Runners and students from schools across Costa Mesa and Newport Beach will lace up and then line up at Fashion Island on March 3 for the 30th year of the annual Newport-Mesa Spirit Run.
This time, some elite runners may join them.
The Spirit Run is offering a cash prize for the first time, after being accepted into the Southern California USA Track and Field Grand Prix Road Running Championship Series.
The top six finishers will split $1,250, and participants can earn points toward the 11-event road-race series.
"We're hoping to see some really fast runners," Diane Daruty, Spirit Run president and race director.
But that heightened profile is just a bonus added to the race's community-building and fundraising objective, Daruty said.
There are age-appropriate races open to anyone all the way down to toddlers, and starting at 6:30 a.m., a fitness expo will feature everything from rock-climbing to a pancake breakfast.
Last year, the race raised more than $50,000 for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, and Daruty hopes to top that.
This year, race organizers have built the event's influence past one day. At three Costa Mesa elementary schools, students participated in training programs to get ready to run and learn about lifelong fitness.
Since 2011 when Daruty expanded the Spirit Run from the five Newport Beach elementary schools it originally served, she's seen ever-increasing participation from across the district.
The 21 schools signed up this year are up from 15 the previous year, and nine the first expanded year.
With support from the Rotary Club of Newport Balboa, Spirit Run is also paying for the entry fees and bus transportation of underprivileged students who otherwise couldn't afford to attend.
Daruty hopes the event will give students a spirit of camaraderie across schools.
"It's something they do together, as opposed to just themselves," she said.
Also for the first time this year, the Spirit Run landed Whole Foods as a major sponsor.
"This is huge actually," Daruty said.
On Feb. 28, the Thursday before the race, Whole Foods in Fashion Island will donate 5% of its net profits to the Spirit Run.
Racers can also pick up registration packets at Whole Foods that day between 3 and 7 p.m.
"We want everybody to shop and dine at Whole Foods that day," Daruty said.
When she approached the grocer, Daruty said it was one of the quickest deals she'd ever done to get a sponsor on board.
"We're just very much up their alley because we're all about health and fitness," she said.
Registration packets will also be available at Whole Foods from 3 to 7 p.m. the Saturday before the race, and same-day registration starts at 6 a.m. at Fashion Island.
More information and online registration is available at nmspiritrun.org.