More than 1,300 children sprinted toward the finish line during the annual Kids Fun Run in Mill Race Park, kicking off the first running event of Mill Race Marathon weekend in Columbus.

Novah Ulm, a sixth-grader at Schmitt Elementary School, was participating in the Fun Run for the third time, along with her 9-year-old sister Eisley, who is a third-grader at Schmitt. The sisters both said they enjoy participating for the fun atmosphere it provides and had plenty of support from their parents Whitney and Josh Ulm.

“I think it’s important for the health aspect — to keep healthy and active and for the fun of it,” Whitney Ulm said. “I think it’s more of a challenge for themselves and making sure they finish the race.”

Children were divided into five different categories during the Fun Run: tots, prekindergarten and kindergarten, first and second grade, third and fourth grade and fifth and sixth grades.

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This year’s participation level far exceeds the 1,286 runners the event had two years ago and continues to be popular among participants and their families, said Randy Stafford, who organized the fun run event now in its fifth year.

Family members ranging from parents, grandparents and other individuals, gathered outside barricades at the starting line taking pictures with their cameras and cellphones, eventually crossing Mill Race Park toward the finish line area once each respective race got underway.

There also was plenty of noise and excitement among eager runners as they dashed from the starting line as onlookers cheered them on. Columbus resident Pam Langfermall came to watch her 5-year-old grandson Drew Dobbs participate in the event for the first time.

Langfermall clapped and cheered on her grandson as he made it past the finish line, picking up a medal and banana as a consolation prize. She also was enjoying the atmosphere around her.

“It’s just fun to see so many people involved,” she said.

Dobbs’ parents, Julie and Matt, also were full of smiles as their Parkside Elementary School kindergartener finished the race. Julie Dobbs said there was plenty of excitement in her household leading up to the event.

“It’s all he’s talked about all week,” she said.

Drew Dobbs, who also participates in soccer, is planning to participate again in the future and said he enjoyed being able to run.

The Fun Run on Friday evening was the fourth time for Lane Rush, a third-grader at Parkside Elementary School.

Rush said she enjoys the event that allows her to be active and was joined by her mother Theodosia Rush, who noted that it didn’t matter how her daughter placed in the end.

“I want fitness to be fun and I want her to know she can do it,” she said.

Stafford said that he enjoys seeing the excitement out of the kids who gather each year.

“They’re ready to go and they’re excited,” he said.

Stafford said the overall goal is to provide participants with an experience that’s fun, but to promote a healthy lifestyle as well.

“We do it as a free event to try to get awareness of physical activity,” he said. “We try to make it a festival atmosphere.”

Today's Mill Race Marathon events

5:30 to 6:30 a.m.: Packet pickup and registration at The Commons, 300 Washington St.

6:45 a.m.: Gear check open at The Commons

7:10 a.m.: Opening ceremony

7:30 a.m.: Marathon and half-marathon begin

8 a.m.: Start of 5K

9:30 a.m.: 5K overall and 5K Road Runners Club of America State Championship overall awards ceremony on Finish on Fourth stage

9:30 a.m.: 5K bicycle giveaway drawing for 5K finishers at Finish on Fourth stage — immediately following the 5K overall awards (must be present to win)

10 a.m.: Finish on Fourth After Party kicks off with live music

11:30 a.m.: Marathon and half-marathon overall awards ceremony at Finish on Fourth Stage

2:20 p.m.: Marathon course officially closes

3:50 p.m.: Road Runners Club of America State Championship marathon awards.

4 p.m.: Grand prize truck giveaway drawing at Finish on Fourth stage (must be present to win)

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com