MONMOUTH-INDEPENDENCE -- Van Holstad used to be one of the many spectators who lined the streets at the annual Fourth of July Monmouth-Independence Mini-Marathon. Van Holstad Last year, he thought he'd finally give it a try -- as a runner.The Central High teacher and wrestling coach wasn't alone: joining him were his wife, Jeannine, son, Jackson, 14, and daughter, Grace, 11.Van didn't win the family battle -- that honor went to Jackson, who finished in a time of 19 minutes, 41 seconds, good for 10th in his age division -- but Jeannine took top honors in her division with a mark of 21:28.So, what's so special about this 2.6-mile race that brings nearly 500 community members, families and former area residents together? "It connects both of the communities," Van Holstad, who has been employed at CHS for 15 years, said. "It's Monmouth-Independence -- it's not one or the other."With the parade and the run, plus Central (High) is right in the middle of it, it's really kind of a symbol of both of the communities together as one."That's why I think it's so popular."The race is set for its 41st Fourth of July with an 11:30 a.m. start time Thursday in front of Monmouth City Hall on Main Street.From there, participants will head mostly downhill to Independence, where they will finish in front of Old City Hall on Monmouth Street.What started as a joke between longtime Monmouth historian Scott McArthur and former firemen Dee Bridges and Don Milligan as part of a Monmouth-based Olympic Games, the Mini-Marathon has blossomed since its inception in 1973. Shane Hedrick "I think the biggest thing is when people come back to town, it's a great way to do something you did when you were younger, plus you get to see everybody," Shane Hedrick, Central High's athletic director and football coach, said.Hedrick and his family used to be a primary factor in the race's operations when he volunteered CHS's athletes and coaches as the hand-held timing operation."It was crazy," Hedrick said of the hand-timing, which he led for the last time from 2008-11. "You'd have people coming through the finish line and you're calling out times and volunteers are writing down bib numbers, trying to keep people in order."The race finally outgrew its humble beginnings, and Hedrick & Co. handed the timing torch to an official race management company, Eclectic Edge Racing, in 2012.The Holstads -- at least Van, Jeannine and Jackson -- plan to run again this year to keep the Independence Day spirit, not to mention getting a little bit of exercise."I ran from my house last year right to the starting line, but I ended up having to wait for them to start," Van Holstad said."Jeannine and I are going to try to time it right this year -- we leave all of our stuff down by the finish line." FAMILY FUN RUN What: 2.6-mile, mostly downhill race that begins in front of Monmouth City Hall and ends at Old City Hall in Independence. The elevation drop from start to finish is 47 feet. When: Thursday, 11:30 a.m. Cost: $12 for adults and $5 for children 10 and under in advance; $20 and $10 on day of race. For more information: Terry Cable, 503-930-2360.