SEASIDE, California -- "Running around the playground" means more than just "running around the playground" for students at Marshall Elementary School on Ord Military Community in Seaside, California.They're running towards a goal -- to collectively run enough miles to cross the United States and back before the end of the school year.On Fridays, Porter Youth Center staff bring before-school care students to Marshall Elementary School a little early so the children can join other students running laps around the playground.The weekly "Marshall Mustang Trot" is a Parent Teacher Association project to introduce children to running as a fun, healthy physical activity. It's sponsored by the Big Sur Marathon association's "Just Run" program."Parents will run with their kids, younger siblings run with older ones. Even teachers get out there," Jody Patterson, PTA Healthy Lifestyles Coordinator, said. "It's been great. The kids are really dedicated, they take it very seriously."They aren't the only ones. It takes a small army of PTA volunteers to run the project, tracking each student's mileage and entering it into a database to measure against the child's individual and school-wide goals."We run in circles, and they put notes on our cards so we know how far we ran," Isla Terry, a first-grade student, explained.Her goal is to run a "real race" someday, just like her mom, Air Force Master Sgt. Karen Jakubczak.
"I want to run one hundred miles," she said.Collectively, the students' miles are adding up, fast. Student runners marked a major milestone March 4, when Parent Teacher Association volunteers determined the students had reached the halfway-mark on their journey, running enough miles for a route from Monterey Bay to Boston Harbor.As the young runners get stronger, they're picking up speed -- the next week, the students tallied enough miles to run from Boston to Virgina.The kid's enthusiasm is infectious, and many adults are voicing their support."The teachers all say it's amazing how much calmer the kids are during the day," Elaine Vrolyks, PoM's School Liaison Services officer, said.Garrison commander, Col. Paul Fellinger is also cheering the kids' on. He's visited the kids several times during their training runs to offer advice, and encouragement."We challenged him to a race!" Jadon Biles, 10, said. "When we're ready.""I'm ready," Jack Reinke, 8, said. "I'm made with speed. I'm faster than a 5th grader!"Reinke's mother, Jennifer Reinke, said she's impressed by her son's progress."I hope he keeps it up," she said. "Hopefully all the kids at Marshall will be 'back in California' by the end of the school year."More than 128 Marshall parents and students have signed up to celebrate their progress - and add a few more miles to the tally - at the By the Bay 3K "Crab Crawl" fun run in Pacific Grove, California April 23.(For more information about "Just Run," visit http://www.justrun.org).