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An estimated 4,500 Orange County students completed the final mile of the Kids Run the OC on Saturday during the 10th annual OC Marathon at the OC Fair & Event Center.
The students, from 82 schools and Boys & Girls Clubs, began preparing 10 to 12 weeks ago with semiweekly exercise sessions. The students ran about 2 miles a week leading up to marathon weekend, when they ran their final mile for a total 26.2 miles.
About one-third of participating students are from South Orange County, said Angie Rowe, director of Kids Run the OC.
"We had a beautiful day, and the kids had a lot of fun," Rowe said. "It was really great."
Kids Run the OC provides activities for volunteer coaches to use beginning in February, including games and nutritional challenges that encourage kids to try healthy foods.
Second-grade teachers Angie Kilroy and Janet Hancock have been coaching running for about two years at Canyon Vista Elementary School in Aliso Viejo.
The entire campus participates in the Kids Run the OC training as part of physical education class.
"A lot of them said that because we had done so much training, it was a lot easier than they thought it would be," Kilroy said after Saturday's run.
Thirty-four students from San Clemente's Marblehead Elementary School also ran their final mile in the weekend event.
The school has 42 members in its after-school running club, but some of the students had other commitments and weren't able to attend the race.
Rowe said about 10 percent to 15 percent of students miss the Kids Run the OC event each year, but they are allowed to run the final mile later to earn a marathon medal.
Marblehead Elementary Principal Faith Morris, who ran the half-marathon Sunday, said she was proud of her students. "Already they're saying, 'We want to do it again next year.' "
At a recent training session, the running club members completed an exercise circuit, with students stopping every 20 seconds for a round of jumping jacks, pushups, bicycle crunches and a final crab walk to a drinking fountain to hydrate.
After the circuit, they earned miles by playing running games like tag.
"I like running around the field," Marblehead first-grader Jadyn McGinley said. "Every time I run around the field, it feels like I get more energy."
Running is a great activity because runners don't need any equipment other than running shoes, Rowe said.
The marathon program also teaches delayed gratification and goal-setting, Morris said.
"Running is unique," Morris said. "It's just about you getting a little better. It's about improving yourself."
More than 17,500 students have joined Kids Run the OC since the program started in 2004.
In the past four years, student participation in the program has jumped by 216 percent, according to the group.
"They're so thrilled," Morris said Tuesday of the Marblehead students. "Several came to school with their medals on yesterday, and some still had their (timing system) chips on their shoes. They didn't want to take them off."
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