Each year, people line the streets to cheer on participants in the Darien Road Race. Now in its 31st year, the annual fundraising event, which supports local social service organizations and cancer care centers at Norwalk and Stamford hospitals, is Sunday, Sept. 19, at Pear Tree Beach.

The official start time is 1 p.m. but Mary Green, co-chairwoman of the Road Race with Barb Simms, recommends arriving early to have time to register and warm-up. This year warm-up exercises will be led by two of the event's sponsors, The Moore Center for Rehabilitation and Equinox Fitness.

Green has been involved with the race since its inception. Back then, runners could choose from participating in a 20, 10 or 5 mile course. She said that its timing in the early fall was specifically chosen to assist athletes running in the New York Marathon with their training.

At that time, the Darien Road Race, which was then called "The Race for Hope," partnered with the American Cancer Society. Today the fundraiser supports the Bennett Cancer Center at Stamford Hospital and the Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital, and The Community Fund of Darien, a non-profit organization that distributes grants to social service agencies in Darien, Norwalk and Stamford.

Because the race morphed into a race that was more community-spirited, Green explained that organizers decided that the proceeds should go directly towards helping those in Darien and its neighboring communities.

For 60 years, the Community Fund of Darien has helped local agencies thrive by offering financial assistance.

"We work collaboratively with the community to address all of the needs of people in Darien and its surrounding towns," Executive Director Kiki Karpen said.

However, the Darien Road Race has also continued to support local cancer care centers.

Christine Simpson-Stone, one of the Community Fund's board members, and responsible for the Darien Road Race's media and public relations, feels it supports the community.

"Over time, the race has transitioned into what it is today: a great family day," she said.

To encourage more participants, the race course was changed to a 10-kilometer, or 6.2 miles, run and a 1.5 mile "fun run" called "The Loop."

"We did this so that everyone in the community could take part," Stone stated. "Families are welcome to come and just walk The Loop with their younger children."

Stone said that last year 450 runners of varying ages signed up for the race. "We've been very lucky, too, over the past couple of years to have great weather for this wonderful event," she added.

Atria, Darien, an independent assisted-living residence, provide awards at the end of the race. The Jim Fixx Award is given to the "top runner fundraiser" and a Grand Prize BMW bicycle is presented to the top individual fundraiser, Stone stated. Prizes will also be awarded to the oldest and youngest participants as well as "finish line" awards.

Although Green no longer runs in the race because of a chronic back injury, she stays involved, she said, because of its mission. "It's an important event for the entire Darien community. We are raising money and we are also informing people about the services available in and around Darien for those with cancer."

Sponsors of the Race set-up booths in a large tent donated by the Darien Boat Club and invite the public to pick up informative handouts and giveaways. Children enjoy participating in various games and activities, such as face painting. Refreshments are provided by the Darien Lions Club.

"This year we have 15 sponsors, including three new ones," Green said.

Green appreciates the community's support. "It's the kind of event that everyone wants to volunteer for," she said. "Each year we try to bring in new committee members just to keep the community spirit alive."

Registration for the Darien Road Race is $25 in advance and $30 on race day. Runners may pre-register at www.active.org or www.DarienRoadRace.org. Runners may also pre-register the day before the race, Saturday, Sept. 18, at The Community Fund of Darien located at 701 Post Road. The first 250 registrants receive a free tee-shirt.

For more information, contact The Community Fund at 203-655-8775, or Lisa@communityfunddarien.org or visit www.DarienRoadRace.org.