St. Jude runners leave for Memphis (with photo gallery)

By WEEK Producer

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    WEEK's Lee Hall live from the St. Jude Memphis to Peoria Run departure. Lee will be sending back stories as he and his team work their way back from Memphis. You can catch them all week on WEEK.

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July 30, 2013 Updated Jul 30, 2013 at 8:23 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. --Tuesday morning's rain showers did not dampen any spirits ahead of this years St. Jude Memphis to Peoria Run.

With well deserved fan fare and a crowd of supporters, the runners began their journey to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Tuesday morning, runners gathered at the St. Jude run office and boarded a fleet of RV’s for the caravan to Memphis.

Once the runners arrive in Memphis, they will take a tour of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and meet some of the young patients.

Then, it's dinner and bedtime before they begin running, in shifts, back to Peoria early Wednesday morning.

There are many veteran St. Jude runners on this year's trip, including WEEK's own Lee Hall, Peoria County Sheriff Mike McCoy and Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis. They all took the time to speak with us ahead of the departure.

They said every year runners are motivated to participate in the grueling 4-day relay run by the chance to help children beat cancer here in central Illinois.

This year, however, runners will also be remembering a constant fighter in the battle against childhood cancer, Jim Maloof.

This year's race is the first without Maloof, who died in January at the age of 93. It is also the first time it has rained since the run began in 1982.

Some believe the rain may have been Maloof's way of making a special appearance.

"There's definitely a void without him being here this year because of his personality, his love for St. Jude and his total dedication, his whole life, to helping raise money for the kids," said McCoy.

"Probably a unique and somber experience for everybody but in some kind of weird way, I think just knowing Jim's up there keeping an eye on everybody all the way down and all the way back will be reassuring to us all," said St. Jude runner and Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis.

To help keep Maloof close by on the 465-mile run, runners will be sporting bright green shoelaces this year, a subtle reminder of their biggest cheerleader.

On Saturday, the group will be welcomed home as champions at the Peoria Civic Center to kick off the 36th Annual St. Jude Telethon.

You can catch all the coverage live from 6:30 p.m. to midnight this Saturday, August 3 on WEEK.

You can also call in a donation to help the children treated by St. Jude Children's Hospital.

To date, the St. Jude runs have raised more than $28 million.