&nbspWhen the starter’ s horn is fired at 8:05 this morning and the 5,500 runners in the TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10K road race make their 6.2-mile journey from Crescent Beach to Fort Williams, Ethan Hemphill will be a man among boys in the Maine men’ s competition.

And that’ s just fine with him.

The 36-year-old Freeport runner will be among a slew of competitors vying for the unofficial title of Maine’ s top road racer, many of them college-aged runners.

“I think its really exciting. There’ s a real whole lot of young guys that are running very, very well,” said Hemphill, who along with the race’ s elite contenders and staff met with the media at the Inn by the Sea Friday morning.

Some of the young guns Hemphill spoke of include defending champ Ayalew Taye, 2006 champ Donny Drake and two-time winner Eric Giddings.

But the question is, did the veteran Hemphill scare them off, as he was the only Maine runner who addressed the media Friday?

“I don’ t know, I’ m not sure where all of them are, probably at summer jobs,” the L.L. Bean employee quipped. “I give those guys a tremendous amount of respect and they’ re all very capable of running extremely fast times.”

Hemphill will be making his “fifth or sixth” appearance in the Beach to Beacon, a race he won back in 2004.

He has dominated the Southern Maine roads this summer, his latest victory coming at his hometown race, the L.L. Bean 10K on the Fourth of July.

Hemphill was timed in 32 minutes, 36 seconds in winning that race, and he knows it’ ll take a faster time to come out on top today.

“I think realistically the mid-31-minute [range] would be a goal for me,” he said. “It would probably take more than that to win, but I’ m just going to stick with the mid-31s and see how it goes.”

Hemphill’ s main competition will come from Taye, Drake, True, and Giddings as well as Matt Lane, a former elite runner who recently moved back to his native Yarmouth, and Judson Cake of Bar Harbor, who is having an outstanding season.

“He’ s been running very, very well, I would consider him one of the favorites,” Hemphill said of Cake. “Some of the times he’ s run on some of those courses are very impressive.”

Like a lot of runners, the community’ s support of this well-run event keeps Hemphill coming back.

“It’ s a phenomenal race, well organized … there are a lot of reasons to come back and support (race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson) and all that she does for the running community,” he said.

Other challengers in a deep Maine men’ s field could be Kirby Davis of Falmouth, Evan Graves of Presque Isle and Jon Wilson of Falmouth.

Masai is senior strider

Edith Masai of Kenya is another veteran runner who will be challenged by a number of younger runners in the elite women’ s race.

The 41-year old Masai is unfazed by all the young guns she’ ll be up against — among them countrywomen Lineth Chepkurui, 20, and 22-year old Millicent Gathoni — after all, she won the Bix 7-miler in Davenport, Iowa, last weekend, which only bolstered her confidence.

That could be a scary thing for the rest of the field today.

“I’ m happy when I beat these ladies, [it] gives me encouragement that I can still run, [that] age is just a number,” said Masai.

That doesn’ t mean things will come easy for Masai.

“I know these young ladies, they can challenge me, I’ m going to try my best,” she said.

Kibet feeds off support

The town of Cape Elizabeth’ s outstanding support of all the runners in the Beach to Beacon — thousands of spectators line the streets of this picturesque seaside community on race morning — must’ ve rubbed off on Duncan Kibet.

The 30-year old Kenyan, who won his first Beach to Beacon here last summer, has developed a friendship with the locals and feeds off their enthusiasm

“I like Cape Elizabeth, because they invited me back and I had to come back because they like me,” he said. “The people of Cape Elizabeth are very nice people.”

Kibet is a favorite again this year, and he’ ll be challenged formidably by Ethiopia’ s Terefe Maregu, currently ranked the No. 1 road racer in the world by Running Times.

“My main competition will come from Maregu,” said Kibet.

He acknowledged that running on the coastline here is vastly different than in his homeland.

“Running at sea level is faster because when you’ re running in high altitude it’ s a little bit tough when it comes to breathing,” he said.