• group of students pose for a photo

      (Photo – Susan Rangel)

      A year ago, I got to interview most of the then team of 18. This year, the team consisted of 19, which included 10 returning runners. Their coach, teacher Veronica Yepez, brought the program to Blair.

      By Scott Phelps

      This year, Blair Students Run LA (SRLA) celebrated its 10th year! On March 17, 2024, they completed yet another LA Marathon.

      Eight months of training

      Current team parent Susan Rangel said “Four days a week, rain or shine, our dedicated team of young athletes gathers to push their limits, to test their endurance, and to strive for greatness. What truly sets this team apart, however, is not just their individual achievements, but their collective spirit of camaraderie and support.”

      The mission of Students Run LA is to challenge secondary students to experience the benefits of goal-setting, character development, adult mentoring, and improved health. The team starts training each August. They train three days during the week and on Saturdays for long runs. They start the year on the Blair track. Coach Yepez says, “We start with timed runs to get their aerobic capacity going, especially for those who are new. Weekday practices are dedicated to strength training, hills, speed, etc. Saturdays are for long runs. They run at various Pasadena locations and surrounding areas like the Arroyo trail and Henninger Flats.

      The team runs one race each month. The first race in September is a 5K, the following month a 10k, then a 15k, two half marathons (one of those is the Rose Bowl Half). In February they run a 30k leading the team up to the LA Marathon in March. One year was virtual because of COVID. Weekdays practices were virtual, the coaches organized all races, it wasn’t easy.

      The team runs in pace groups to help support and push each other along. Breck, a returning runner (5 time LA Marathon finisher), said that “in past years I didn’t like running by myself, so in my first year, in 7th grade I started running with two others. We became known as the triplets. We stayed together, helping each other in the races, including the marathon. The next year I ran with a group of 4. The following year I ran with Grayson, then with Darwin and Eduardo.” He has changed groups because his pace improves. This year Breck finished in 3:54.

      His teammate Ximena said “I really like the Rose Bowl Half Marathon.” Another student said “I like the Holiday Half Marathon, last year it was fun because it was raining the whole time. It kept me cool the entire time.” Coach Yepez said that for the Holiday Half Marathon, their shoes were already soaked from the rain before they started. All of the kids were ahead of her as she was doing the sweeper role that day. “The kids looked strong. That made me happy.”

      The longest practice run is 22 miles. They meet at 7:00 am at Sunset Beach and run through Huntington Beach. When the team finishes there’s a nice cheer squad of family members and a picnic organized by parents, with pizza, pasta, salad, and other goodies. This is a nice celebration to the end of many months of early morning practices.

      The L.A. Marathon

      Current team member Louden Rangel said “I never thought I’d run the LA Marathon, but I had my mind made up that this was going to be the year to do it! Being a part of the SRLA team is an amazing experience – from the coaches to the friends made. Looking forward to next year!”

      The motivation to return the next year

      This year there were 10 returning runners, 9 of whom joined since middle school. Coach Yepez asked them, “Why do you all return? You know it’s not easy. Why yet another season of commitment?” Valerie (2021-23) said “I feel like I return back because of the sense of community that I have. I showed myself what I was capable of, and we have this mindset that if we can complete a marathon, what else can we do? We learn to discipline ourselves. I feel like it improves our grades. If I can keep up with running, I can keep up with other things. Ever since I joined, I feel like I have a more organized schedule. I show up. I also have to make time for classwork.” Another student answered, “I like how it keeps you busy, and it’s something to look forward to, like the races. I have them in my calendar, and I am waiting for the day of the race, something to look forward to.” Coach Glenn said “I wouldn’t be running marathons if it wasn’t for the students. They are my why. The inspiration from them is immense.”

      Most challenging part

      Coach Yepez asked them what was the most challenging part? Jordan said “I fractured my arm in football and coming back was pretty hard. I had to not run for a month, and had to build back up.”  Another student said “The hardest part is showing up even on your hardest days. We don’t feel like running every day. Showing up for yourself and for the team, and being able to cheer them on. Sometimes we have bad days and we don’t feel like showing up, but it teaches us that you can’t let one little thing get in the way, like an excuse. Maintaining that mindset on the long runs, trying to talk yourself through the hardest parts of it, trying to push yourself.” Coach Yepez agreed, “Attendance is crucial, and self-talk takes place at high numbers of miles.”

      Rewards

      Students who take on this challenge prove to themselves that they can do hard things. They have grit.  Grades at school improve, self-esteem increases, and positive friendships are established. Families also experience the pride that sparks motivation as some join their kids in the training and races. This year Blair SRLA had 9 parents who joined the team in races.


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