Group C starts their run during the annual monster mile event for the Newport Beach junior lifeguards at the Balboa Pier on Thursday, July 31. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / July 31, 2014)

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  • Balboa Island, Newport Beach, CA, United States

This year, heroes replaced monsters in Newport Beach.

More than 1,300 junior lifeguards streamed along the sand near the Balboa Pier for their annual Monster Mile competition Thursday.

Each year near the end of July, boys and girls ages 9 to 16 run a mile down the beach and then swim back while crowds of parents and friends cheer from the sidelines.

Typically, junior guards dress up as monsters for the race, but this year they donned costumes such as Iron Man, an astronaut and Abraham Lincoln.

The most elaborate included a red plane big enough to wear, with "Amelia Earhart" written on the side.

"Make sure you keep an eye on her. We don't know where she's going to end up," junior guard instructor Jeff Pratt quipped.

Dozens of kids dressed up simply by writing "Ben would go" or "Ben did go" on their chests or legs. The phrases paid tribute to Newport Beach lifeguard Ben Carlson, who died July 6 while trying to rescue a swimmer. His was the first on-duty death for the city's lifeguard division.

Kids tore off the bulkier parts of their get-ups before putting on swim caps and lining up in eight heats at the pier.

They prepared while parents prowled the sidelines with cameras waiting for the signal from a small crew of 1st Battalion, 1st Marines invited from Camp Pendleton to fill out the heroes theme.

Lance Cpl. Hal McCullin gave the racers a warning – "30 seconds!" – before he let out a yell and held up a bullhorn blaring the starting siren.

About 26 minutes after the first heat began, 15-year-old Jack Simpson pulled himself out of the water and across the finish line – besting his second-place finish from the previous year.

He made a beeline to the cooler for a drink as salt water dripped down the Captain America shield painted on his back.

"This is my last year," he said, still out of breath. "I wanted to do something good."