Jennifer Clark roused her four kids from the couch with the order: “Go! Run!”


At her word, 10-year-old twins Jordan and Joevon, 4-year-old Arshawn and 2-year-old Arion jumped up and sprinted through the open kitchen and over the hardwood floors of the hall and living room.


“We’re lucky all the rooms come together in a big circle,” the Firestone Park mom said as the kids ran around and around, repeating the indoor course on a rainy afternoon.


Lucky? No doubt, most parents would have stopped the rally before it began, but Clark’s four kids are in training for the Akron Marathon — specifically, the one-mile Kids Fun Run that is part of Saturday’s big event.


“We do sit-ups and push-ups and weightlifting, too,” Jordan said before he and his siblings dropped to the ground to demonstrate their exercises.


The boys are among 2,000 youngsters expected to participate in the Fun Run, where kids will trot from the Spaghetti Warehouse to Lock 3 Park in downtown Akron. Their race runs concurrent with the full and half-marathon and team relay, which will take 13,000 adult athletes on a 26.2-mile tour of the city.


The Clarks said they became aware of the race after a McEbright Elementary teacher passed out flyers on how to register.


“The boys are really into the competitive aspect,” Jennifer Clark said, but she and her husband, Stephen, also see the race as a family bonding event, because they’ll be walking or jogging along with the younger kids.


Marathon officials have been encouraging local organizations to take advantage of the kids’ race as a way to promote the importance of year-round activity for children.


Running after school


Betty Kern, a physical education teacher at Schrop Elementary in Springfield Township, said that plays right into the strategy of her after-school running club for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.


This year, 95 students signed up for the twice-weekly sessions. At least 20 of them have signed up for the Kids Fun Run, she said.


To get ready for the race, she encouraged students to run in their spare time at the nearby Springfield Bog Metro Park. That not only gets the students thinking about staying active throughout the week, but appears to be affecting their families as well.


During her own recent run on the bog park’s trail, she encountered a student and her mother, who said her daughter had been dragging her out regularly for a jog to prepare for the marathon event.


“Getting kids out to the park is so important because it gets them active, and it promotes family time, too,” Kern said. “I’ve seen it happen.”


Getting kids to turn off the TV and slip on their tennis shoes is especially important in a country where obesity rates are rising, health professionals say.


“We know obesity has been increasing tremendously over the last couple of decades due to lack of activity and poor eating habits,” said Dr. Troy Smurawa, medical director of an Akron Children’s Hospital program targeted at children who are overweight or at risk of becoming so. “Our goal is to make kids and parents aware of what it is to be healthy. For some kids, they just don’t have the knowledge, so it’s about education.”


The hospital’s program, called the Kohl’s Future Fitness Club, works with children ages 8 to 13 two to three times a week at local fitness centers.


Smurawa said participants were encouraged to register for the free Kids Fun Run.


“It’s a pretty big deal, and there is no cost for the kids. They get a T-shirt and a goodie bag, so they really get the feel of running in a big event,” he said.


After Saturday’s run, representatives from Kohl’s Department Stores will present Akron Children’s Hospital with a $302,178 check to help continue operating the fitness club.


The Akron-Summit County Public Library also has been a big supporter of the Akron Marathon’s efforts to get kids and their families moving.


This summer, the staff launched Mind, Body & Sole, a twist to the institution’s 40-year-old summer reading program. Children and adults were asked to spend the summer months reading 26 books or articles and walking or running 26 miles.


Ceremony at expo today


More than 1,000 area residents completed the task and will be honored in a ceremony at today’s Akron Marathon Health & Fitness Expo. (See related story, Page B1.)


Library Director David Jennings was inspired to start the program, in part, because of his staff’s own affection for the marathon. This year, 22 library employees are competing in the full or half-marathon or team relay.


With summer reading participation up nearly 30 percent this year, Jennings said the program will be repeated next year.


It’s not too late to register for Saturday’s Kids Fun Run, but participation is limited to the first 2,000 children ages 14 years and younger. Register in advance at www.akronmarathon.org/kids-fun-run. Otherwise, arrive by 7:45 a.m. Saturday at the Spaghetti Warehouse, 510 S. Main St. The race begins at 9 a.m.


Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.