BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer BY TIM MORRISStaff Writer CHRIS KELLY staff St. Mary’s Courtney Carroll, 7, of Middletown, circles the Mater Dei High School track while participating in the Marathon Kids program, led by teacher Beth Fitzgerald. Like the pied piper, Beth Fitzgerald has everyone following her around the track. Fitzgerald, a physical education teach at St. Mary’s School in New Monmouth, and a marathon runner, found a way to make her students a part of her marathon training, and in the process, introduce them to the benefits of physical exercise. She was inspired to start Marathon Kids by an article in Runner’s World about a teacher who had gotten her students to run. Last year, while preparing for the New York City Marathon, Fitzgerald decided to start up Marathon Kids with the help of the school’s track coach, Mike Lunny. The turnout shocked them. This year 320 students, half of the school’s student body, are participating. “It took us by surprise; we had no idea this many would come out,” she said. Twice a week (Monday and Friday) during the spring, students from St. Mary’s walk over to the Mater Dei High School track. For half an hour, they either run, jog or walk around the school’s track under the supervision of Fitzgerald, Lunny, neighborhood volunteers and volunteers from the Mater Dei track and field team. With more than 300 kids on the track at one time, it can get pretty crowded. Traffic guards are required. The children keep a log of how many laps they have done each session. The goal is to approach the 26.2-mile distance of the marathon and then reach that distance at the St. Mary’s Athletic Association Spring Into Summer 5K. The kids will either run the 5K, 1-mile run or participate in any number of the kids races for children ages 4-12. This year’s 5K is Saturday with registration starting at 6:30 a.m. and the 5K going off at 8:30. The 5K raises funds for the Monsignor Bulman Stadium Fund, dedicated to improving Mater Dei’s track. The race starts at Mater Dei High School and takes runners around the school’s neighborhood before finishing on the high school track. There is a pasta party in Mater Dei’s cafeteria on Friday night from 6-8 p.m. Fitzgerald sees two advantages for the children participating in Marathon Kids who will reach their goal on Saturday. The first is having a goal and seeing it through to completion, and the second is the health benefits that come with being active. “The kids feel a great sense of accomplishment while getting the benefits from walking or running,” said Fitzgerald. Many who hadn’t run before last year decided to stay with it and run for the Mater Dei cross country and track and field teams. But that is only part of the story. “The really good part is that adults are getting out there,” said Fitzgerald. “The kids are running with their parents.” One of those parents is Janet Molicki, who has two sons, Ryan and Sean, participating in Marathon Kids. Christopher, a freshman at Mater Dei, runs for the Seraphs and is one of the track volunteers. “It’s gotten me to walk,” she said. “If they are going to be out there, I’m going to be out there doing it.” Molicki likes the idea of introducing the children to exercise. “It’s encouraging our kids to get out and exercise early,” she pointed out. “It’s encouraging them to participate in a lifestyle.” For more information on the Spring into Summer 5K, which is co-sponsored by PNC Bank and the Jersey Shore Running Club, log on to www.springintosummer5K.com or call (732) 671-4219.