Mike Smith, the SRLA teacher-leader at Venice High, helped 26 kids cross the finish line at this year's L.A. Marathon.

Mike Smith, the SRLA teacher-leader at Venice High, helped 26 students cross the finish line at this year’s L.A. Marathon.

It’s been a couple of weeks since they crossed the finish line, but glow hasn’t yet dimmed for the thousands of young members of Students Run LA who completed the Los Angeles Marathon on Valentine’s Day.

Nearly 2,800 middle and high school students from 174 L.A. Unified schools participated in the marathon-training program, which helps them develop the mental and physical fortitude to tackle the 26.2-mile course. Thanks to the efforts and support of school and SRLA volunteers, nearly every student completed the course.

“The ultimate goal of SRLA is to teach the students the discipline of training and following through with schedules,” said Mike Smith, a Venice High teacher and a volunteer in the SRLA program. “The students understand this and follow through beautifully.”

Most of the 2,800 SRLA students who started the marathon finished the 26.2-mile course.

Most of the 2,800 SRLA students who started the marathon finished the 26.2-mile course.

The training program typically starts in the fall, with students and volunteers practicing three or four days a week – often on weekends – and gradually increasing their distance. In the months leading up to the marathon, they participate in a 5K, a 10K, a 15K, two half-marathons and an 18-mile race.

 “I like to instill a motto of ‘completion over competition,” Smith said. “I want the students to complete the races and get their medals, especially with the marathon … I can tell you that at Venice High, all 26 of our students who started the marathon also finished the marathon. It took a few some time and it was tough. But they did it.”

Marsha Charney helped establish SRLA in 1989 as a dropout prevention program in L.A. Unified and now is executive director of the nonprofit group. She said the percentage of students who complete the marathon through SRLA mirrors the number who graduate from high school.

A 'can-do' attitude carried some runners across the finish line.

A ‘can-do’ attitude carried some runners across the finish line.

“SRLA shows them how they can change their lives,” she said. “They can’t smoke, because you can’t run and smoke, and they have to watch what they eat to keep themselves going. They get up at 4 or 4:30 a.m. to run, which teaches them discipline. And they learn how to set goals and follow through with them.”

The program is grueling but very rewarding, which is why so many teacher-leaders – Smith among them – are long-time volunteers.

“This is an incredible program that has benefited countless students and staff,” Smith said. “Students return year after year to do the program. I am often asked on the first day of school, ‘When are we going to start practicing?’”