Kidsday reporters Brendan Riordan and Annemarie Jones, both of Williston Park, with Olympic runner Jenny Simpson in Central Park on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Pat Mullooly

On Friday morning, the Rising New York Road Runners organization hosted more than 1,000 school kids from New York City, and the surrounding areas, in a series of youth program races. The races were held at the finish line of the New York City Marathon in Central Park which is being held on Sunday. While the marathon racers will run 26.2 miles, the race distances for the children were ¼ mile and 1 mile.

Kids raced with bibs just like the marathon runners will do on Sunday and at the end of the race every kid got a medal. There were humongous tents that held lots of fun activities inside. Inside the tents were shops and a giant wall with every runner’s name on it. There were at least 50,000 names on the wall, including our assistant principal, Julie O’Connell, who is running in her first marathon. We saw many people from all over the world who came to New York to take part in the big race.

We ran the ¼-mile race. The weather was perfect for running. It wasn’t too hot or too cold. The temperature was about 70 degrees when we ran at 10:30 a.m. It was fun racing other kids because it felt great to be exercising and the environment was exciting. In Central Park, we were surrounded by many big buildings and the scenery of the park was delightful.

As we approached the finish line, there were lots of people cheering. There is an arch over the finish line. At the top of the arch there are cameras and speakers that will capture the sights of the marathon and let spectators know how the race is going. Next to the finish line there is a large video board that will transmit images of the marathon to people cheering in Central Park.

After we caught our breath at the end of the race, we had the opportunity to interview Jenny Simpson. Simpson is one of America’s best female athletes. She represented the United States in the past three Summer Olympics: 2008 in Beijing, 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. She won a bronze medal in the 1500 meters in Rio.

Jenny told us that she met Jackie Joyner-Kersee when she was in elementary school. “She is the greatest track and field athletic woman of all time. Getting to meet her was really inspiring to me.”

Jenny said that she always enjoyed running. “I loved running before I realized that I was going to be good at it competitively. In elementary school I just loved going out and running. When I got to high school, I finished seventh at the state championship in cross country. That’s when I really got the bug and I thought if I could come in seventh as a freshman, who knows what I could do in my sophomore year and beyond.”

Jenny believes in setting goals for herself and then working on a plan to achieve the goal. “Every single year I pick a distance and I say I want to run the fastest time of my life in this distance this year. So every year I am trying to get faster.”

Jenny had a warm heart and a fun personality. She looked like she had an extreme amount of energy. She is a champion on and off the track!

This Sunday is the NYC Marathon. It was so exciting for us as reporters to run a ¼-mile race, and we can only imagine how exciting it would be to complete 26.2 miles. As we watch the runners this Sunday we wish them the best of luck.