More than 28,000 runners and walkers clustered near Sun Devil Stadium just as the day's near-record-heat began to set in Saturday morning to take part in the eighth annual Pat's Run.
Their motives for rising ahead of the sun differed greatly, but in the end they were all tied together by the legacy of one of Arizona's most renowned icons, and the men and women who served with him, and still serve.
The record turnout accounted for every available spot the race had, and marked the first year the event couldn't accommodate same-day sign ups or participants who didn't pick up their race packets before Saturday morning.
Those who signed up to participate in the 4.2 mile race were treated to a speech from former Arizona Cardinals' quarterback Kurt Warner and concluded their run at Frank Kush Field's 42-yard line inside Sun Devil Stadium.
Both the length of the run and the end point were chosen to honor former Arizona State University and Cardinals' safety Pat Tillman, who died while serving in Afghanistan in 2004.
Winning this year's race was Ronnie Buchanan, an assistant track coach and physical education teacher in the City of Maricopa who demolished the rest of the field with a time of 20:37. Taking first on the women's side was the 25:04 time posted by Glendale resident Beth Ellickon.
But the event has never been about competitive racers who are capable of break five-minute miles. Rather, nearly everyone who flocks to Pat's Run has their own reason(s) for participating.
Bylas resident Byron Kisto, for example, said he and his family drove from Graham County to their first event simply for the opportunity to run. Queen Creek resident Kimberly Martin, who came with Tucson resident Kristy Gossen, also came to Pat's Run for the first time in order to run her first ever competitive race. She'd planned on doing Pat's Run last year, but her pregnancy put that plan on hiatus for 52 additional weeks.
“I made the goal that I would do it,” Martin said.
Victor and Kim Velasco came all the way from Norco, Calif., because they were inspired by “The Tillman Story” – a documentary about Tillman – and found the race was an excellent way to support the armed forces.
As a Pat Tillman Scholar, Arizona State sophomore Alex Zabaski was one of the few runners who's directly affected by the race itself, as the run helps raise funds for the scholarship program. His involvement in the program was one of his main reasons for taking on the occasionally-hilly course in Saturday's high heat.
For Collin Faucett, a 15-year-old from Phoenix, the decision to run was rooted in the hope of sampling an experience he hopes to replicate in three years or so: running across Frank Kush Field. His dream is to play football at Arizona State after he finishes high school, which gave him a little incentive to finish his first Pat's Run as strong as possible.
“I was just thinking 'Don't embarrass yourself,'” he said.
Then there was Mesa resident Lee Pasko, who came into the 2012 race with one year's experience under his belt and a goal of bettering his previous mark, which he did by approximately five minutes. What also influenced his decision to run the event two times is his appreciation for the military and for the titular honoree.
“I followed Pat Tillman ever since ASU and I respect the man,” he said.
Whatever their motivation, the record number of racers who came to this year's Pat's Run gave Air Force Master Sgt. Eric Deopere – one of several serviceman who volunteered to help with organizing the race – a healthy respect for the race.
For Staff Sgt. Craig Reed, the attendance figure was not only impressive, he said it acted as a reflection for how the community feels about the military and the people who serve.
“It shows the support of the armed forces; it shows citizens care,” Reed said. “Even through tough times they band together for a good cause.”