The new Boulevard Race and fundraiser brings runners together to support local cancer patients

click to enlarge The new Boulevard Race and fundraiser brings runners together to support local cancer patients
Erick Doxey photo
Boulevard Race director Jon Neill.

The Boulevard Race's 4-mile distance may seem an easy feat for some of Spokane's avid runners, but it's a case of a little going a long way.

This inaugural race through the streets of downtown Spokane happens Sunday, Sept. 24, as a fundraiser to benefit Community Cancer Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting cancer patients in the Inland Northwest.

Jon Neill, race director and executive director of Community Cancer Fund, believes that the cause behind the event is what makes it special. (The Inlander is a sponsor of the race.)

"You know, we are all affected by cancer. All of us. And we all want to do our part to end it, and to show support for those that are battling," Neill says. "And that's been the part that has been the most gratifying, the most rewarding, at times, the one that brings tears to my eyes and makes me want to work a little harder."

Founded in 2014, Community Cancer Fund works with regional medical nonprofits, patient advocates and private entities to fund screenings, clinical trials and innovative therapy for cancer patients. All donations to it are reinvested in the local community to support those impacted by cancer.

The race's route begins at the Centennial Hotel, passes Riverfront Park's Clock Tower, takes participants through historic Browne's Addition and finishes at Spokane Falls Boulevard's intersection with Howard Street. Neill says it was important the course also showcase some of Spokane's most iconic and historic features.

"What we wanted to do was make sure that we ran on the best city streets, and by some of the coolest landmarks that we, as Spokane citizens, love to share," he says.

Over 2,000 runners are expected to turn out for the first Boulevard Race, with about 15 percent of participants coming from outside the Spokane area.

"When you put on an event — whether it's a race, whether it's a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, a showcase volleyball tournament — Spokane comes out and they support," Neill says.

As former race director of Bloomsday, Neill knows what it takes to put on a large road race. He first announced the Boulevard Race to the public in May, working to make it a reality in the four months since.

"To put on a major road race of this caliber, it's typically one where you [need] at least 10 months," he says. "And I think with what we've been able to do in assembling a tremendous team, a sort of roster of sponsors, that it's just a testament to the community, the cause and the willingness of the city to embrace this."

Chris Morlan is head coach of Spokane Distance Project, a premier men's running club, and plans on running in the Boulevard Race. Morlan says many running events in Spokane are typically held on the Centennial Trail because it's difficult to block off arterial roads. So he's excited for the Boulevard Race's new, scenic course because it allows runners to explore different areas of the city.

"I am looking forward to a high-quality, well-designed race that is put on by people who really know what they are doing," Morlan says.

Both Morlan and Neill agree that Spokane's running scene is unique because schools in the area begin fostering an eagerness for and interest in running from an early age. An example of this, according to Neill, is the elementary school running program Active for Youth, which over 7,000 local students participate in.

A former competitive runner who has run all over the world, Morlan believes that running races have such a large impact in Spokane because of the city's lively running community. This running culture and community dates to the 1970s and was nurtured by Bloomsday founder Don Kardong.

Neill says Spokane's rich tradition of running continues to thrive because the sport is fitness-oriented while also fostering community togetherness. The Boulevard Race is reflective of this togetherness because it's a collaboration between the cancer patient community and fitness community.

"Our goal in putting this race together was not only to present to the city and the region a fantastic for-cause [race] to support cancer patients, but it also had the parallel purpose of bringing a treasured downtown event into the fold here in Spokane," Neill says.

The Boulevard Race • Sun, Sept. 24 at 9 am • $25 • Starts at the Centennial Hotel • 303 W. North River Dr. • boulevardrace.com

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