Thousands of cups of water awaited runners participating in the Mill Race Marathon, but the first that were offered came from a group of girls who are just finding their running stride.

About a dozen representatives of Columbus’ Girls on the Run program had the water ready at Water Station 1 of Saturday’s marathon, located at Third and Brown streets, prompting some smiles from runners at their enthusiastic offering of water cups and their willingness to get splashed when runners dumped their water on their heads.

The girls had 3,000 cups of water waiting for runners, who started their day when it was in the mid-60s but temperatures rose into the mid to upper 70s as the morning progressed.

The Girls on the Run water station was located at Mile 3 of the race, when runners needed a splash of hydration — to drink or over their head, as the girls learned quickly.

Eleanor Russell, 10, said she had been looking forward to helping out at the marathon, and has fallen in love with running. She’s a three-year member of Girls on the Run and a student at Mt. Healthy Elementary School.

Juliana Bernabe, who coaches the Southside Elementary School Girls on the Run, encouraged the girls to practice proper water stop protocol, holding the full cups of water with the tips of their gloved fingers and letting the runners grab the cups from them.

“That was my mom,” one girl yelled as a runner passed by.

A runner approached the line of girls eagerly offering water yelling, “Water, does anyone have some water?”

A little further down the race course, in front of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, volunteers from Terrace Lake Church of Columbus and Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from Pack 557 were hoping they wouldn’t run out of water before all the runners passed by the Mile 6 marker.

“We are going to be close,” said Dave Chapman, who was leading the volunteers and in normal life is a claims adjuster for Farmers Insurance in Columbus.

Scouts were holding up empty Culligan water jugs as runners approached, and the volunteers had the pleasure of listening to a praise band at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church as they splish-splashed through their water-stop shift.

“We’ve definitely got a great place here,” Chapman said of the music and how much fun his crew was having.

Further down from the water-distribution site, scouts were using rakes to make piles of discarded water cups and then playing a game of how many cups they could throw into the trash in a row.

The water stations proved to be essential in Saturday’s temperature conditions.

Course organizers declared a yellow warning at 9:30 a.m., indicating medium risk for heat illnesses, and asking runners to be aware of their pace, slow down and hydrate. At 9:50 a.m., they moved the warning to a red flag, high risk, and again asked runners to slow down and take their time.

By 10 a.m., mobile medics on bicycles had been sent out to three reports of runners on the course who might be having heat-related issues. Indiana State Police, Columbus police and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputies were monitoring the conditions of runners as they passed through intersections on the course, and bicycle riders were riding along groups of runners to keep tabs on anyone who might be having difficulty on the course.

One of the advantages of having the first water station of the marathon is that volunteers complete their assignment early, far before other water stops closed. The Girls on the Run station was closing at about 8:45 a.m. after handing out thousands of cups of water.

Laura Moses, the health and fitness director at Foundation for Youth, which sponsors the Girls on the Run program, said the water stop was about more than just a few hours of standing in the street handing out cups of water.

“They’re practicing a part of their curriculum, about public service,” she said.

At the end of this year’s program, each Girls on the Run participant runs a 5k with her friends, and will pass by a water stand where someone will hand them cups of water, just as they did to help marathon participants on Saturday.

“That’s what this is all about,” she said. “They’re serving their community.”

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.