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When P.E. teacher Kyle Black started a Marathon Kids running club at Taylor Creek Elementary in Lampasas, Texas, his daughter, Kelbie, wasn’t too excited about the prospect. She was in third grade at the time and had never found running to be enjoyable.

Coach Black knew his daughter could get into it if she gave it a chance, so he encouraged her to participate. “I love the Marathon Kids program,” he says, “because it focuses on reaching all students regardless of their athletic ability. It has changed the culture of our school. Our kids seem more confident and look healthier.”

And he was right about Kelbie: She quickly got into running once it became clear that their after-school training sessions were a great way to spend unstructured time chatting, laughing and catching up with friends. “I love running with my friends and different people,” she says. “When you run with other people, you get to help each other reach your goals.”

It was a pleasant surprise when it turned out she was better at running than she’d expected, especially the discipline and endurance aspects: She became the first kid at her school to hit the standard Marathon Kids goal of running four marathons, or a cumulative 104.8 miles. And she didn’t stop there. She kept going and wound up becoming the first Marathon Kid—not just at Taylor Creek, but in the entire United States—to complete more than 21 marathons over the course of the 2017–2018 school year. In terms of miles, this made her the top Marathon Kids runner in the country.

Nike Marathon Kids

Now ten years old and in fifth grade at Taylor Creek, Kelbie has a new milestone in sight. Sometime this spring, she will log her 1,000th mile with Marathon Kids. That’s a lot of ground covered, accrued over the three years that she’s been running with Marathon Kids—an average of over 330 miles per year, which is the equivalent of more than one full marathon a month.

Over the course of that time, she has grown and developed in several key ways. Her father, Coach Black, reports that he and Kelbie’s mother, Lindsay, have noticed that since Kelbie started running, she is better equipped to deal with frustration when homework or other activities get difficult. “We found out that Kelbie is dyslexic the same year we began Marathon Kids,” he says. “The program helped her realize that she can still accomplish tasks even if they seem impossible.”

The Blacks have also seen Kelbie’s confidence grow. “She is naturally competitive,” says Coach Black, “but she’s often hesitant to start. Her confidence to begin and complete tasks has grown noticeably over the last three years.”

Kelbie has noticed the same changes in herself: “I have been doing better in school,” she says. “Once I started running, I felt more confident in other things that I was doing, and I feel better.”

Improved academic performance and feeling better both physically and mentally are benefits of an active lifestyle that are extensively documented in research on the subject, and which are also widely reported by Marathon Kids runners and their coaches. Kelbie says that if she could tell other kids something about the importance of running and staying active, she would want them to know that “running is a fun way to be active. It helps you in school and helps you stay healthy. Running helps every aspect of your life.”

She has learned a lot about pushing through tough moments from her three years of running with Marathon Kids. “When it gets difficult,” she reports, “I think about finishing another mile or another lap to complete another goal. I focus on my goals when it gets hard.” That’s a strategy that probably any kid would benefit from adding to their toolbox.

Next up? Kelbie’s 11th birthday is in June, followed by middle school starting up in August—and you’d better believe she is relying on everything she’s learned from running to help her tackle that major life milestone. “I want to keep running to be ready for moving into middle school,” she says. If drive, ambition and stick-to-it-iveness count for anything in middle school (and we all know they do!), Kelbie is sure to be a great success in sixth grade and beyond.

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It was not your normal Friday morning in Pflugerville, Texas.

A group of children and their families, teachers and coaches had gathered at Pflugerville Elementary School, just north of Austin, to run laps around the track—but that wasn’t the unusual part. These community walks are a regular monthly event at the school, as part of Coach Lydia Salaiz’s school-wide Marathon Kids running club. Coach Salaiz plays music at these gatherings—familiar Kidz Bop tunes that boom out over the track—and uses a megaphone to call out encouragement to the kids.

“My principal supports me one-hundred-percent wholeheartedly,” she says. “She lets us have these community walks during class time once a month, and we love to invite all the community, so we get parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles—everyone’s out here! It’s just wonderful.”

Marathon Kids run club

It was wonderful, but that wasn’t the unusual part, either. The unusual part was the fact that reporters from local news station KXAN had also gathered to cover the event, as—even more unusual still—Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross had come to run with the kids.

It was International Women’s Day, and Ms. Richards-Ross—gold medalist in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, member of the Marathon Kids board, and new mom to an 18-month-old baby boy—had come to support and inspire the children. The first group she ran with was girls only.

“I want to inspire girls to fall in love with running,” Richards-Ross says, “because of how they drop out of sports by age eleven to fourteen. No one really knows why that is, but I want to encourage girls to stay in sports.” She points out that girls are two times less likely than boys to be active. “From being part of Marathon Kids, and from my own experience, I’ve learned that being active makes you a better person. It makes you a better student; it gets your brain working. I think most people can attest to that—you don’t want to go to the gym, but after you go, you feel so good about yourself. Kids who experience that at a young age are much more likely to continue that active lifestyle throughout their lives. And as a female athlete, I want to inspire girls to stay active.”

Austin Kids Run Club

One 10-year-old Pflugerville Elementary student, Aubrey, made it her New Year’s resolution to be the first girl in the school to finish a complete marathon. When the students finish their first marathon, they get to enter their names on the Finishers Chart posted in the gym. Instead of being the first girl to enter her name on the chart, Aubrey was the first finisher overall, among both boys and girls—an accomplishment that inspired her to keep going and aiming high. “I love filling in all the bubbles,” she said, referring to the mileage logs that every student at the school fills out themselves, “and I like to be first!” About having Ms. Richards-Ross visit the school, she said, “It’s really encouraging and exciting!”

Another little girl, Izzy, also 10 years old, shared that she loves Marathon Kids “because you can be free, and it’s really fun to run!”

Either of these girls might be a future Olympic champion one day, judging by their ambition and sentiments that match those of Ms. Richards-Ross, who began running at age seven. “I felt like I was born to run,” Richards-Ross says, “and I always felt like I was most free when I was on the track. It was my place of peace and meditation, so I think there is something very freeing about running.”

Run club for kids

Along with inspiring girls to stay active, she also has a special passion for inspiring minority children to run. She points out that many minority kids “never think about running a marathon. To be able to say, ‘Hey, with this program, you can run 400 meters a day’—which is my specialty—and it can add up to a full marathon, I think we will have a lot more young people and minorities who will think about tackling a marathon. I hope to inspire young people who might not have thought about running as a potential route to finding their best selves.”

Active Families Austin

Coach Salaiz agrees that running and staying active help children become their best selves. Along with Assistant Coach Cindy Lucero, she leads her students in group pushups and sit-ups as part of their Marathon Kids training. This regimen gets a thumbs-up from Sanya Richards-Ross, who also engaged in stretching and strength-training drills as a child in order to run with good form.

Pflugerville Elementary has just over 530 students in Kindergarten through 5th grade, and the entire school participates in Marathon Kids. Coach Salaiz says the school was labeled Title I this year; many students come from lower-SES backgrounds, and plenty have working parents with limited time for shuttling their children to sports events or play dates. This is part of the reason behind the monthly community walks; Coach Salaiz started them in hopes that parents would join their children in developing fun, healthy habits together.

Family support is also an essential component to success for Richards-Ross, who credits her father with being her biggest supporter and inspiration. Both Richards-Ross and Coach Salaiz recognize the struggles that modern families must work against. “We’re fighting against so many things,” says Richards-Ross, “like social media, gaming, all these things that keep us sedentary—so I just want kids to know that running can be a vital part of their lives, and it’s fun, and they should all want to do it!”

Active Austin Families

Buy-in does not seem to be an issue among the students at Pflugerville Elementary. Emily, seven, says she loves Marathon Kids because she loves to run and also loves to catch up and play with her friends. Watching the students run, walk and skip around the track, it’s clear that many must share Emily’s feelings. The students are laughing, talking and even singing as they move their bodies, and the adults by their side are listening, smiling and talking as well.

During this particular community walk, Ms. Richards-Ross ran with the kindergarteners. They did a mini relay race together, and Richards-Ross chanted “We’re gonna kill it!” in a silly singsong voice with the children, smiling ear to ear as she tapped her brightly colored plastic relay stick against theirs. Tall and rangy, she towered over the kindergarteners, so she crouched down to meet them at their level as she gave out encouragement and tips. One little girl ran in cheetah-print leggings and a black tutu, and could not stop bouncing on her toes and grinning excitedly up at the Olympic champion in their midst.

kids marathon run club

“What I really love about running,” says Richards-Ross, “is that there is no barrier to it. If you have a body, you can go out and run. You don’t have to have money or special gear or anything; you can just grab a pair of sneakers and go. So I love that about this sport, and track and field in particular.”

She says she is transitioning out of sports, and serving on the board of Marathon Kids is one way of staying connected with that world and making sure children carry on the torch, so to speak. “I feel like I have a different perspective on the importance of being active and participating in sports,” she says. “If it weren’t for sports, I wouldn’t have traveled the world; I wouldn’t have had all these amazing experiences. So I am excited to be able to share that with other young people.”

Coach Salaiz has the same hope for her Marathon Kids running club at Pflugerville Elementary. She’s been involved with Marathon Kids for 24 years; “My own children grew up doing it,” she says. “Now they’re all in college, and it’s just been a phenomenal thing. And I just hope I instill that love of healthy living in these children as they get older.”

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Marathon Kids running club Michigan
“We may be small in number, but we are BIG in heart.” Those are Coach Kelly Gough’s words about her AGS Marathon Kids running club at Au Gres-Sims Schools, where she teaches Health, Physical Education and Social Studies. Au Gres, Michigan is located on the beautiful shores of Lake Huron, about an hour north of the city of Saginaw.

Community ties are strong in this small, rural city. Many children in the area come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and are eligible to receive free or reduced-priced meals at school. In 2017, when Coach Gough spotted a Marathon Kids ad in Health magazine, she instantly knew she wanted to start a running club at her school, so she applied and received a grant. “I was so incredibly grateful,” she says, “as this was an awesome way for all students who wanted to participate to be able to.”

The AGS Marathon Kids running club is now in its second season. An educator for the past 27 years, Coach Gough naturally incorporates community values into her running club. She also emphasizes the importance of determination, tenacity and grit to her students, a group of 40 runners who range in grade levels from 1st through 7th grades. One of Coach Gough’s top rules for her Marathon Kids runners: “Along with working hard and having fun, anytime you pass another runner on the track or the trail, you should always offer them a word of encouragement to help motivate them to reach their goal.”


Marathon Kids run club running in snowRunning in sub-freezing weather is tough work for AGS students, after all. For this reason, staying motivated is paramount during the long, freezing-cold winter months. In late January, Au Gres schoolchildren had a full week off from school due to a blizzard that dumped 18 inches of snow, followed by temperatures that plunged to -40 degrees before the wind chill.

Coach Gough works hard to inspire her runners so they will never complain that “it’s too cold” or say, “We can’t run outside.” She believes in running alongside her students in order to help everyone stay positive and show the kids that they aren’t alone. Even when it’s incredibly cold out and their lungs are hurting with the effort, she wants her Marathon Kids runners to trust that they can do it. And once a month, there’s hot cocoa waiting as a post-run treat!

Tracking mileage and celebrating milestones are two more ways the AGS Marathon Kids keep their excitement high. In February, when they completed 52.4 miles (two full marathons) as a group, they were very excited to win a prize of cool green Nike laces. Coach Gough also keeps an active Twitter account showcasing her Marathon Kids’ progress and accomplishments, to make them feel like “superstars on the Walk of Fame.”


Michigan run club for kidsCoach Gough likes to incorporate fun in the Marathon Kids routine by recruiting parent and grandparent volunteers to help out with running practices. “The volunteers bring such good energy and feedback to our practices,” says Coach Gough. “I just love hearing their stories about the impact our running club has on them, physically and emotionally.” The kids thrive on the positive interactions with adults, and they take a lot of pride in their hard work.

Community events, such as participation in local 5K races and annual Turkey Trots, are another big part of the AGS Marathon Kids’ success. In December 2018, the city of Au Gres welcomed the AGS Marathon Kids running club in sponsoring the city’s second-annual Jingle Bell Jog Fun Run — a family “Christmas in the Park” event that was a fun time for the whole community.

The event also served as a fundraiser to support the AGS Marathon Kids runners in paying their entry fees for an end-of-season 5K run that’s coming up on St. Patrick’s Day. The 5K is especially exciting for the group, as it will take place in a large city and the students will receive “real, live medals and runners’ shirts” when they cross the finish line.


Michigan run club for kidsCoach Gough believes in the power of running with a purpose. “I have a strong philosophy of giving back to the community and helping those in need,” she says. “In my Physical Education classes, I teach my students about doing things such as food drives for the local pantry or a mitten tree in the winter to provide others with warm outerwear.”

Last year, her MK running club ran in honor of a local teacher who had cancer. This year, Coach Gough says, “Our focus or cause came naturally and unplanned.” When a few families in the local school community fell on hard times, the Marathon Kids families stepped up, providing them with Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, gifts, decorations and more.

“It was only natural to want to help,” says Coach Gough, “and I knew, based on the amazing families I have the opportunity to work with through Marathon Kids, that I could count on them to want to as well. This experience has been so heartfelt, and has taught our runners about true kindness and selflessness.”


Running in winterIn 2018, Coach Gough sustained an injury that left her facing six weeks of recovery at home. Being separated from the running club was challenging, but parent volunteers pitched in to keep the kids on track, and Coach Gough dug deep into the grit and determination that she has always strived to instill in her students.

Despite moments when she worried that she had let her students down and even that she might have to abandon the running club, Coach Gough worked hard to recover, and she rejoined her Marathon Kids runners when she was well enough to return. Now, she reports, “I cannot tell you how privileged I feel to be a part of Marathon Kids. It is truly an amazing time with my students. I love that our running club has become an extended family that always steps up in time of need, trouble or joy. We are there to celebrate with each other, and we are teaching each of these young athletes about so much more than just running.”

In mid-February, her extended MK running club family once again stepped up to help when Coach Gough suffered a slip-and-fall injury. She broke her leg and ankle, which required surgery to repair. Fortunately, she says, “Two very amazing parents are helping me every day via technology to ensure the Marathon Kids running club is still alive and well in my school. I am recovering at home and won’t be running alongside my athletes anytime soon, but part of the journey is ‘practice what you preach.’ I tell my students and runners that they are capable of doing anything they set their mind to, no matter what. I know I will run again, and I am staying positive for my runners, as they are now my inspiration.”

With such a positive attitude and supportive community, Coach Gough will surely recover quickly. She plans to participate in this summer’s Marathon Kids Leadership Academy, in order to make her running club stronger and better than ever. “I am so incredibly, over-the-top excited to see where this program goes in the future,” she says. “The sky is the limit.”