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The multiple personalities of the Main Street Mile


First, the costumed runners emerge, hidden beneath layers of fabric and padding. Then, they release the children, luring them through town with sweet confections. They are followed down the street by the hordes--the teens, the seniors and everyone else--who are in turn chased by men wearing rubberized suits and helmets, who are followed by a mass of athletes with the gleam of glory in their eyes.

The Main Street Mile is a race with multiple personalities: part children's race, part comic sideshow, part competitive race, part fundraiser and part parade.

In its sixth year, the event has become a fan favorite, as spectators line the streets of downtown Boise to watch the cavalcade of runners pass by. But it's about more than pure entertainment or sportsmanship. The Main Street Mile puts a spotlight on men's health, seeking to do for prostate cancer what the Race for the Cure does for breast cancer.

"I was going through my own health issues at the time," said race Executive Director Ryan Canning of starting the event. "It's a long journey of rediscovering yourself and trying to look at life from a different perspective."

Canning also came to the realization that there wasn't much attention being paid to men's health issues, while massive grass-roots campaigns were thrusting women's health issues into the mainstream. He teamed with St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and Idaho Urology Institute to provide free prostate screenings. But it's more than its dual purpose that makes the Main Street Mile one of Boise's most colorful events.

Personality No. 1

First and foremost, the race is a fundraiser. Last year, the event raised roughly $95,000, and in the past five years, the program has provided 2,598 men with free prostate screenings, a $493,000 value, according to Canning.

Each year, the screening program has expanded. When it started in 2004, it provided 355 screenings in two days, that increased to 444 over three days in 2006 and 737 in just four days last year. For Canning, it's part of a larger national pattern in which men's health is finally being addressed.

"It's sort of our society," Canning said about the lack of focus on men's health issues. "Women are taught at a young age to be very open about their health issues. For guys, it's that mentality of, 'if it's not falling off, it's OK. Put a little duct tape on it.' There's hesitation about going to the doctor because it's perceived as a weakness."

Personality No. 2

When the race begins, the first runners out of the gate will be wearing foam padding. The annual mascot race will send between 18 and 23 area mascots hurtling down the street in search of bragging rights as the fastest mascot to complete a 100-yard dash. "Some run, some walk, some stumble and fall," Canning said with a laugh.

Expected to run this year are Humphrey the Hawk, the Idaho Stampede's Rumble, the Steelheads' Blue, Eddy the Trout, Buster Bronco, McGruff the Crime Dog, Smokey Bear and Billy the Blood Drop from the Red Cross, among others. They will don their giant heads, their faux fur and, in some cases, their cartoonish oversized shoes and boldly go for what few mascots achieve: speed.

Personality No. 3

Once the fallen mascots are cleared from the road, the children's half-mile race will begin. Last year, roughly 500 kids aged 10 and younger turned out, and this year, Canning expects up to 600. But how do you get young children to run through the streets of Boise? You tempt them with sweets, of course. The racers will actually be chasing a Meadow Gold ice cream truck down the road. For safety's sake, the driver better pass out the goods at the finish line.

Personality No. 4

After the sugar-induced frenzy has passed, the Mayor's Mile for Everyone will start. Last year, 1,300 people took to the roads accompanied by Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. While Bieter won't be running this year, he will be cheering on what Canning hopes will be up to 2,000 runners.

Following the Mayor's Mile, the Prep Mile Showdown will put teen and pre-teens in fifth through 12th grades on the course, followed by the Beauty and the Beast Mile--men and women aged 40 and older. Then, the teams take over, with five-person competitive teams. First, the corporate teams will run, but it's who's coming afterward that garners the most attention.

Personality No. 5

Each year, fans flock to check out the First Responders race, in which firefighters and police officers don 35 pounds of equipment before running. In past years, the Boise Fire Department came out on top, thoroughly thumping the Eagle Fire Department two years ago. But last year, Eagle got its revenge.

Eagle firefighter Kelsey Backen took on the responsibility of putting the team together last year, and with a proactive training program, he hopes to have a repeat victory.

"There's a bit of bragging rights," he said with a laugh, describing the trash talking that's been going on between departments for the last year. "People in firefighting are pretty competitive," he said. "Whether they're athletic or not is another question."

The firefighters will run in the shells of their turnout gear and their packs, which, while lighter than their full gear, are still pretty hot. For his part, Backen said he wouldn't be upset to have a cool day for the race.

Recently, the Boise and Eagle fire departments competed in the Seattle Stair Climb, in which roughly 140 teams from around the world raced to see who could climb 69 stories the fastest. Boise placed 14th, while Eagle came in 21st. Now, Eagle is in the mood for a victory.

"I hope they're back," Backen said. "We want to beat them."

Canning hopes to see representatives of the Boise Police Department and the United States Marine Corps turn out as well.

Finally, the evening of racing will end with the Men's and Women's open mile, an open race category for all seriously competitive adult racers.

This year, the race will begin at 6:15 p.m. on Friday, June 26. The starting line is at the corner of Sixth and Main streets and the route leads to Fifth Street, left onto Idaho Street, then to Eighth Street and back to Main Street.

The mascots will start things off, followed by the sugar-hungry hordes of children at 6:25 p.m. and the Mile for Everyone at 6:40 p.m., with the rest of the groups following in succession.

Racers can register on the Web site up until 2 p.m. on race day; after that point, registration takes place at the starting line outside Bandana Racing. Entry costs $25 for adults and $10 for children age 10 and younger.

For more information on the race or screenings, check out To learn about artist Erin Ruiz's work with the Main Street Mile, see for a Web-exclusive story.