Mini marathoners

A marathon runner who teaches kindergarten at California Elementary School is leading about 60 kids on a 26-mile journey of their own.

Vikki Clifford will run the OC Marathon on May 5, but the day before, she'll be cheering on students from her school's running club in a race of their own.

She knows it's a lot to take on. "By the time I get home, I'm saying, 'There's a race I have to run tomorrow, and I'm dead," she said.

California Elementary students from kindergarten to sixth grade are training every week for the Kids Run the OC event, when they will run a final mile to cap off 13 weeks of preparation.

They run the equivalent of a mile each Friday at school and have homework to run the equivalent of a mile at home.

The last stretch on May 4 will be the final one to accumulate the 26 miles of a standard marathon race.

"For a lot of these kids, this is their first race," said Clifford, who started coaching kids in the program at Killybrooke Elementary School four years ago.

On Friday, training meant playing Simon Says, crab walking across the lawn and chasing each other in a game of tag.

"It's fun because there are lots of games and running," fifth-grader Chris Aback said.

But there's also a healthy dose of training mixed in for the kids to work on their form, stamina and agility.

Chris doesn't mind that either.

"I want to be more faster in the future," he said.

Kids Run the OC organizes the race around the marathon at the Orange County Fairgrounds each year.

Much like participation in California's running club, the number of kids entering is growing.

This year there are 4,500 students total with 424 from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, according to Kids Run the OC.

Parent and teacher volunteers coach the program at school districts across the county.

After 13 weeks of training and doing homework assignments on nutrition like trying to cut their saturated fat intake, the students will cross the finish line with a medal for their work.

"It's all about dedication," Clifford said.

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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