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Autumn Rehl
Runners leave the starting line at the inaugural Saints and Sinners Half Marathon and Team Relay on Oct. 27, 2012.
We donate it straight to the LDS missionary fund, and they can distribute it however they need or feel is appropriate. —Heidi Parks, founder and director

BOULDER CITY, Nev. — Runners from around and outside the U.S. are planning to make their way to Boulder City, Nev., for the second annual Saints and Sinners Half Marathon and Team Relay on Oct. 26.

The race’s purpose, according to its website, is to gather runners together to achieve something physically great while helping others achieve something spiritually great. All of the proceeds from the race are donated to the General Missionary Fund of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The racecourse begins in Bootleg Canyon Park and ends in Lake Mead National Park.

“It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous course,” said Heidi Parks, founder and director of the event. “It just overlooks Lake Mead the entire time, and it’s downhill. You run through the historic Hoover Dam tunnels they used to build Hoover Dam, and it’s just spectacular. Then it ends right on the beach.”

Participants can choose to run the 13.1-mile course in its entirety or to run part of it as a member of a two- or three-person relay team. A two-mile fun run option is also available.

“Run and not be weary, walk and finish last,” is one of the event’s taglines.

"We all have a little saint and a little sinner in us," the website says. "Come find out what you are made of."

Race participants are invited to wear costumes. “Saints” and “sinners” aid stations along the way offer runners differing snacks, and the runners who complete the race can choose to cross the “heaven” finish line or the “heck” finish line.

An option for those who can’t make it to the Nevada race is the Virtual Run, which allows runners to participate in the event by running a half marathon or relay wherever they live.

Virtual racers can register online, choose a date, map out and “run” their course. They will be shipped an official Saints and Sinners Half Marathon finishers medal and technical shirt. Registration for the Virtual Run will last through Nov. 9.

Last year’s inaugural race had 430 runners from 22 states, Panama and Canada. So far, this year’s race has registrants from 27 states, Canada, Mexico and the U.K.

“It’s really exciting,” Parks said. “And you know, a lot of them are not (LDS Church) members. A lot are. We can’t tell, and we’re trying not to alienate anybody. That’s been kind of a fine line, too, because we don’t want anybody to feel awkward. It’s like the stake dances growing up; we want everyone to bring their friends.”

Parks, a graduate student and full-time mom from Las Cruces, N.M., said she had the idea for the race after she attended the Hill Cumorah Pageant two years ago. She enjoyed the strength she felt as she saw so many members of the LDS Church gathered together, she said, and felt there was a need for more events like it.

“I just really felt strongly that I needed to do this, and so I did,” Parks said.

But as time passed, she found an additional purpose for the race.

Parks additionally felt that her race's purpose was "to bring members together so they could come and just have strength from one another." But a few months later, she began feeling like her purpose was to "raise money for missionary work."

“Of course, that added fuel to the fire," she said.

With no financial backing to start a race, Parks reached out to others for help.

“We were fueled by faith and just did it really as a grassroots effort to try and get people there and spread the word,” she said.

Then three weeks before last year’s inaugural race, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson made the announcement about the change to the missionary age requirements. Thousands more young men and women were suddenly eligible to serve Mormon missions, and additional funding would be needed to support all of them.

“It was just so neat,” Parks said.

Parks recalled reading the January 2011 Ensign magazine to her children. One of the articles mentioned a young man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who worked selling bananas for four years to raise the $250 required to buy a passport so he could serve a mission.

“We donate it straight to the LDS missionary fund, and they can distribute it however they need or feel is appropriate," Parks said.

Parks said she is grateful to have been able to contribute her time and talents in organizing the race, even when things were “crazy” after her husband lost his job and she had to balance being a full-time student, a full-time race director and full-time mom of five kids under the age of 13.

“Everyone thinks it is wealthy people who make donations," Parks wrote in an email. "But it is ‘saints’ ... people who understand the vision and help how they can. I am grateful to help how I can, too. This has provided a way for me to give of my time and talents where I couldn’t give monetarily at the time."

Parks said she plans to make the race an annual event. The 2014 race is scheduled for Sept. 27.

For more information, visit www.saintsandsinnershalf.com.