Two College Park students hold hands as they race to the finish line during the 31st annual Newport Mesa Spirit Run held at Fashion Island on Sunday. (Susan Hoffman, Daily Pilot / March 24, 2014)

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Sweaty and visibly exhausted from their mile-long run, a group of boys from Harbor View Elementary School stood in a circle showing off their newly earned participation medals.

A parent walked over and high-fived each boy.

Ben Schaefer, a fifth-grader at Harbor View, shared his secret for a successful run with his friends.

"They tell you to jog so you won't get tired, but I always sprint," the 11-year-old said.

He admits, though, that he did get the dreaded side stitch that plagues even the most experienced runner.

Orange County families laced up their running shoes and raced Sunday morning at Fashion Island for the 31st annual Spirit Run, an event organized to raise money for Newport-Mesa Unified schools and promote youth fitness. Twenty of the district's schools participated in the races.

The event has raised $150,000 for Newport-Mesa schools over the past three years, said Diane Daruty, Spirit Run president and race coordinator. The amount of money raised this year was not available by press time.

Costa Mesa High School cheerleaders and the drum line from Corona del Mar High School encouraged runners in each of the 11 races, which ranged from a 10K for the more experienced runner to a toddler trot for the youngest participants.

Fashion Island's Regal Cinema parking lot was packed with tents for vendors and sponsors during the event.

Children feasted on Dippin' Dots ice cream as their parents made a beeline for the coffee stand to take the edge off the race's early start time.

Kaiser Elementary School third-grader Gibson Vrbas encouraged his family to participate in Spirit Run for the first time this year.

Gibson, 8, and a group of friends from school had been preparing for the mile run for more than a month.

"We run together during lunch to get ready," he said. "I'm probably still going to be very tired."

His mother, Michelle Vrbas, was enthusiastic about the prospect of raising money for her kids' schools, especially for extra math and science programs.

Other participants were drawn to the event for something other than fundraising.

Kevin Mcnulty, 15, of Orange, who attends St. Jeanne De Lestonnac School in Tustin, loves to run.

An avid runner since he was 10 years old, Kevin walked away from the event with a first-place medal for his age group.

"It's just something I'm good at," he said.