Participation in Saturday's 35th annual Alaska Heart Run won't approach a record, but there will be an army of runners and walkers all the same -- an army that helped make this year a record money-maker.
It will be hard to miss Joe's Army at the annual 5-kilometer event that begins and ends at the UAA Arts Building.
More than 140 people strong, the group is running and walking in honor of Joe Hebert, a Palmer man who was 33 years old when he died of a pulmonary embolism on Dec. 13. His death came after 148 days in the ICU unit at a hospital in Spokane, Wash., an ordeal that began when he had surgery to replace a leaking heart valve with a mechanical one.
Joe's Army has raised more than $14,500 in pledges, helping the Heart Run to raise $227,000 and beat last year's record haul of $220,000.
"And there's more still coming in," said Lisa Sauder, Alaska's executive director for the American Heart Association. "This is definitely going to be the most successful ever for fundraising."
The money will be used for research and education, some of it right here in Alaska -- Sauder said grants totaling more than $1 million have been awarded over the years to researchers at UAA and UAF, and in 2011 the association offered free continuing-education classes to people in the medical field.
The Heart Run, the race that launches the running season in Anchorage, has been around for decades, but it wasn't until last year that the Heart Association began emphasizing team and individual fundraising as a way to supplement money raised from entry fees and corporate and private donations.
In previous races, team and individual fundraising brought in about $6,000 a year, Sauder said. Last year, the Heart Association set up web pages and used social media to help teams and individuals tell their stories and collect pledges. The amount raised shot up to $60,000, she said.
This year, it's at $70,000 and growing, and a big chunk is coming from Joe's Army.
"They'll have their own tent," Sauder said of the group running in Hebert's memory. "I thought they earned it."
About 5,000 people had signed up for the race by Friday afternoon, and the number is expected to grow with race-day registration Saturday morning. Sauder said about 400 people signed up last year on the day of the race.
Though there's still plenty of snow on the ground, Sauder said volunteers swept the course Friday afternoon.
"It's in good shape," she said. "It's gravel-free."
About 2,000 of those signed up will compete in the timed 5-K race that begins at 9:30 a.m. The others will participate in non-timed 5-K and 3-K runs that start at 10 a.m.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG