Seems a 26-mile race before sunrise isn't torture enough. The Valley of the Sun Marathon, set for Sunday, March 9, also features a half-marathon, 5K run, walks, kids' K and four-person relay. Starting at 4 a.m., participants will be bused from Red Mountain High School, 7301 East Brown in Mesa, to the starting line at Usery Mountain Park. Entry fees range from $23 for the 5K to $70 for the marathon and $170 for the relay. Marathoners, half-marathoners and relay runners claim bib numbers at the Health Expo on Saturday, March 8, at Mesa's Centennial Center, 201 North Center. Call 480-657-5373 or see www.valleyofthesunmarathon.com. Jill Koch
Chicago Cubs fete loyal fans
There is a very good chance that the term "long-suffering" was created specifically to describe Chicago Cubs fans, a group whose loyalty in the face of long-term mediocrity is both slightly disturbing and fiercely admirable. With former San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker on board for 2003, hope once again springs eternal. Will this year be any different?Decide for yourself at the free Chicago Cubs Spring Training Fan Fest on Monday, March 10, from 2 to 4 p.m. at HoHoKam Park, 1235 North Center in Mesa. Rub elbows with your favorite players, discuss trade possibilities with general manager Jim Hendry, vie for the opportunity to meet All-Star Sammy Sosa, and feel the love of kindred spirits whose capacity for suffering mirrors yours. Following the festivities, get a sneak peek at the 2003 squad when the Cubs take the field against the defending American League Western Division champion Oakland A's. Game time is 7:05 p.m., and tickets are $5 to $15. For details about Fan Fest, call 480-644-4451. - Craig Wallach
When in Roam
Come rain or shine, Saturday, March 8, will be a beautiful day for a walk. We're betting on sunshine, though, and so are an expected 4,500 participants in the 15th annual MS "Walk on the Wild Side" fund raiser. Beginning at Salt River Project, 1600 North Priest in Tempe, and proceeding through the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden, the 10K walk is a chance to get some exercise while strolling with friends through beautiful scenery, all to benefit the Desert Southwest Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The minimum pledge is $25, but you'll surely raise more money if you contact everyone in your e-mail address book using the online "Epledge" option at www.dsw.nmss.org. Registration starts bright and early at 6 a.m., and the walk runs from 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. To register in advance as an individual walker or team captain, visit the Web site or call 480-968-2488. Michele Laudig
Arizona Bicycle Club
Fetch that bicycle from the basement of the Alamo and strip those silly streamers from the handlebars the open road is calling.
The Arizona Bicycle Club hits the pavement this weekend for its 23rd Annual Gila Valley Tour; the two-day ride leaves from the Litchfield Park School parking lot, 553 East Plaza Circle, at 8 a.m. Saturday, March 8. Riders can plan to cover about 67 miles of fairly flat Gila River Valley terrain each day. Support-and-gear drivers will lighten the load by transporting luggage and keeping a watchful eye.
Saturday's leg includes two rest stops and lunch at Gillespie Dam; the overnight stay in Gila Bend promises a barbecue, hot-tubbing at the Space Age Motel, and decadence at the local Dairy Queen. It's back on the bikes for an 8 a.m. departure on Sunday; the day's breathers include breakfast at the Orbit Restaurant and a stop at the Desert Rose Bar.