PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Kids’ Marathon is actually the marathon before the marathon. It’s a one-mile race that kicks off on the North Shore Saturday morning.

Warm-up exercises were underway at Point State Park Friday. Kids from Waynesburg Central Elementary have been pen pals with three professional marathoners, over the past two months.

“We were able to pen pal and communicate and coordinate with the three professional athletes, the elite athletes that the Marathon supplied us,” says Kelli-Ann Maute, the pen pal coordinator at the school. “So the kids have been Skyping with them, writing them letters, cards, posters.”

Now they meet them, face to face, in Point State Park. They get to run through the park with their famous pen pals. It’s a day they looked forward to, almost as much as the race itself.

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They met Yihunlish Bekele of Ethiopia, a two-time winner of the Pittsburgh Marathon. The also conversed with Ron Molke, who runs for Team USA in Minnesota.

“Part of my hamstring is actually gone,” Serena Burla said.

The third runner shows a hamstring scar, from cancer surgery in 2010. Burla thought she might lose her leg. Six years later, she has the fifth highest qualifying time for the U. S. Olympic Marathon team.

“Running teaches you so many life lessons, and vice versa,” she says. “So I was able to apply a lot of the principles I learned in running to my fight with cancer.”

The three runners will join thousands of competitors in the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday.