RICHLAND -- Eric Greager's first 5-kilometer road race was in 1981, a new event called the St. Patrick Day Foot Race.
"I went back in 1982 and enjoyed it," he said. "In 1983, I didn't see anything about it. So I called up the guy who was the head of the local running organization, and he said there wasn't going to be a race because there wasn't a race director."
Greager immediately volunteered.
"I was dumb enough to do it, and I've been doing it ever since," he said.
Saturday's event, set for 9:30 a.m. for the Leprechaun Dash and 10 a.m. for the 10K and 5K, will be Greager's 30th year as the race's director.
Now, some people might wonder that since St. Patrick's Day actually falls on March 17, a Saturday, why isn't the race then?
"It's always been the Saturday before," Greager said. "The parking lot for the restaurants (R.F. McDougall's and Kimo's) is always packed on St. Patrick's Day."
There are very few races in the Mid-Columbia with as much staying power than the St. Patrick Day Foot Race.
Only the Columbia River Classic and the Cable Bridge Runs are older.
But Greager and his group, the 3 Rivers Road Runners, have had some fun with this race. Normally, it's the first running event of the year in the Mid-Columbia.
"We had a couple hundred competitors that first year," he said. "This year, between the three races, it looks to be between 1,800 and 2,000 competitors."
That includes the 1-mile Leprechaun Dash, something Greager started 23 years ago.
"Back then, I had kids that were at a certain age that I wanted to make more opportunities for them," he said. "I wanted to expand something for them that they could be involved in."
It's grown to about 800 elementary and middle school kids, and there is no entry fee for them.
"The entry fees we charge for the St. Paddy's Day race go back to the schools," Greager said.
The top three schools that have at least 100 participants -- who finish -- can earn money for their school's physical education department.
"This year, first place earns $2,000, second place is $1,300, and third place is $700," he said. "The only stipulation is they have to use the money to buy P.E. equipment."
Last year, White Bluffs Elementary won for the second year in a row, and the school used the money to offset the costs of its climbing wall.
"Right now, White Bluffs and Cottonwood are neck-and-neck, with each over a couple hundred," he said.
The Leprechaun Dash provided Greager with one of his favorite memories a few years back.
"I was driving back from setting up the Leprechaun Dash course, and the race started while I was driving back," Greager said. "I had to pull over because 500 kids were running by me."
When Greager got back to the start-finish line, he asked his crew why the race started early, before the gun even went off.
"Someone said 'They were like racehorses. They started jumping around, getting nervous. Then 10 of them took off, then 50 followed. Then they all went.'"
While Greager has directed this race for 30 years, it's not his only event. In fact, he's race director for 13 events on the 3 Rivers race calendar this year.
"It's just something now that I have had enough experience with it, it's not as hard," Greager said. "We have a great group of volunteers, a great base of sponsors."
The volunteer group is so strong that Greager, 58, feels comfortable competing in many of his own events.
"What Eric is good about is he will get a committee together," said Jim Peterson, another member of the 3 Rivers group. "He delegates really well."
Greager's favorite events to run, though, are the multi-sport events that run in the spring and summer -- such as the Rage in the Sage Duathlon on April 14, the Fiasco in Pasco Duathlon on May 12, and the Righteous Richland Sprint Triathlon on June 30.
"The multi-sport events, every one is different," he said. "I love the swimming, biking and running aspects. They all offer something unique."
But he still holds a special place in his heart for Saturday's race.
"I have no plans to give it up at this point," he said.
NOTE: Late registration is still available at the Richland Shilo Inn from 4:30-6:30 p.m. today, and again on race morning from 7:30-9:30 a.m. inside Kimo's. ... Late entry fee for the 10K and 5K is $15. ... Runners can pick up their race packets at the Richland Shilo Inn between 4:30-6:30 p.m. today.