COMMUNITY – American Martyrs School 5k celebrates 43rd year

The American Martyrs 5k Run/Walk includes a stroller competition and a costume contest. Photos by Bob Visty

by Mark McDermott 

The American Martyrs 5k is growing. 

Many things about the event remain unchanged since its humble origins 40  years ago, when a few hundred parishioners took to the streets of Manhattan Beach, running or walking on an early February morning to raise money for American Martyrs School. The race itself, which this year takes place on February 25, remains five kilometers and begins near the school, although the course has been slightly altered to help elite runners more safely separate from the larger pack in the first few hundred meters. The race is still much more than a race, but is rather a means for the community to come together. 

What has changed is that this sense of community has both grown and extended beyond American Martyrs. More than 1,000 people now participate each year as the race has broadened into a larger event. This is reflected in its name, the American Martyrs School 5k Run/Walk and Wellness Expo. 

But there is another name used to describe it that is indicative of what an iconic day the AMS 5k has become. Race director Brian Tinker said that these days organizers tend to simply call it “the 5k,”  something that began when the wellness expo was added in 2020. 

“2020 was the 40th annual, so we wanted to expand it beyond just a race,” Tinker said. “We started calling it ‘the 5k,’ just because probably more people walk it or stroll it or skip it than actually run it. It’s just about getting out there. We are trying to communicate wellness, and we define wellness as a routine of healthy habits. We tried to stay at 5k; the people who run it competitively, they want to race, and they want to post a time. But we don’t want to discourage people from participating because they don’t plan to run it competitively. So, as a community-building event, we’d like to build this out into Manhattan Beach and even the entire South Bay community. We’d like to eventually gather as many people as possible to come share a day that is, quite frankly, fantastic.” 

Lindsay Wandzilak, American Martyrs mom and owner of The Daily with Lindsay, a woman elite runner in the 2022 5k.

The Wellness Expo includes exhibitions on various aspects of well-being, including heart health, eye health, and dermatology. 

 “There’s a bunch of doctors who participate, and donate their time to share information about how to take care of yourself,” Tinker said. “We really try to focus on those organizations that help us help ourselves.

It’s kind of a one-stop shop: you go and you have a nice morning run, or walk, and you meet some people, or hang out with some people that you already know, then you go and maybe learn a few things that you can add to your routine, and become a little bit healthier.” 

The race aspect of the day has also added an elite category meant to attract many of the area’s best competitive runners. 

“We have Jeff Atkinson, who was an Olympic runner in ‘88 and is still pretty high up there,” Tinker said. “There’s quite a few people who run in his group who don’t seem to age, who are in their 50s, and 60s, and still running 36 and 37-minute 10k times,” Tinker said. “We don’t want this to become the Carlsbad 5k where you have people flying in from all over the place to post the best time, but we’d like to invite more of the elite style runner who ends up making it a little bit more of a serious 5k. It’s a barbell approach. We have those who walk it, and those who actually run it to post some decent times. But ultimately, we want to focus on community and wellness. I think when you start seeing these particular elite runners, it encourages everybody to get out there, even if it’s just to walk.” 

Some of the contestants from the AMS 5k costume contest, smiling win or lose.

The race includes some fun categories, including a stroller competition and a costume contest. The event also features several kid-friendly attractions, including two bounce houses and a “Ninja Warrior” obstacle course much like the one seen on the American Ninja television show. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Kitchen (newly opened in El Segundo) will be on hand with healthy meals and there will be a beer garden for those who want to celebrate after the race. Participants can also enjoy coffee or hot chocolate and a light breakfast of yogurt, bananas, and oranges. 

The AMS 5k, in other words, hopes to offer something for everybody. Tinker said the event mirrors the American Martyrs’ mission under Monsignor Jon Barry, the famously welcoming priest who has tended merrily to his flock for four decades. 

The “5k” is more about community and connection than competition, although elite runners are also part of the race.

“I think Monsignor Barry has done a fantastic job in opening the parish to foster Catholicism, but also to be so inviting to people who aren’t Catholic,” Tinker said. “Whether you want to call it spirituality or karma, I just think that there is a spiritual, and community presence at the church in general, but especially on that day. A lot of people gather and have a good time, they fraternize with one another, and they socialize. It just really embodies all that American Martyrs is about —  faith, family, love, and community.” 

The American Martyrs 5k Run/Walk begins at 8 a.m. February 25. See for more information. 


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