Celebratory 5K in Carmel Valley wraps up successful family summer running club season


By Karen Billing

A joyful, celebratory 5K was held on the Solana Highlands School field on Aug. 22 to cap off the end of a family summer running club. Parent Sheri Kono, who runs the successful running club for students during the school year, has always had a goal to get kids running outside of school. This summer she succeeded, getting kids up early twice a week on their summer vacation mornings to get active, running, walking and sometimes skipping.

The summer running club consisted of more than just Solana Highlands students — it included moms, dads, younger and older siblings, aunts and even one inspiring grandma, Alicia Gutierrez, a stage IV breast cancer survivor who barely missed a club session with her grandson Ryan Vincent.

Kono said she has enjoyed seeing parents make the time to promote fitness to their kids as well as improve their own.

“We even have a couple of moms who have lost a significant amount of weight during the summer as this has been part of a new fitness and health journey for them,” Kono said. “It’s been such a privilege to have the opportunity to run this program this summer.”

During the recent 5K event, participants ran and walked and hitched piggy bag rides for 11 laps around the field, plus a little section of the basketball court. Many wore the bright neon yellow running club T-shirts Kono sold to help pay for the 5K medals that were placed around each participant’s neck at the finish. Solana Highlands Principal Jerry Jones even stopped by to congratulate runners.

Everybody received a goody bag at a post-race celebration and Kono was amazed at the support from local businesses, which generously donated prizes for a raffle, including Beach Grass Café (owned by Solana Highlands parents Cindy and Dave Nelson), Einstein Bagels, Carmel Valley Swirls and Sports Clips.

Friends of Kono also donated passes to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, and two heart rate monitor watches as prizes.

Jimbo’s donated bananas for the runners and there were some granola treats available from Bear Naked courtesy of Dave Lamb. Lamb is a 65-year-old San Diego runner, who is also known as “Kashi Dave” as he was featured in a national Kashi commercial touting good health and the fact that he has run nearly 800 races, despite the fact that he did not start to exercise until he was in his 30s. He travels the country to run but included a stop in Carmel Valley in his busy race schedule, cheering on the young runners.

The summer run club has had more than 60 participants in all, with about 25 to 35 attending each morning. Kono was pleased that so many people fit the club into their busy summer schedules — even Kono’s husband Saphian (not a runner and not an early riser) came out to join Sheri and their children, Sara and Sean, on the run.

In addition to running laps around the field, Kono mixed up the run club sessions with sprints, stairs, hill repeats and relay races. At the end of a run club outing, everyone played handball, even the parents.

Stella Syng said daughter Michi, an incoming first grader at Solana Highlands, held her accountable to make the twice-weekly workouts.

“We’ve gone to every running club except for one, it is a family event and I couldn’t let her down,” Syng said. “She’s up on Tuesdays and Thursdays asking, ‘Are we going to running club?’ That’s what got me back into shape.”

At the beginning of the summer club members went through a time trial for one lap around the field, a little over a quarter of a mile. On their last day before the 5K they did the same time trial and nearly everyone improved their time, some by as much as a half a minute.

“It was neat to see the progress,” Kono said. “It’s incredible how fast kids at this age can progress.”

While the 5K wasn’t about time or winning, the first finisher was Sophie Levi, a freshman cross country runner at Torrey Pines High, who ran the 3.1-mile course in 26.20. Sophie could be seen on the loop running alongside and encouraging her little brother Dani.

Mom Michal said that Sophie has encouraged the entire family to start running after she joined the Girls on the Run running group. The entire Levi clan, including dad David, took part in the summer club, and Sophie said she couldn’t be more grateful to Kono for starting such a fun program.

“It is amazing what she has done this summer, on her own time,” Michal said. “She was so encouraging every time, she believes in everyone. Sheri is so passionate about running, it is so contagious.”

Kono also started a Moms Run Club last year that meets at the school after morning drop-off two or three times a week. This fall, the Moms Run Club members have set a goal to run a half marathon — Sheri is training for her first full marathon in October.

Anyone interested in starting to run or setting new running goals is welcome and encouraged to join.

For more information or to join, contact sherikono@yahoo.com.