Before the Marathon, Students Run in Central Park

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The air was crisp, too cold for shorts and T-shirts. On Thursday morning, most of those walking through Central Park were bundled up in scarves and hats — but some young runners braved sleeveless jerseys. They were among the 1,000 or so New York City schoolchildren who had come to race in the 13th annual Run With Champions, an event that will help kick off the New York City Marathon on Sunday.

Most of the participants, however, were happy to slip on the extra layer of orange T-shirts provided by the event’s sponsors, the New York Road Runners and ING, through ING’s Run for Something Better’s Orange Laces program.

The students took part in a 400-meter and a one-mile race, and they were cheered on by Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott, who recently said he planned to run in the New York City Marathon for the first time on Sunday.

For schools like the Community School for Social Justice in the Bronx, participating in Run With Champions meant more than just a day off from school. Limited financing for physical education makes exercise a rarity for the school’s students, said Matt McKenna, an 11th-grade social studies teacher and co-coach of the school’s Run With Champions team. The school's physical education classes are "nonexistent," Mr. McKenna said. "This is their gym program. So training for this was a great opportunity for them to get some physical activity.”

Maisha Cadet-Duval, the physical education teacher and coach at Public School 57 James Weldon Johnson in East Harlem, said that with high obesity and high asthma rates in her area, opportunities like this were getting more attention. Ms. Cadet-Duval said that her students had been asking her for more opportunities to run, like Allan Sacaza, 13, and eighth-grader.

“Running gives me a sense of pride," Allan said. "That I can do it, do anything. I feel stronger. Better. I use speed as a challenge, and run to show that I can succeed in life.”

Asked if he would run the New York City Marathon someday, Allan said: “I know I will.”