For five seventh-graders at Walter Reed Middle School, the hardest part about running Sunday's Los Angeles Marathon is that they have to stop halfway.
"Our parents are worried about us," said Jean-Camille Kollmorgen. "But we think we can run the whole thing and be just fine."
For now, 13 miles will have to be enough for this crew. They'll leave the whole 26-mile run to their teammate David Kanoy, at 14 the oldest and most experienced runner on the squad.
This group is not an aberration. This year about 1,200 middle school students will compete in the 13th L.A. Marathon because of Students Run L.A., an after-school intervention program for at-risk youth.
There are about a dozen of these groups in schools throughout the Valley and most of the students involved will start and finish the marathon as they have every year since the program's inception in 1989. In fact, since that year, more than 7,500 students have participated in the program.
"These kids are exercising, setting goals for themselves and getting involved in something positive," said Rachel Grose, developmental director for the program.
However, Jean-Camille, David and teammates Katherine Livshin, Evette Roldan, Ben Stone, and Temma Healey are not thinking about the trouble they are avoiding by running a few days a week after school.
They are thinking about the marathon, about starting off in a pack of mostly adults, jostling and elbowing for position. They are thinking about how they want to remain in a group together and about the smiling faces of their family and friends when they cross their finish line.
"I'm really psyched for Sunday," Stone said. "We've been training hard since September. This is the day we've been waiting for."
Coach Andy Washington has no reason to believe her squad won't be successful.
"What they lack in experience and size, they make up for in heart," she said.
* MARATHON GRAPHIC: B16