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Run, Ritta, run! Elementary students prepare for race weekend ahead of Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon

It's a marathon, not a sprint, right? That's what dozens of elementary school runners are learning as they prepare for a one-mile race to kick off marathon weekend.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — At Ritta Elementary School in East Knox County, these students know that gym class is a marathon, not a sprint.

"We don't sprint. If you don't sprint you're gonna be able to go longer without getting tired okay," said physical education teacher Ryan Ibbotson.

It's good advice as Ibbotson coaches about 60 Ritta students for the one-mile kids run ahead of the 2021 Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon.

He said the running bug hit Ritta a few years ago.

"We were promoting it and trying to get as many Ritta students out there because I was training for the half marathon, and they all kind of just jumped in and joined," said Ibbotson.

When some of the kids ran the one-mile race at Zoo Knoxville at that time, they were hooked.

"I like running because it's a good exercise," said second grader Jemma.

"It makes you faster when you pump your feet," said second grader Leighona.

"Half of my family did running track or cross country," said fifth grader Charlie.

"It's just a challenge for me," said fifth grader Bria.

The cross country team continues to grow at the school, with younger students working now to get onto the team in third grade.

Leighona also plays softball, but likes running because it gets her out of her desk.

"Because mostly you don't get to move in school. Not that much," she said.

Kids are definitely moving in gym class under Ibbotson's instruction.

"We're gonna do the running challenge. Three minutes, as many laps as you can," he said.

That's how Ibbotson starts classes as about 60 Ritta kids are working toward that one mile goal.

His goal? Just to get his students to like running.

"When I was growing up, running was always kind of a punishment in sports," he said. "You make an error, you miss a free throw, you're running. We don't want kids to despise it. So we're trying to keep it as fun as we can and try to get as many people involved with that lifetime fitness activity."

So far, what he's doing is working.

"I just like running a lot it's really fun to do," said second grader Jaharia.

Some students like Jemma have some big plans for running.

"One day I wanna be in the Olympics," she said.

If these young runners were in charge of awarding this weekend's full marathon participants, they have one thing in mind.

"Probably I would give them a big trophy that they would earn," said Leighona.

Trophy or not, they're just ready to have fun.

The Covenant Kids Run is at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 2.

The Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon starts at 7:30 am on Sunday, October 3.