20190703-SPT-4 on 4th1

Runners take off from the starting line at Railroad Square in last year’s “4 on the 4th” race. Thomas Paquette, center in stars and stripes shorts, is the defending champion after finishing first in 20 minutes, 15 seconds. This year’s race is Thursday morning with walkers starting at 7:30 and runners at 8.

When it comes to the Fourth of July, Americans celebrate their independence in a variety of ways, whether it’s shooting off fireworks, eating hot dogs and burgers, or donning as much red, white and blue as possible.

With Keene’s strong running culture, it should come as no surprise that one of the biggest ways locals celebrate here is with a morning 4-mile road race for charity.

The 18th annual “4 on the 4th” race — which is run to benefit Pathways for Keene, a nonprofit organization that works to develop, maintain and promote local outdoor trails — is Thursday, with the starting line at Railroad Square.

After moving the start time of last year’s race up to 7:30 a.m. for walkers and 8 a.m. for runners due to heat concerns, race organizers decided to keep the earlier times this year, with Thursday’s forecasts projecting a high of 90 degrees.

But early registration numbers suggest local runners can take the heat. Race Director Ted McGreer said there have been about 400 pre-registrations so far, and he expects about 200 more to enter on race day.

McGreer said the number of runners at the race varies from year to year, but tends to favor certain days of the week, with Thursday being one of them.

“A lot of times people stay in town as we approach the weekend,” McGreer said. “The weather looks terrific, our registrations are up [from last year], and, you know, it’s kind of the premier summer road race of the year around here, so we’re excited about it.”

Pre-registration is still open for the race. Runners can register online at https://bit.ly/2XphxYQ until 5 p.m. today. Online registration is $25, while race-day registration is $30.

Runners and walkers can pick up their race packets today at Ted’s Shoe & Sport — McGreer’s store — at 115 Main St. from 3 to 7 p.m.

Dogs, strollers and backpacks are prohibited in the race.

All proceeds — which average about $50,000 per year — go to Pathways for Keene. McGreer, who is on the board of directors of the organization, said Pathways for Keene is planning to use the money to fund the third stage of its solar lighting project on the local trails.

According to McGreer, the first phase of lights, from Island Street to the North Bridge, has already been installed, while the second phase, from Court Street to Wheelock Park, is bought and paid for. The third phase is to be on the Industrial Heritage Trail, from Railroad Square out to Eastern Avenue, he said.

“It does a number of things,” McGreer said. “It creates a sense of safety on the rail trail, and it really expands the season for runners and bikers and walkers to be able to go out in the fall when Daylight Savings changes, because the trails are lit.”

Without any prize money, the race doesn’t attract big names from across the country, but there are plenty of recognizable faces to those familiar with the local running scene, according to McGreer.

Six-time winner Thomas Paquette, 28, returns to defend his title after taking first in last year’s race in 20 minutes, 15 seconds. Former Monadnock Regional High School and University of Vermont runner Dawson Adams, 20, is among the top competitors as well after finishing third last year at 21:45.

Also joining the fray are multiple top runners from the Keene High cross country and track and field teams. Among them are Jake Velazquez, who finished fourth last year (21:50), Nico Ramirez, who took fifth (23:42), and brothers Aidan and Torin Kindopp.

On the women’s side, McGreer said some potential top runners could be Karen Jordan — the second-fastest female runner in last year’s race at 25:32 — Kelly Tonderys — the third-fastest woman from last year (26:20) — and possibly Paige Mills — a former Keene State athlete who is now a running coach in California but is in town this week.

“The first 20 or so people are pretty elite-level runners from around here,” McGreer said. “This race brings out some pretty talented runners, but it just brings out the masses of people who are just doing it because they love the camaraderie. They love being around the running community.”

McGreer said he expects much of the entertainment and atmosphere of the race to be the same as usual this year, with no big changes coming until the race’s 20th anniversary in 2021. The race features many prize giveaways donated by local businesses and musical entertainment.

“We’ve got a DJ, so we’ve got music pumping and people are dancing and grooving, and sometimes, depending on the prize, maybe we’ll have a dance-off for a grand prize. One year, we gave away a stinky shoe spray for the stinkiest shoes,” McGreer said. “We try to ad-lib and make it fun. That’s what makes this a fun community event; we just keep the energy high.”

New Year’s race

McGreer announced that Pathways for Keene is planning a second road race Jan. 1, calling it the Main Street Mile.

The route is planned to start at Court Street, go down Main Street and end at Ted’s Shoe & Sport.

“We are really excited about it because it’s all downhill, it’s gonna be fast and it gives you a heck of a good reason to start the year off with a bang.”

McGreer said planning for the race will begin Friday.