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Ashland's 4th of July Run turns 39

John Cornet’s garage at his home in northeast Medford is jam-packed with flags, tables, safety vests nutrition bars and a dozen other items not usually found there, which can only mean one thing for the Phoenix High School girls cross country coach and social studies teacher: it’s almost time for Ashland’s 4th of July Run.

Cornet is heading down the home stretch of his preparations for the 39th-annual 4th of July Run, an event for which he’s served as race director for the last 10 years, counting this year. The race, which is unofficially tied with Medford’s Pear Blossom run as the second-oldest road race in Oregon (Phoenix’s Pioneer Run, founded in 1971, is the oldest), comes in two forms: a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) run and the traditional 2-mile run/walk.

Both races start at 7:45 a.m. and are chipped-timed (runners tie a small computer chip to their shoe so their start and finish times can be recorded).

For the most part, Cornet says, the mad dash to get ready for the race has snapped the tape.

“Honestly, we’re all set,” he said Tuesday. “If the race was tomorrow, we’d be ready. The only thing not in (my garage) — and I’m about to go get them at Ashland High School — are the water coolers. But the teams are lined up and the volunteers are lined up.”

The race, which kicked off in 1977, begins and ends near the Ashland Library (410 Siskiyou Blvd.). Both the 10K and the 2-mile routes make use of roadways that are closed to traffic on race day, and a section of the 10K route takes racers along the scenic, tree-lined Bear Creek Greenway.

Cornet mapped out the current 10K course in 2011 and, while it differs greatly from the previous 6-mile iteration (only about 30 percent of the old course remains intact), it’s proven to be a popular switch. In both the 2-mile and the 10K, which has become the standard distance for road races, 4th of July runners will head north from the library down Main Street and make a quick right down Oak Street.

The 2-mile turnaround will be near Sleepy Hollow Street and the first water station, but the 10K runners will keep going until after Oak Street turns into Eagle Mill Road and bends north. Right before hitting Valley View Road - and the third of five water stations - the course pulls a 180 and takes runners down the Greenway Trail, where former Phoenix High baseball coach Joe Hagler will be patrolling the 1¼-mile section on his bike, looking out for runners struggling with the heat — Ashland’s Saturday forecast calls for a high of 100 degrees, so racers should expect temperatures in the 80s.

Hagler, who was inducted into the Oregon High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer in 2011, will be one of some 100 volunteers on hand for the race, which also serves as a fundraiser for the Ashland High and Phoenix High cross country programs.

After the Greenway Trail runners head back up Oak Street, make a right on Hersey Street and a quick left on Water Street before catching Main Street again for the home stretch.

The original course took runners down North Mountain Avenue, but Cornet said the change was necessary.

“When the course was originally designed in 1977 there were no houses (along North Mountain),” Cornet said. “But as the course built up there were safety issues, and (the Ashland police) expressed concern that they didn’t have enough officers for such a wide-ranging area.”

That prompted Cornet and other race officials, including former race director Bob Julian, to change the course. Cornet handled the actual mapping, aided by Google Earth, and he’s pleased with the result.

“The new course is actually a lot more spectator friendly,” he said.

The race has attracted around 630 runners on average in recent years, including a high-water mark of 715 in 2011. Cornet had expected a slight decline this year before a surge of 60 entries came in Wednesday and increased projections. Now, he’s anticipating between 550 and 600 runners to sign up by race day.

But, he added, last-minute entries, which usually come in big numbers, may be down this year. “The heat may scare some people away,” he said.

The 4th Run is a true local event, with two main sponsors in Rogue Valley Runners and Recology and 14 local businesses — from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to Noah’s Adventure Rafting — supporting the run through donations. Those donations mostly come in the form of raffle prizes, such as a rafting trip. An awards ceremony will be held at the library following the parade, at noon. All finishers will receive a ribbon, all age group winners (nine men and nine women) will receive free entry next year and wall plaques will be handed out to the top three 10K finishers. Local sponsor Yogurt Hut has also donated coupons that will be handed out at the awards ceremony.

There will also be a costume contest, organized by Tree House Books. Anyone who runs the race as a super hero or super villain is eligible, and those awards will be distributed after the race and before the parade.

As far as race favorites, Cornet said it’s too early to tell since any number of local ultra-marathon runners, of which there are many, could sign up five minutes before the 7:45 a.m. start time. That’s been known to happen. Last year, three of the top five men and women 10K placers registered the morning of the race.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com.