SAMS VALLEY — A sea of fourth- and fifth-graders clad in brightly colored T-shirts and running shoes converged on Table Rock Road Tuesday morning amidst excited teachers, cellphone-wielding parents and dancing school mascots.

The 44th annual Sams Valley Mini Marathon boasted some 800 runners from Central Point School District, and the Halloween event allowed the students to get some exercise early before they enjoyed some candy later.

Parents lined the road as the students raced down Table Rock Road — a mile-and-a-half in each direction — under bright rays of fall sunshine.

This year’s race was sponsored by West Orthodontics, which provided a chip-timing system for the first time in the race’s history.

Not even 19 minutes after the race began, a flash of neon green rounded the farthest visible bend at one end of Table Rock Road, where fifth-grader Josiah Tostenson, who won the race as a fourth-grader last year, made his way to the finish.

Tostenson comes from a family of runners and runs daily with cross-country athletes from Scenic Middle School.

“I didn’t know if I would win, so I was really nervous,” Josiah said. “But I run a lot, so I just ran as fast as I could.”

Older brother Jantz Tostenson, who won the 5A boys 1,500-meter title at the state level his sophomore year and heads to state with his Crater team next week, was on hand Tuesday to cheer on the youngest Tostenson.

The older Tostenson won the Halloween race during his fifth-grade year, but he still marveled at the speed demonstrated by his younger brother.

“I won my fifth-grade year, but he smoked my time,” said the teen. “And he won both his fourth- and fifth-grade years … and I did not. I ran 20:30 when I won, and he ran 19:30 his fourth-grade year and an 18:30 this year. That’s just amazing how fast he is.”

Founded in 1974 by Sams Valley Elementary teacher Vern Loy, the race has been a way to encourage fitness on a day often focused on sugar and junk food.

Substitute teachers Tia Hopper, dressed as Snow White, and Mandy Spencer watched their own children race Tuesday along with the other students. Spencer ran the race as a fourth- and fifth-grader in the district.

“It’s been going on for a bajillion years,” Hopper said, “if that’s even a word.”

“The kids get really excited, and they train for this all year trying to improve their times.”

Spencer said all three of her children had run the Halloween race.

“I ran it as a kid, and I’m 42. It’s definitely a tradition. It’s been a big part of getting the jog-a-thons and the running clubs started to encourage the kids to run more.”

The Good Witch of the North, otherwise known as Mae Richardson Principal Lynn Scott, donned a large pink crown and waved her wand to cheer students across the finish line from all five district elementary schools.

“It’s just a really special thing, because this is a time for them to get together before they leave elementary school,” Scott said.

“So, it’s about health and fitness, and it’s a lot of fun, but it’s also about keeping up this tradition we have at the district and about being all together.”

— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.