Unknown-3ING-sponsored 26.2-mile running program showing kids that exercise is fun.

For nearly 1,000 Philadelphia middle school students, it was a day to be a fan and a star all at once.

Through the ING Run for Something Better program, which is a nationwide effort aimed at helping kids learn that exercise is fun, the 6th, 7th and 8th grade students had been preparing for months, racking up miles through a structured running program at their local schools and keeping a daily training log throughout their summer break. Their total mileage up to today: 25.2.

And today, it was race day. Time to run the final mile.

On the sidelines was former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Corey Simon, who has cheered on the mini marathon runners for two years now. His message: This is not just about running.

“You’re taking the first step,” he said. “Not just in this race, but in the race of life.”

Ultra-marathoner Sarah Stanley ran alongside the enthusiastic runners, who took off from the start line with a burst of energy. Stanley is currently in the midst of a 400-mile cycling trek from Washington D.C. to New York City and will also run Sunday’s ING Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon before the remainder of her ride to New York City that afternoon.

The kids, sweaty but smiling, came through the finish line of their final marathon mile to receive their hard-earned medals and an autograph from Simon, who cheered on each and every middle schooler, armed with a permanent marker for those who wanted a more lasting memory of their NFL hero.