Thousands of people will be hitting the streets of Lexington for the Bluegrass 10,000 early Thursday morning.
There will be new faces and old faces for the 37th annual 10-kilometer road race, which will also be filled with children and grandparents, locals and out-of-towners.
Some will be missing.
Kevin Castille of Nicholasville, last year's winner in a dominating performance, will be absent. He is preparing to run the 10,000 meters at the USA Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships on July 13 in Olathe, Kan.
Others will return.
Defending women's champion Andrea Richardson will be at the starting line again this year. Greg Queen will be also be there, looking to win his ninth consecutive wheelchair title.
In a field of more than 3,000 competitors, the stories are plentiful. Here are a handful that illustrate the broad cross section of athletes one might meet downtown Thursday.
A runner from afar
Roy Pool is traveling more than 1,700 miles to compete in this year's Bluegrass 10,000.
The 65-year-old from Tonto Basin, Ariz., is visiting his fiancée and his sister, both runners who introduced him to the Bluegrass 10,000 a few years ago.
Pool didn't start running until he was 52. Previously, he was a semi-pro soccer player until he was injured at age 51.
"I suffered a sprained knee," Pool said. "I wanted to keep in shape so I started running."
He didn't race last year because he was recovering from a more recent knee injury. But it did not keep him away from running for long.
In the past year alone, Pool has returned to Kentucky to compete in two races: the Thoroughbred Classic 5K on Thanksgiving Day at Keeneland and the Hangover Classic 10K on New Year's Day in Louisville.
"The running community, no matter where you go, is so friendly," Pool said. "Some of the people you race against become your best friends."
At 13 years old, Michaela Reinhart will be one of the youngest competitors with a shot at finishing near the front at this year's Bluegrass 10,000.
Reinhart, who will be a freshman at Lexington Catholic High School this fall, finished last year's race in 41 minutes, 51 seconds, good for first place by almost 10 minutes in the 12-and-under girls' division. She finished eighth among all females, 87th overall and crossed the finish line almost four minutes ahead of the first 12-and-under male.
The Georgetown native surprised everyone, last year, even herself.
"I just went out there at a fairly easy pace," Reinhart said.
It was the farthest she had ever raced.
"I just had fun and ran."
Reinhart started running in second grade after seeing her dad running around the neighborhood. She started running cross country soon after.
She said she used to ride horses and swim but now she is going to focus on running. She recently finished second in the 3,200 meters and sixth in the 1,600 meters as an eighth-grader representing Lexington Catholic in the Class 2A state high school meet.
After her eighth-place run last year, Reinhart said she will not go into Thursday's race looking to finish in a particular place.
"I'm just shooting for a personal best," she said.
Young at heart
Virginia Bell has run in the Bluegrass 10,000 for the past 25 years. She is sitting on the sideline this year, but she isn't done yet.
"It's just so exciting to be among all of the runners," said Bell, who turned 91 on Sunday.
Bell's decision to not run this year is not because of her age. She hasn't had time to properly train.
She's too busy.
Bell, who is program consultant for the Greater Kentucky/Southern Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, recently completed a speaking engagement in Hong Kong and Taiwan focused on a model of care for dementia she developed 30 years ago.
Bell, who has a master's degree in social work from the University of Kentucky, is co-author of four books that have been translated into seven languages.
She just returned Tuesday from a weeklong family reunion, and will be cheering on the runners at the Bluegrass 10,000 on Thursday.
Bell said she usually starts preparing for the race about two months in advance when she starts to walk longer distances and run more. She also heads to the YMCA for early-morning classes nearly every day.
Bell is disappointed that she can't participate Thursday but said she plans on rejoining the field next year.
At 91, some might think that Bell is too old to keep running. She has been the oldest Bluegrass 10,000 competitor since 2009.
She covered the course in one hour, 41 minutes and seven seconds last year, good enough to finish in front of dozens of competitors.
Bell disagrees with those who have doubts.
"I think you'll see more and more people in their 90s and over doing amazing things," Bell said.
Defending the title
Defending women's champion Andrea Richardson, 26, won last year in one of the closest finishes in race history. This year she looks to widen the gap.
In March, Richardson set her personal best at 10,000 meters in the Rodes City Run 10K in Louisville. She ran a 37:35, more than a minute faster than her winning time of 39:05 in Lexington last year.
But the temperature could be a factor Thursday.
"(Last year) it was very, very, very hot, especially toward the end," Richardson said. "Hopefully this year it will be a little cooler."
Richardson, a Scott County and UK graduate who is now a school teacher in Fayette County, is not new to competitive running. She was on UK's cross country and track and field teams. She still holds the 3,000-meter steeplechase record at UK.
Richardson competes in most of the local road races each year as well. She was second in last year's A Midsummer's Night Run in Lexington, and won it the year before.
Her victory in last year's Bluegrass 10,000 came by eight seconds over Betsy Laski, making it second only to Mary Shuber's five-second win over Mary Witt in 1983 among closest race finishes.
But as good as Richardson is, running is more than just racing.
"I love running," Richardson said. "It's a great stress reliever."
'As long as I can'
David Hartsek, 54, has competed in the Bluegrass 10,000 for nearly three consecutive decades. But there is one difference between Hartsek and most of the other participants.
Hartsek competes in a wheelchair. Last year, he was one of four wheelchair participants in the Bluegrass 10,000.
Thursday will mark the 29th time that Hartsek heads to the starting line. He has won six times and once held the course record.
"I consider it as a journey, and for me this race has always been a part of what I do on the Fourth," Hartsek said.
The journey began in 1984 when he decided to try the Bluegrass 10,000. Since then, he has competed in more than 300 road races and 20 marathons, even going as far as Canada to compete.
Now his career is back to where it began, right here in Lexington. The Bluegrass 10,000 is the only race he takes part in anymore.
He competes recreationally now and says his equipment is pretty old. But when asked how much longer he planned on competing, he said, "As long as I can."
Thursday's schedule of events
7:20 a.m.: Crank wheelchair
7:25 a.m.: Standard wheelchair
7:30 a.m.: 10K
8:15 a.m.: Fun Run