When the sold-out Santa Monica Classic returns to town this weekend, the race will feature a new event highlighting competition between a pair of local high schools.

The High School Challenge offers runners from Santa Monica High School and Malibu High School a chance to run the 5K course in a head-to-head, co-ed challenge. The winning team will receive an inaugural trophy that will remain at the winning school until the next race when it will pass to the next winner.

The Santa Monica Daily Press a sponsor of the High School Challenge.

The Conqur Endurance Group produces several races including the Santa Monica Classic and the Los Angeles Marathon.

Carsten F. Preisz Conqur’s Vice President, Brand Strategy & Marketing said the High School Challenge grew out of the company’s existing educational partnerships. Conqur provides 3,500 complementary entries to the Los Angeles Unified School District and Preisz said in looking for partners for the Santa Monica race, Samohi and Malibu were logical choices.

“We started looking for something that was benefitting the scholastic area of engagement and when you talk about that, and local kids and what would be a natural collaboration, you go into the athletic programs and the cross country teams are in session now,” he said. “We spoke with the coaches and right out of the gate, they were very enthusiastic about it.”

While the Santa Monica Classic has been held before, this will be the first year for the youth race and Preisz said keeping it small will help build a foundation to expand on later.

“We didn’t want to have more than two in the inaugural to make sure we come up with a format that is friendly for the schools to participate in and for us to take on a challenge that would work seamlessly with a much bigger field than last year.”

Samohi Cross Country Coach Tania Fischer said the Classic is already a big event for the school community with parents, employees and students participating so formalizing a partnership for the running-focused sports team was an easy decision.

“We wanted to highlight (the students) and give them something that is promoting our program and highlighting our kids,” she said.

She said the students were wary at first but soon warmed to the idea when they realized the competition would provide a unique opportunity to compete as a unified team. Traditionally, Cross-Country is divided into gender categories. However, the race challenge will use co-ed teams.

“What really got the kids excited was the mixed teams. You have girls and boys creating a mixed team, that’s completely new, you don’t do that in a high school race,” she said. “It’s a challenge because it means something new and different. It makes the top girls and boys shoot for something and it encourages them to think ‘we’ve got to do this together.’ It creates more of a team bond and the purpose is not just for the boys or girls to win, but for the Santa Monica team,” she said.

The approximately 40 high school runners will get a head start on the field of 4,500 participating in this year’s race. Students will run the 5K course that is slightly longer than a standard high school race.

Runners participating in the main event will begin at 8 a.m. for the 5K and 8:30 for the 10K. All races start at 2600 Barnard Way, turn on Marine, Main St., Colorado and Ocean. The 5K runners U-turn at Ocean and Washington to finish between Broadway and the Pier.

The 10k runners continue to San Vicente and U-turn at 11th to finish between Broadway and the Pier.

All runners will have access to a Finish Festival on the Santa Monica Pier between 7 and 11 a.m.

There will be rolling road closures throughout the course with all streets closed completely by 6:30 a.m. Ocean Ave. at Broadway will be closed at 5 a.m. Roads will open on a rolling basis with San Vicente and Ocean open to traffic by 10 a.m.

Barnard Way will be closed from Ocean Park Blvd. to Marine St.

Marine St. will be closed from Barnard Way to Main St.

Main St. will be closed from marine St. to Colorado Blvd.

Colorado Blvd. will be closed from Main St. to Ocean Ave.

Ocean Ave. will be closed from Colorado Blvd. to San Vicente.

San Vicente will be closed from 11th St. to Ocean Ave.

BY MATTHEW HALL

editor@www.smdp.com