Youth Programs History

The California International Marathon’s first beneficiary.

By 1987, thanks to wise Executive Board decisions, excellent race management, and generous sponsorship funds, there were sufficient event proceeds to warrant a decision about an appropriate charity. Various options were reviewed to determine ones that would benefit the CIM’s mission to promote and give back to running. Since the future of running depends on drawing our youngsters into the sport, a unanimous decision was made that youth fitness was the “winner.

The original 5K fun run, called the Celebrity 5K, was initially established in 1986 and was held on the day before the marathon at several locations, including Cal Expo. It attracted local media personalities as well as famous runners such as 1972 Olympic Gold Medal marathoner Frank Shorter and high school mile record holder Jim Ryun. Parents, marathoners’ friends, and many of the marathoners themselves participated often with their kids, causing the CIM board to realize that this event could be the centerpiece for a youth fitness program.

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Left:  Frank Shorter with fans at the 1987 CIM Celebrity 5K
Right:  TV Personality Beth Ruyak with Jim Ryun at the 1986 CIM Celebrity 5K

In the spring of 1988, Kenny King, the California International Marathon’s oldest finisher (77) at the time, passed away. Kenny King was an avid fitness buff his entire life, and when he retired at age 66, he took up running, saying, “I don’t want that old rocking chair to get me!” His son Ken King, Jr., found that running was a great way to enjoy his Dad’s company and the two of them became regulars at most of the Northern California running events. They both ran the inaugural CIM and the 1984 CIM. Then Kenny backed off a bit  and ran the early CIM Celebrity 5K Runs.


Kenny King
Letter written by Kenny King Jr. prior to the 1988 CIM:  PDF Click Here

They belonged to the Capital City Flyers,  and made a point of running the Bay to Breakers each year beginning in 1980. It was during his ninth Bay to Breakers in the spring of 1988 that Kenny died, just 100 yards from the finish line. Shortly thereafter, the Sacramento Long Distance Running Association, fully aware of Kenny’s dedication to the benefits of running, approached his son Ken about setting up a youth fitness program dedicated to his father. Ken wholeheartedly agreed, and in 1988 the CIM renamed the Celebrity 5K the “Kenny King Fun Run” and developed a youth running program, targeting eighth-grade kids and younger, to train to complete the 5K distance.

In the fall of 1988, the Kenny King Youth Fitness Program was launched in the San Juan School district and more than 1,000 kids signed up. It included distance goals, incentive rewards to run those distance, and had the primary mission to teach our children that “running is fun!” to help them establish running as a lifelong fitness tool.  Today’s program has exactly the same format and goal. Speed is not emphasized; enjoying the running and finishing each workout is.

The following year the program expanded countywide, and over the years more than 50,000 youth have participated. To tie the fun run more closely to the marathon, the distance was shortened to a catchy 2.62-miles and was titled “maraFUNrun.” Also connecting it to the marathon: if a youth ran the total distances recommended in the Youth Fitness Program, including the maraFUNrun, that child would have run a total of 26.2 miles!

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Left:  Start of maraFUNrun in 1988
Right:  Start of maraFUNrun in 2013

Many of the SRA’s youth fitness program “graduates” have started to return to the CIM as full-fledged marathoners. An inspiring example is the McCleneghan family. Muffet McCleneghan was an elementary school teacher and avid runner, who for many years coached a group of children from her school through the Youth Fitness Program. Among these children were her two daughters, who have since both run the CIM several times. In 2005, both Muffet and daughter Elizabeth won their age divisions!

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Left:  Elizabeth at the 2005 CIM
Right:  Muffet at the 2005 CIM

 In 2017, the SRA partnered with the premier youth fitness program in Sacramento – Runnin’ for Rhett. The partnership between the Sacramento Running Association and Runnin’ for Rhett features a fall training program specifically designed to train kids to run the CIM’s maraFUNrun 5k held on the same day as the marathon. The partnership will also encompass the entire school year as participating programs are encouraged to train from August to June. Fitness doesn’t stop in December!