Local runner Kevin Hopp went on an inspiring athletic adventure, running nearly two marathons a day over the Thanksgiving week. His 335-mile “Rungiving” raised funds for Molly’s Angels, who pledged to donate $1 for every mile that Hopp and his team logged to San Diego’s Monarch School, which serves unhoused students downtown. Hopp was on his feet for 72 hours and nine minutes of running that week for Molly’s Angels, a family nonprofit founded in memory of his former Canyon Crest Academy student Molly Belinsky.
Hopp posted his routes on his Instagram, @HoppCan’tStop, and much to his surprise, people came out to meet him in bulk every day— former students, running buddies, fellow teachers and total strangers.
“This is not about me, this is bigger than me. Why they were doing this—for Molly, for Monarch—it became much bigger than just running and that very much motivated me,” Hopp said. “I’d never experienced something like that before… I have never felt that my running has had much of an impact on others. It was so cool to have such a big impact.”
By the time he had completed his week on Nov. 26 at Discovery Lake in San Marcos, he and the people running with him had logged a total of 3,815 miles, tracked in a spiral notebook he kept in a ziplock bag in his hydration pack. Paired with other cash donations made directly to Molly’s Angel’s, that amounted to $5,000 raised. An anonymous donor then matched the total and a $10,000 check was presented to Monarch School on Nov. 28.
“What I saw was a community coming together for his cause, to support Kevin,” said Solana Beach’s Sheila Belinsky Weinstock, founder of Molly’s Angels and Molly’s mother. “Kevin was like this extraordinary team leader and people just wanted to come out and run with him… It came at a time when the world is so unsettled…To say, ‘Hey we can make a difference in our own community, right here, right now’, how cool is that? It was beautiful to witness.”
Hopp is a semi-retired math teacher at Rancho Santa Fe’s High Bluff Academy and cross country coach at Diegueno Middle School, who works at the Fleet Feet running store in the Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch.
Hopp actually started out as an age group swimmer, where he estimates his endurance was born. While high school swimmers were encouraged to play water polo, Hopp picked cross country instead, where he ran his first miles. College, marriage, kids and career soon took over and his athletic endeavors faded to the background.
One day in 2012, the then-42-year-old Hopp was struggling to carry his sleeping six year old to her bedroom and he realized just how out of shape he had become. Determined to get his fitness back on track, he promised he would run a 5K the next morning.
“All I did was get 10 houses down the street and I turned around and walked back home very discouraged,” he said. “I had been an athlete, I knew what I needed to do and that was consistency. Ten houses became 12 and that’s really how it started.”
For almost two years, he kept up his running and kept it as something just for himself—he didn’t really talk to anyone about his running. It wasn’t until he sought out running groups and started training for the Silver Strand Half Marathon with a group of CCA teachers that he started talking running to other runners. He found out that his 20-mile-a-day habit (10 miles in the morning and 10 miles in the afternoon) wasn’t the average running routine. But it worked for him and he, fortunately, had never been injured. The ultra-endurance, the resilience, was his superpower.
Hopp started as a teacher in the San Dieguito Union High School District in 2000, working at La Costa Canyon High School until Canyon Crest Academy opened in 2004. Hopp was part of the hand-picked founding staff of CCA that taught an enrollment of 250 students in a collection of portables in the parking lot while the school was being built.
In 2015, he moved from CCA to Oak Crest Middle School, where he also took over coaching the cross country team. He took a program that had about maybe 15 kids the year prior and grew it into about 80 young runners. Now a coach at Diegueno, he tries not to over-coach or weigh runners down with advice that gets them too into their heads— it’s more about making them fall in love with running the way he did: “They have to enjoy the process of it and the emotions of practicing and seeing what feels good to them.”
In those early days of CCA, Molly was Hopp’s student from 2005 to 2009. As the school was so small, class sizes were about 10 students, which created an opportunity for teachers to form incredible connections. He had Molly for freshman algebra 1 and onto algebra 2 and was her math teacher every year she was at the school.
“She was more of an artist, she wasn’t a math person, but we really bonded,” he said of the relationship he formed with both Molly and her mother, one that continued after she graduated. “I don’t think I did anything special to have Molly connect to me…but it’s meaningful as a teacher when you connect, to know that you’re making a difference in that student’s life. That’s the whole point of being a teacher.”
Molly and Hopp stayed in touch through the years— he knew Molly had been struggling with depression, drugs and alcohol, and Belinsky Weinstock said he was always there for her.
In 2018, Molly died at the age of 28 from an accidental overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl. Before she died, Molly had created the Pay it Forward Foundation with her mom and her sister Dani, with a mission to help young women who have experienced abuse. For her family, Molly’s Angels is now a way to continue to fulfill Molly’s mission, to help underprivileged youth and young adults by supporting organizations like Monarch School and Voices for Children.
“Loving it forward” is the Molly’s Angels motto and the logo is a hummingbird.
‘Strange running events’
Hopp keeps a log of his weekly and monthly mileage: “It is high,” he admits. In August, he tracked 300 miles, September was another 225. October’s tally was 357. What he did on one Thanksgiving week was about as much as he ran in the months leading up to it.
To the average runner, this 335-mile feat sounds crazy but Hopp is not an average runner: “I’ve done ridiculous distances in the past,” said Hopp.
In 2018, he ran the San Diego 100-Mile Endurance Race, which finished the week before school got out for the summer. Despite having just run 100 miles, he felt good and with his school duties effectively over for the year, he decided to go out for a run.
“I thought I would run for an hour,” he said. “I just started running and the next thing I knew, I had done a marathon. I decided I would run a marathon a day until the school year started….that was the beginning of doing these strange running events.”
All told, Hopp ran 70 marathons in 70 days.
Unbelievably, this year’s Rungiving feat was actually his second time doing a Thanksgiving week mileage binge. Last year, he participated in the Rabbit running apparel company’s Run it Forward Challenge—for every 10 miles run during the week, the company donates an item of clothing to Soles 4 Souls, a nonprofit that provides shoes and clothing to homeless adults and youth.
Last year, Hopp did 302 miles, which resulted in 30 articles of clothing donated. As he ran the miles himself and others competed as a team, he was disappointed when he didn’t win the most miles ran for the Run it Forward Challenge. This year, he recruited two friends for his team, aptly named “Unstoppable.” The runners each finished the week above 100 miles and with 549 total miles, the team won the Challenge.
With the Unstoppable team’s help, this year Rabbit was able to double last year’s contribution, donating 1,123 pieces of apparel to Soles 4 Souls. This Rungiving contribution was on top of the $10,000 he raised for Monarch School.
For 2023, Hopp set a goal to run 350 miles.
After learning about Hopp’s Run it Forward goals and how much it matched up with Love it Forward, Belinsky Weinstock wanted to get behind Hopp’s effort and help make it a bigger community event. She said she would pledge $1 per mile but was worried it might not amount to enough if he “only” ran 350 miles. But Hopp told her he was sure he could get a few others to join in for matching miles that would bump up the donation amount. Belinksy Weinstock told him: “You’re the math teacher, so I’ll trust you.”
Hopp planned his Rungiving week well in advance and posted maps of his running routes to social media, spread further by Molly’s Angels. The posts made it clear where he would be about every five miles, in case anyone wanted to meet up and join in. He wasn’t quite sure what to expect but the response was heartwarming.
On the first day, he left his house in San Marcos at 4 a.m. to run the 25 miles to the Fleet Feet store in Pacific Highlands Ranch. He was shocked that as the sun was barely rising in Encinitas, a woman he had never met came running up to him. She was a former teacher, she knew what he was doing and she wanted to join.
“We got a mile together, uphill unfortunately, and it was really, really neat,” he said. “She got the ball rolling…People just started showing up.”
When he got to the 101, a friend was there waiting to run. By the time he got to the store, he had a pack of 11 people running alongside him. After working a full day, when the store closed at 6 p.m, people were waiting to run him part of the 25 miles home.
“Every day it just grew and grew,” he said.
He would run that same impressive 25-mile route four times that week—starting near Palomar College to Las Posas to San Marcos Boulevard, to Rancho Santa Fe Road which turns into Leucadia Boulevard-Olivenhain Road to the 101 coast, to Del Mar’s dog beach and across the street to meet up with the Coast to Crest Trail. El Camino Real was the scariest part, getting across that narrow, aging bridge to drop into Gonzales Canyon, which connects to the store in about four miles.
After his two-marathon Monday, on Tuesday, Hopp ran the five-mile loop at Miramar Lake for a total of 33 miles—he was short on mileage that day due to a doctor’s appointment. He was thrilled when a former Monarch School student who is now a teacher at the school showed up to run with him at 5:30 a.m. in the dark of morning. Jake Thompson, a San Dieguito Academy freshman that he had coached on the Diegueno cross country and track teams, even had his parents drive him out to Scripps Ranch to run.
On Wednesday, he ran to the store and ran a five- mile loop from the store on the top of every hour of his workday and he returned to the store again on Thanksgiving Day for their free community Turkey Trot.
To get there in time for the three-mile Turkey Trot, he left his home at 1 a.m. and there were actually people waiting to run with him at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. The husband and father of two was given a firm 1 p.m. deadline to get back home in time for the family’s Thanksgiving feast so after working at the store after the run, a group took him about seven miles to a parked car and a ride home for turkey and pumpkin pie.
Friday was one of his more ambitious days—he started at Oceanside Harbor and ran all the way to the Torrey Pines Gilderport, 27 miles away. He ate lunch with friends, enjoyed the view about an hour and then started on the return trip, all the way back to Oceanside. He was running from 6 am to 9 p.m.
“People showed up along that run the entire day, I was in tears most of the time running,” Hopp said. “When someone dropped out, there was another.”
Throughout the week he had been running on about two hours of sleep a night so for the last day he wanted to be as close to his house as possible at Discovery Lake—the .08- mile loop also made it convenient for people to join in as much as possible. Belinksky Weinstock had the idea to make that day a celebration, to get as many people as possible outside running with Hopp. While she cannot run due to back issues, she had no problem getting out to walk a few miles on the final day at the lake on what turned out to be a beautiful day.
“I’m surprised my body can do it,” Hopp said reflecting on his new weekly mileage PR. “The community aspect was the best aspect, it was so rewarding I didn’t expect them to show up. You don’t realize how you can have an impact on somebody`
After the impact Hopp had on her daughter, Belinsky Weinstock is not surprised. There’s was a connection so unique that Molly even named her cat after him—the 17-year old cat Gilligan Gaylord Hopp AKA Mr. Hopp is still alive and living with Molly’s 91-year-old grandmother.
“He’s a special man, he’s unique,” said Belinsky Weinstock of Hopp. “He’s sincere, authentic, caring and endearing.”
And there was something kinda Forrest Gump-ian in the way people were drawn to him and inspired to follow.
“It helped him a lot, to keep going,” she said of the people who showed up along the way. “And I needed it too.”
Suffering the loss of a child is painful and it can feel lonely and sad, she said. One of her ways of coping is using Molly’s Angels to connect with the community, to spread the vision of “loving it forward”, to see Molly’s name attached to something positive and joyful, to ensure her daughter is remembered.
“We battled. She battled with drugs and depression for so long and it’s heartbreaking and I wish I could bring her back,” Belinsky Weinstock. “I think of the good times but I can’t bring her back. Doing this is honoring her memory and keeping her spirit alive forever.”
On this Rungiving, Hopp was thankful for his community and for his body and for his angel, Molly.
That Sunday over Discovery Lake, it felt like magic when the clouds seemed to form the shape of a hummingbird, the logo for Molly’s Angels.
“I felt Molly was with us the whole time,” her mother said.