It’s not every day that three-time Boston Marathon winner Uta Pippig dances in the neighborhood streets with elementary school kids before running a mile alongside them. But once a year in late May, the legendary runner joins dozens of others at Columbine Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado, to celebrate running.

Wednesday marked the 40th running of the Columbine Mile Marathon, an event in which children, teachers, parents, and other running community members race a one-mile course around the school grounds.

In 1978, two teachers asked local running coach Rich Castro to start an event to help celebrate the end of the school year at Columbine Elementary. Castro helped start the University of Colorado‘s women’s running programs, founded the Boulder Road Runners, provided help to start the Bolder Boulder 10K, and led the Frank Shorter Racing Team. “I told them I could come up with some games or something like that,” says Castro, “but why not do a running race around the school?” The mile-long race was born.

More From Runner's World
preview for HDM All Sections Playlist - Runners World US

“The Mile Marathon is the oldest, longest-standing race in Boulder, and one of the oldest west of the Mississippi” says longtime Mile Marathon race starter Dan McCarthy, who’s also the starter of the 50,000-people strong Bolder Boulder that takes place on Memorial Day. “It’s a year older than Bolder Boulder.”

Uta Pippig at Columbine Mile Marathon
Boston Marathon champion Uta Pippig took part in the 40th anniversary race.
Lisa Jhung

Castro says that when he started the event, Columbine was made up almost entirely of white families, and that he was “the only Latin name in the Boulder phone book.” Today, the school has a 50-50 ratio of native Spanish speakers and English speakers and operates on a bi-literacy model. Castro talks with pride about how the school has kept the event going and is a positive event celebrating running, health, and fitness for all the kids and families involved.

RW IN YOUR INBOX: Get the latest advice and inspiration every day with our Runner’s World Newsletters.

At the 40th running, like every year, children lined up on the neighborhood street next to the school in waves based on grade. Kids who had run a sub-8-minute mile in P.E. class during previous weeks qualified for the “challenge wave,” which sets off before the 5th graders (who start just ahead of the 4th graders, and so on).

And like every year, it was game-on in the challenge wave—and at the front of every subsequent wave—with classmates racing one another for fun and bragging rights.

As the overall race leaders appeared around the final bend, two 5th-graders, Ryder Baumann and Hayden Noffsinger, looked poised to try outkicking each other to the line. But when they hopped onto the grass for the final stretch, they both slowed their pace. The two made sure they finished stride-for-stride, and shared first place.

The boys said they had discussed running as hard as they could for most of the race, but if they were close to each other near the end, they’d finish together.

“We finished together last year,” Ryder said. “We decided to do it again. It gives other people more options to get second and third.”

RELATED: This Nonprofit Helps Native American Runners Take Flight

The two finished in 5:47. When asked if they’d go out for cross-country in middle school next year, they both smiled and shrugged, “Maybe.”

Columbine Mile Marathon
The runners head for the finish.
Lisa Jhung

With this year being the 40th anniversary celebration, Columbine alumni—from recent graduates now in 6th grade at the nearby middle school to retired teachers in their 80s—came in support and ran among the kids.

Alumni Trevor Rhodes explains how he won the Mile Marathon during his final year at Columbine in 1988 and got a hug from Olympic gold medalist Rosa Mota at the finish line. “It’s something I’ll never forget,” he says. Rhodes keeps a hat from the 1988 race singed by Mota, Arturo Barrios, Priscilla Welsch, Ric Rojas, and many others proudly displayed in his home office. “I was into running, and those were my idols, so I was awestruck,” he says.

“Everyone’s doing school races these days,” says Castro. “But no other school has an event with this kind of longevity. It’s really special.”

Headshot of Lisa Jhung
Lisa Jhung
Lisa Jhung writes about all things adventure and is the author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It) and Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running.