Every summer, thousands of people throughout Sonoma County decide to hit the road — without ever backing the family car out of the garage.

Those who prefer to travel fast by foot will find a full slate of running events, whether they're out to compete, get some exercise or just have some fun.

The Empire Runners Club, founded in 1975, is 1,000 members strong now and puts on two dozen races a year. But its biggest one by far is the Kenwood Footrace on July 4.

"Our flagship event is the Kenwood Footrace," said Chris Mason, a member of the club's board of directors. "It's bigger, with more spectators. It's also in conjunction with Kenwood's Fourth of July celebration, so it's very community oriented."

The club also puts on smaller events, including the Salmon Creek Beach Runs on Aug. 3 at Bodega Bay.

"We put on our own races, and our membership also participates in almost every local race as well. We're about supporting the running community as a whole, not just our events," Mason said.

Coming up in late August, the Santa Rosa Marathon, presented by True Grit Running and De Loach Vineyards, offers runners a chance to qualify for next year's Boston Marathon.

But the event is also open to participants who just want to run for the fun of it, with both a half-marathon and 5-kilometer race available as well.

"You've got people who want to walk the 5K and the families that want to participate by running or jogging. Obviously, we've got competitive runners, but we've also got kids who want to go out for the day," said Orhan Sarabi, race director for the Santa Rosa Marathon.

Here's a rundown of some of the summer's most notable runs:

<strong>July 4 — Kenwood Footrace.</strong> The Empire Runners Club's annual event attracts as many as 1,400 participants a year. Check-in and race day registration starts at 6 a.m., followed by the 3-kilometer run at 7:30 a.m. and the 10-kilometer run at 7:33 a.m. Both races start and finish at Kenwood Plaza Park, 170 Warm Springs Road, Kenwood. The Kenwood Rotary Club plans a party after the race, with live music, food, beer and games, starting around noon at Kenwood Plaza Park. <a href="http://kenwoodfootrace.com" target="_blank">kenwoodfootrace.com</a>.

<strong>Aug. 3 — Salmon Creek Beach Runs.</strong> One of the smaller runs, also staged by Empire Runners Club, this 38th annual event features 5-mile and 2-mile runs starting at 10 a.m. at Salmon Creek State Beach at Bodega Bay. The entry fee is $15. Online registration, due July 31, is free for club members and costs $10 for others. A potluck beach blanket picnic follows the running events. <a href="http://empirerunners.org/clubevents" target="_blank">empirerunners.org/clubevents</a>.

<strong>Aug. 10 — Water to Wine Run.</strong> This half-marathon starts at 7 a.m. at the Kendall Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens, 5007 Fulton Road, Santa Rosa, and finishes there. This year's new course is mostly paved, with two off-road sections through vineyards on hard-packed dirt roads. Online registration, closing Aug. 9, costs $80 before June 1, $90 before July 1, $100 before Aug. 1, and $120 after Aug. 1. No registrations accepted on race day. This is the second race in a series of three half-marathon races. The Windsor Half-Marathon was held May 18, and the Healdsburg Half-Marathon will be Oct. 12. <a href="http://runwinecountry.com" target="_blank">runwinecountry.com</a>.

<strong>Aug. 24 — Santa Rosa Marathon.</strong> Some 5,000 runners are expected at the sixth annual event this year. The day includes not only the full 26.2-mile run, starting at 6 a.m., but also the 13.1-mile half-marathon, starting at 7 a.m. A 5-kilometer run through downtown Santa Rosa starts at 8 a.m. All three races start at Santa Rosa's Juilliard Park, on South A Street. The marathon and half-marathon both loop through the Prince Memorial Greenway, returning to the park.

A post-race festival follows in Juilliard Park from to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with food and beer available.

Registration costs $120 for the half-marathon and $135 for the marathon. For the 5-kilometer run, early registration ends Aug. 17 and costs $40 for adults and $15 for age 16 and younger, and same-day registration costs $50 for adults and $25 for age 16 and younger.

Information, advance registration: 542-4500, <a href="http://thesantarosamarathon.com" target="_blank">thesantarosamarathon.com</a>.

<strong>Sept. 14 — Clo-Cow Half-Marathon and 5K.</strong> The fourth running of both events starts on Kentucky Street between B Street and Western Avenue in downtown Petaluma. The half-marathon starts at 7 a.m. and the 5-kilometer run starts at 7:10 a.m. The course takes runners thorough downtown Petaluma and the surrounding farm country and rolling hills.

Registration for the half-marathon costs $82 through July 31; $86 through Aug. 30; $89 through Sept. 14; $89 on race day. For the 5-kilometer run, it costs $30 through Aug. 14, and $33 through Sept. 14 and on race day. <a href="http://clocowhalf.com" target="_blank">clocowhalf.com</a>.

<em> You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com.</em>