POIPU — The final Keiki Run on Saturday morning was almost over.
But not quite.
Kyanna Alves, wearing bib number 7 and looking determined, was moving steadily toward the finish line, with some 25 yards to go.
“Let’s bring her home,” said emcee JT Service.
The crowd of some 200 adults did.
The cheers rose to perhaps their highest and loudest point of the day. And when Kyanna was done running, she received a medal, but more important, praise and hugs from her family.
“This is my favorite part of the weekend,” Service said. “The Keiki Run is by far my favorite part.”
About 150 keiki ages 2 to 12 joined the event on the lawn at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa.
The 5th annual Kauai Marathon Keiki Run presented by Wilcox Health included 100-yard toddler trot for 2-to-4-year-olds, a quarter-mile run for 5-to-7-year-olds and a half-mile run for 8-to-12-year-olds.
In each race, keiki chased — and the leader somehow always defeated — the chicken in the bright yellow costume, which was worn by Tyler McCandless, a six-time winner of the Kauai Marathon and half marathon.
Some moms and dads joined their toddlers on the course, while others shouted encouragement for the older kids from the sidelines.
Finishers were greeted with high fives by proud parents and a big smile and congratulations from Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. Then, they enjoyed ice pops and chocolate milk as they cooled down.
Sarah Tadiarca and friend Ayana Pennell were laughing and smiling after completing a quarter-mile run.
Ron Tadiarca of Lihue said the Keiki Run is a great event, and thanked marathon organizers and the Hyatt for putting it on.
“It gets them involved and in shape, which is good,” he said. “It starts them young. Hopefully, keeps them running for a long time.”
Sarah was among the early finishers in her division, thanks to some good advice.
“We told her to chase the chicken,” her dad said. “She had fun. They all had fun.”
Jeff Batangan of Lihue was rooting on four keiki, Zai Dotimas-Batangan, 12, Leizjah Dotimas-Batangan, 8, Jairez Dotimas-Batangan, 3, and Kyanna.
He said it was their first time in the Keiki Run.
“It’s a great event for them to be a part of, expose them to what Kauai has to offer,” he said.
Zai, who plays football, ran stride for stride with the chicken for much of his race. He called it “kind of easy” early on.
“I was kind of dead at the end,” he said, smiling.
Their grandmother, Crystal Caday-Bargayo of Lihue, said they all did well.
“I’m very proud of them,” she said. “I couldn’t be prouder.”
Service, who won the full Kauai Marathon in its first year in 2009 and was second in 2010, said the Keiki Run came about following a conversation between himself, marathon founder Jeff Sacchini and race director Bob Craver.
They wanted to add something to the marathon “that wasn’t just about the adults.”
How about a race for kids? Or several races on the same day?
“Something to bring to the kids, show them what health and fitness is about, especially at a younger age,” he said. “So we started the Keiki Run.”
That led to creation of the Kauai Marathon Youth Running Program, presented by Kauai Coffee. It was initiated by McCandless in 2013 as an avenue to give back to the community.
The focus of the program is to make a positive difference for the youth of Kauai by educating students on the benefits of healthy choices, both in nutrition and exercise, while promoting health and happiness.
As part of that, Altra Running Shoes is donating free shoes to the top five boy and girl finishers 18 and under in today’s half marathon.
“Altra knows the importance of developing healthy feet and running habits at a young age, which is why we are excited to team up with The Kauai Marathon Youth Running Program,” according to a press release.
Service said the Keiki Run is not about winning or losing, running fast or slow.
“It’s just that they’re out there participating, learning that running can be fun,” he said. “It’s running after a chicken, doing your best and getting a medal.”
Running is used in some sports as a punishment. It’s any but, said Service, who ran in the 2007 Olympic marathon trials at Central Park in New York and clocked a personal best of 2 hours, 21 minutes, 12 seconds.
He’s been involved with the Kauai Marathon since day one in a number of roles, and loves it.
“Out here at the Keiki Run, it’s all about just having fun, and they’re doing it,” Service said.