j.d.sumner@albanyherald.com

j.d.sumner@albanyherald.com

Staff reports

news@albanyherald.com

ALBANY -- What do runners, bicyclists and rubber turtles have in common?

They'll all be off to the races this weekend as the annual Mardi Gras festival returns to downtown Albany, bringing with it a marathon, Gran Prix bike racing and a fundraiser that could be worth $1 million.

Meanwhile, downtown will be awash with food, activities and music, with live bands taking to the downtown stage and the nearby amphitheater from noon until past midnight Saturday.

Here's a look at what will be on tap this weekend, the busiest of the year downtown:

SNICKERS MARATHON

Saturday will start early for runners who participate in the 4th annual Snickers Marathon Energy Bar Marathon, which this year will be conducted in the memory of popular Albany Area Chamber of Commerce official Sara Underdown.

Known informally as "Albany's biggest cheerleader," Underdown died last summer from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In 2005 while battling the illness, Underdown became one of the moving forces behind bringing the Snickers races to Albany.

The race, a preliminary event for the Boston Marathon, has grown each year, with the number of entrants expected to 600 this Saturday, with another 500-plus expected for the half-marathon. Officials with the race say it has attracted participants from 36 states, including Georgia, along with entrants from Guam, Canada and Army Europe.

Last year's winner was James Boitt of Fairfax, Va., with a Snickers record time of 2 hours, 19 minutes and 1 second.

Proceeds from the marathon benefit the Willson Hospice House, which has been awarded $65,000 combined from the first three marathons.

The runners expo and registration packet pickup is 3 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday, followed by a pasta supper 4 p.m.-8 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn on Front Street.

On Saturday morning, crank and wheel chair racers are first out at 6:45 a.m., followed at 7 a.m. by the marathon and half-marathon runners.

The awards ceremony for the half-marathon will be at 11 a.m. at the Horace King Overlook off Front Street in Riverfront Park. Marathon awards will be presented in the same location at noon.

MARDI GRAS

The 8th annual Mardi Gras Festival kicks off at noon with a pet parade and opening ceremonies downtown.

The downtown area will have activities, food and entertainment until after midnight.

Performance schedule for the Main Stage on Broad Avenue includes:

1 p.m. -- Evan Butler and the Dead Gamblers;

2 p.m. -- P&W Trio

3 p.m. -- P&W Trio and Dusty Boots;

4 p.m. -- Dusty Boots;

5 p.m. -- Broken Glass;

6 p.m. -- Rollin in the Hay;

7:40 p.m. -- Southern Arts Music Ensemble;

9 p.m. -- Bo Henry Band;

11 p.m. Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Performance schedule for the Veterans park Amphitheater includes:

noon -- Jodi Mann;

1 p.m. -- The Levee Band;

2 p.m. -- Thick Ankle Nancy;

3 p.m. -- The Who Dawgies;

4 p.m. -- Gabriel and newspriest;

5 p.m. -- The Evergreen Family Band;

6 p.m. -- Revolution 9.

TURTLE RACE

At 4 p.m., 10,000 rubber turtles will be released at the Flint RiverQuarium for a downhill water slide race that will cash and merchandise prizes, including the chance at $1 million.

The turtles can be adopted for $5 each, with discounts for larger packages.

Prizes include $3,000 in cash; $100 in gas per month for a year; a $1,000 Public gift card; a Hobie Lanai kayak, and a Chick-fil-A combo meal each week for a year.

The race is fundraiser to benefit the RiverQuarium, which will offer admission Saturday for $5. There will also be live entertainment at the facility, along with food and activities such as a petting zoo and pony and train rides.

GRAN PRIX RACE

Regions bank's 5th annual Gran Prix bicycle race will be Saturday in downtown Albany and Sunday in Lee County.

The race, which carries a $7,500 prize purse, is a two-day, three-stage event. The time trial and criterium will be Saturday in downtown Albany, with 10 turns in a 3.1 kilometer course.

That will be followed by a 2 kilometer course through Albany in the race season's first criterium.

On Sunday, the road race through Albany and Lee County will cover a 54.5-kilometer loop.

SOUNDS OF PRAISE

The big weekend will end up with a day of activities from noon until 6 p.m. Sunday. Sounds of Praise in the Park 2010 in Riverfront Park will feature praise, worship, performances, games, food and activities.

The event is in the memory of fathers who have passed away from illness, war, public service or violent crimes.