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The Lion Runners club is grant-funded, thanks to the generous support of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

In Watts, a neighborhood in southern Los Angeles, California, there is an elementary school called the 112th Street S.T.E.A.M. Academy, where educator Criss Moreno wears many hats. She is a fourth-grade teacher and the school’s technology coordinator. She is also in her third year of coaching the Lion Runners, the school’s Marathon Kids run club, which has 120 fourth- and fifth-grade members.

112th Street Elementary, as the community calls it, is a Title I school. Coach Moreno applies for any and every grant she can because her students are both deserving and in need. “I really wanted to help my students to get up and move,” she says. “They spend so much time on their screens that I knew if I could find an incentive to get them to move, it would really benefit them.”

She also knew it would help her fifth-grade runners prepare for their Fitnessgram, a physical fitness test designed by the California State Board of Education to test students’ fitness levels with the goal of helping them launch lifelong habits of physical activity. While Marathon Kids run clubs don’t test runners’ fitness levels, and children of all abilities and fitness levels are both welcome and encouraged to participate, the Marathon Kids mission isn’t that unlike the California government’s goal: to set children on the path toward healthier lives.

Physical Activity Offers Multiple Benefits

Coach Moreno has benefited from the run club alongside her students. “Because I get out on the track and walk at least a quarter-mile a day to encourage my kids to run, I have lost 100 pounds and kept it off,” she says. “With the help of Marathon Kids and my loving students, we are all making better choices and making sure we hit a minimum movement number each day.”

All the Lion Runners run at recess, and some run at lunch as well. Everyone runs a minimum of a quarter-mile each day, and some up to a mile at a time. This year, for the first time, Marathon Kids is providing digital lap tracking for teachers and run club coaches, who can download the free app on their phones and get instant data when their students swipe their ID cards after each lap they run. “In the previous two years,” Coach Moreno says, “I kept a spreadsheet to track my students’ miles. This year, each teacher has the Marathon Kids app on their phone, so any teacher can log the miles. The app makes this so much easier!”

Less administrative work leaves more time for running—and the benefits of movement that Coach Moreno sees in her students extend beyond the physical. Research has repeatedly shown that daily physical activity boosts cognition and brain function along with strength, balance and cardiovascular health. “Because the students are running at recess,” says Coach Moreno, “they are a bit tired when they come back to class, and this leads to better concentration—because their bodies are tired, but their minds are not.”

Staying Motivated And Healthy For Life

When the going gets tough—as it always does at some point, for every runner—Coach Moreno’s students fall back on a basic Marathon Kids tenet to stay motivated: achieving their goals in small, manageable steps. “I give them a minimum to achieve each day,” Coach Moreno says, “so most of them like to do double or triple that. And because we are making small goals, they slowly, on their own, increase the number of laps they run each day.”

Her students are familiar with adversity. “Watts is historically a troubled area,” she says. “It’s where the 1965 Watts riots kicked off. We see generational poverty, and many students come from single-parent homes. There is not a lot of motivation to live a healthy lifestyle.” But her students love earning rewards for reaching milestones, and the tee-shirts and other fun Nike swag that they receive from Marathon Kids gives them the incentive to keep trying. “The students don’t realize they are building healthy habits that they will use the rest of their lives.”

Setting Goals For The Future—And Achieving Them

Coach Moreno encourages anyone who is considering starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach to go for it, and offers this advice: “It will improve your health, it will improve your classroom, and it will make a HUGE difference in the lives of your students.”

What’s on the horizon for her as the school year progresses?

“I hope to lose another 30 pounds this running season!”

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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The Ambassador School of Global Education Running Club is grant-funded, thanks to the generous support of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

Patricia Andrade sees running and Marathon Kids as “a sport and program in which all students can be successful.”

That’s important to her, as an elementary school teacher and Marathon Kids run club coach at the Ambassador School of Global Education in Koreatown, a small, diverse neighborhood in central Los Angeles. “We have a very diverse school community, and that is reflected in our running club as well.”

Ms. Andrade inherited her run club when a former colleague moved on to another school, leaving the club to her, along with a great legacy. “She is an avid runner,” Ms. Andrade says of her former colleague, “and was a great motivator and example for our students, so I knew I had to continue that. Our students don’t have access to a lot of green space in their community, or to organized sports. This was a great opportunity to continue providing this sport and space to our students, and to make this a yearly program and club for them to participate in.”

Their run club’s official name is Ambassadors Who Run, but Ms. Andrade and her students refer to it simply as Running Club. There are currently 140 students and 26 parents registered—the club’s highest-ever participation in each category. The students, who range from kindergarten to fifth grade, meet after school every Thursday and Friday to run for an hour on the track and field. Everyone warms up together and takes plenty of walking and water breaks; still, many students manage to cover three miles during their hour together.

Los Angeles Run Club for Kids

Motivating Others To Live A Healthier Life

In early autumn, they’ve just started up Running Club again for the school year, so the students are working on developing their endurance and stamina after the summer break. “They definitely get tired,” Ms. Andrade says, “but they end up motivating each other, and they love seeing adults, the teachers and parents, running with them.”

Ms. Andrade loves Running Club in part because it provides a change of pace from teaching in the classroom. “Being a coach gives me the opportunity to take off my teacher hat for a bit and motivate students to make better choices with their health. Physical activity and Marathon Kids give us the opportunity to instill healthy habits in our students, to help them feel better about themselves, and to teach them to make this a lifestyle for the rest of their lives.”

There’s plenty of overlap between coaching and teaching, of course. Ms. Andrade can tell her Run Club students are taking her message to heart when she hears them say things like, “I brought my water bottle, my running shoes, my hat, my sunscreen…” She says, “All of these are indicators that they are listening to our tips and creating healthier lifestyles for themselves. Running club becomes part of their school experience and ultimately their lifestyle.”

Los Angeles Run Club for Kids

When The Running Gets Tough, The Runners Keep Going—After A Short Break

“The students love running and socializing on the track,” says Ms. Andrade. “Something about completing their laps, miles and marathons motivates them to keep going around the track and keep coming back every week.”

Still, every runner faces challenges from time to time. “The students definitely get tired, especially right now, when our L.A. days are still very warm. A few months into running club, there are usually a few students who will stop coming because it gets too hard, and completing marathons is no easy task.”

When students stop showing up, Ms. Andrade follows up with them. “I do individual check-ins with students at recess and lunch if I haven’t seen them in a while, to see if everything is okay and to motivate them to keep running, keep pushing and keep achieving those miles.”

The teachers also serve as cheerleaders out on the track. “We have a megaphone and we’ll walk or run in the opposite direction as the students, motivating them to keep going. We give them time reminders so they are aware when 15 minutes are left, ten, five and so forth, so they know there is an end and they can achieve laps within those time frames.”

They always encourage breaks—and then getting back on the track. “If it gets too tough, they can take a break from running for a few minutes. We remind students to stay hydrated and walk whenever needed. But we always get them back up and going again soon so they can complete their laps.”

Milestones And Rewards Keep The Runners Motivated

“Throughout the running season,” Ms. Andrade says, “we award our runners at our monthly school assemblies. We take the opportunity to showcase them as they complete their marathons, and they love getting to show off their Nike swag. The recognition and rewards help those who have fallen off to come back and restart their running journeys.”

The runners are also motivated by seeing their run club goals and mileage logs displayed prominently in the office. “They get to see their names as they complete their marathons,” Ms. Andrade says, “which is another great incentive and motivator.”

Run Club Is Good For Grown-Ups, Too

Physical activity is important to Ms. Andrade “because it keeps me healthy and ultimately sane. I was athletic in high school, and played volleyball and soccer all four years. I didn’t play sports in college, but kept going to the gym. Then adulthood happened. Stress is real, and it affects many aspects of one’s life. After a few years of failed gym memberships, I rediscovered a love for physical activity through CrossFit, and that has kept me healthy, but more importantly both physically and mentally strong.”

Coaching her school’s run club has helped her further develop her fitness. “I never considered myself a runner and have always struggled at it; long-distance running is mentally difficult. Running Club and CrossFit have changed that perspective now that I run with my students.”

Now she makes it a point to participate in local 5Ks along with some of her top Marathon Kids runners. “I challenged myself to run with them. It’s a great accomplishment and feeling even if it’s just three miles, because I challenge myself to keep my time or beat it every year. It is also an example to my students that size doesn’t matter. I may not look fit to the average eye, but when I exercise with my students and show them my progress at CrossFit or finish that 5K, they see that a healthy lifestyle can be carried in all shapes and sizes.”

She re-emphasizes the mind–body connection. “Did I mention it helps A LOT with my mental health? This teaching thing is no easy job!”

Los Angeles Run Club for Kids

Physical Activity Improves All Aspects Of Life

Ms. Andrade’s students are English Language Learners who are participating in the school’s Spanish Bilingual Maintenance program. She sees benefits from Running Club that extend not only to her students’ physical health and fitness, but also to their moods and academics. “Academic growth is directly connected to a well-balanced social-emotional and overall physical health. Our students love running club, and we start noticing trends throughout the year for those students who participate. Our students tend to get recognized in other areas besides running club, and also tend to receive certificates in achievement areas such as citizenship or academic improvement. I get updates from teachers that behavior in the classroom starts improving as well, and that kids are happier looking forward to their running days.”

The benefits of daily physical activity also extend to the students’ home lives. “Parents talk about how their children start sleeping better, start drinking more water, start making better food choices and want to continue running on their own time because it becomes routine.” Ms. Andrade says the most important thing for her is that “every child that joins our running club becomes a winner and achieves. They all get recognized and awarded for their effort; they wear their Marathon Kids shirts with pride, because they know they belong to something.”

Running Club enables kids of all kinds to come together and connect. “Academic ability, special education classification, language or learning labels—these don’t matter in running club. It is truly an equal playing field for all. Students start making friends with students from other grade levels and programs. It is also common for the older kids to become mentors to the younger kids and motivate them to keep running. You see lots of older students holding hands with the younger kids to help them keep going. It’s cute to see!”

Advice For Other Marathon Kids Run Club Coaches

One of Ms. Andrade’s biggest pieces of advice for anyone wanting to start a Marathons Kids club or become a coach is to get help from colleagues, parents or other community members. “Marathon Kids is a great program with lots of benefits, but it does require work, organization and structure. A support team, or even just one other person, can help with all the details, from scanning laps to motivating runners and advertising the club.” She shares coaching duties, including mileage tracking, with parents and other teachers. They all downloaded the Marathon Kids app so anyone can scan the runners’ ID card as they complete their laps around the track.

But the most important thing of all, she says, is this: “Run or walk with your students, and have fun!”

Her students frequently express their love for Running Club. “Our schedule is the same every week, yet I always get asked if there will be Running Club on Thursday and Friday. They tell me, ‘I’ll see you there!’” That love—of running, and of the community they have built together—is mutual. “What can I say? I love Running Club as much as my students!”

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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Rain, hail, sleet, snow, and cold can play a factor in the safety level of your run club session. But with a little bit of preparation and a strong desire to be active, we can kick our fears of cold weather to the curb, and get faster along the way.

Cold Weather Running Tips Flyer

How cold is too cold?

Generally speaking, it’s safe to be outside in temperatures as low as -17°F. According to research by the American College of Sports Medicine, the risk of frostbite and hypothermia increases at a greater rate past that point. That
being said, Marathon Kids does not recommend kids being outside for long periods of time in subfreezing temperatures. As a general rule of thumb, temperatures above 32°F are recommended for outdoor activity.

When looking at outdoor temperatures, pay attention to the windchill factor (the “feels like” temperature) to get the most accurate idea of comfort level for your runners. Knowing the signs of hypothermia and frostbite are key to keeping your runners safe.

Cold weather running tips

❄️ Layer Properly
❄️ Warm-Up and Cool Down
❄️ Take Breaks
❄️ Stay Hydrated
❄️ Check Your Route

Running Games

If it’s too cold to be outside, try playing some indoor running games or sports to allow kids to reach moderate-to-vigorous activity levels (MVPA) and earn some miles. Remember, 20 minutes of MVPA equals one mile!

Marathon Kids running club Michigan

Tips from Marathon Kids Coaches

“In these chilly, Northern Michigan snowy-weather days, we keep motivated by keeping a clear head without any negative comments like ‘It’s too cold’ or ‘We can never run outside.’ Help each other stay positive. Have a once-a-month hot cocoa date after practice to warm up. As much as possible, RUN RUN RUN yourself so your runners know they are not alone and you are giving the same, best effort you are asking of them EVEN when it is cold, wet, and your lungs start to hurt. A rule always is (no matter the weather conditions) if you pass by someone on the trail or the track, you need to offer a piece of encouragement. Have fun! You are building memories with your friends and coaches AND you are building your body to be stronger with each and every step.”
—Coach Kelly Gough, Au Gres, MI

“We are from Berwyn, Illinois, a western suburb just outside Chicago, so we feel the lake-effect winds and snow. We try hard to have kids wear layers, t-shirts, long sleeves, sweatshirts, hats, and gloves, but most end up wearing their winter jacket. We just started staying in, but the kids never know if we are going to play a game, run laps, or both.”
—Coach Gert August, Berwyn, IL

“We are in Beaverton,Oregon. We do tell [our runners] that the quicker they move, the warmer they’ll get. These runners are amazing! 25 degrees this morning and these kids were still out there smiling (or maybe their faces were just frozen that way!). Way to go Eagles!”
—Coach Brent Van Volkinburg, Portland, OR

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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When Special Education teacher Maria Ornelas applied for a grant to fund a Marathon Kids run club at Lockwood Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles, California, she shared in her application that she was excited to become a run club coach “because running motivates the students to do their best on the track and in their classrooms. I want to teach the students that they can have fun for free, and without being on their iPads. This gives me an opportunity to collaborate with parents in regards to their child’s movement options.”

The Physical Education teacher at Lockwood had first brought the Marathon Kids program to the school several years earlier, and Ms. Ornelas was interested in getting involved for the sake of her students, who have moderate to severe autism. “When Marathon Kids was first implemented in our school, only the sixth-graders were part of the team. I found that my students were better able to focus in the classroom after they had some exercise or running time, so I asked the P.E. teacher about including my students in the program.”

Marathon Kids Run Clubs Help Children Manage Daily Stress

Ms. Ornelas saw that the daily physical activity gained through the MK program helped her students release anxiety along with the stress they often felt when they arrived at school—“a win-win for all.”

Her run club, called Lockwood Shining Stars, began with only 65 students participating. It grew over time, and currently has about 200 participants from several different grade levels at the school, ranging from TK (Traditional Kindergarten, for younger kindergarteners) through sixth grade, as well as three classes of children with moderate to severe autism.

At Lockwood, It’s A Group Effort

Ms. Ornelas wanted to get involved with Marathon Kids “because I could invite other teachers to join our Lockwood Shining Stars, in order to help our students cope with life stressors through exercise. We now have students in different grade levels running at different times of the day. It is a great sight to see children running with their friends and having fun!”

She teams up with other teachers to get the students moving. “The teachers who participate in Marathon Kids take charge of their students. There are about four classes that run or exercise after breakfast, while other teachers will take their students out to run before or after lunch, three to five days a week.”

The students’ daily mileage varies according to each classroom as well as the kids’ ages and ability levels. “We motivate our participants to complete one marathon at a time,” says Ms. Ornelas, though individual students reach their milestones at their own paces. “There are students in the upper grades who cover two to three miles daily.”

In years past, individual teachers tracked their students’ laps as the kids completed them, but this year, with the introduction of free digital lap tracking through the Marathon Kids app, some of the Lockwood teachers have begun to digitally track their students. Ornelas says the goal is for everyone involved with the Lockwood run club eventually to track digitally.

The Entire Community Benefits From Run Club

The benefits of Marathon Kids run clubs extend beyond the student runners. “Through Marathon Kids,” Ms. Ornelas says, “students are learning about proper nutrition, and parents are learning about proper nutrition through parent programs in our school.” She reports that many students who used to choose juice for their workout and recovery drink have begun choosing water instead when they run.

Ms. Ornelas plans to use the program to set her own running goals and make positive changes. “I have seen some little changes in myself since starting the program. I don’t like to feel sluggish when I don’t have some form of physical activity.”

Most of all, though, she sees how running makes life easier for her students. “Physical activity is important because it helps a person to deal with daily stressors in a positive way. Physical activity helps to keep the mind clear and gives positive energy throughout the day.” And whether the student runners naturally enjoy exerting themselves or it’s an effort for them to complete their laps, “either way, they run and enjoy the time they spend with their friends on the track.”

Motivation—And A Little Friendly Competition—Are Key When Running Gets Tough

When running gets tough, learning to push through the hard moments is a key lesson for any runner. At Lockwood, “We run for about a half-hour daily, and we always give the students high-fives and encourage them to keep running.”

But running inevitably gets tough at some point, no matter how intrinsically motivated the students might be. Ms. Ornelas says, “I have noticed that many students are encouraged by their peers. The sixth-graders are trying to outrun one another, which makes running fun and motivating for them, while getting them ready for middle school. They really like to outrun each other. The competition among the students is great. I see smiles and hear laughter as they run with their peers.”

Keeping track of their progress is another key element of the kids keeping their motivation high. “When they return to the class, they can see where they are on the graph. If they are below their friends, they usually want to be at the same miles with their friends or have more, so visual charts are always great.”

Marathon Kids Values Progress Built Over Time

Ms. Ornelas says, “My students are now able to walk/run a mile to a mile-and-a-half, whereas before, they could not even complete the first lap without taking a break.” When it’s time to head back to class and focus on academics, “I also see that they are not as jittery when it’s time to engage in their educational learning.”

For other teachers or coaches thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club, Ornelas has this advice: “I believe that Marathon Kids provides many resources that can be given to students and their families to encourage them to exercise together. Marathon Kids is also a great way to start the day. Running and exercise help the students not only physically, but mentally as well. They release tension when they exercise, and then they feel more relaxed and ready to learn.”

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Marathon Kids was founded in 1995 with the simple idea that kids who set distance goals and track their progress on a mileage log will make healthier choices, both on and off the track.

Research findings from three independent studies on the Marathon Kids program confirmed this to be true. These studies affirmed that our program was making a difference in participants’ lives, and determined our six evidence-based pillars to long-term healthy behavior adoption.

This year, researchers from UTHealth School of Public Health – Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living conducted another independent analysis of the Marathon Kids program and its effectiveness with elementary school children. They were exploring if coach-led Marathon Kids run clubs help children reach the recommended daily minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), and to gather insights about intrapersonal factors such as goal-setting and self-efficacy.

Is the Marathon Kids program helping kids make better choices and reach their goals?

The results of this analysis revealed that the Marathon Kids program does help children reach their 60 daily minutes of MVPA, especially when their schools don’t have adequate Physical Education class time for students to meet that goal. The analysis found that the Marathon Kids program can help provide more than 100 additional minutes of MVPA outside of P.E. in the form of walking and running, an important contribution to the school ecosystem to provide additional opportunities for kids to engage in physical activity.

The analysis also found that the Marathon Kids program helps students with setting, working toward, and achieving goals. The structure of the program, based on cumulative mileage logged over time by walking or running, makes it accessible to students of all abilities and fitness levels. Of the students who set a goal of covering 104.8 miles (the distance of four marathons) within one Marathon Kids season, 44.7% of them reached or exceeded that goal. Over half—56.4%—covered at least three marathons, 69.7% completed two, and 87.5% completed at least one full marathon.

Are coaches satisfied with the program?

The study found a high rate of satisfaction among Marathon Kids coaches with the program, with a mean satisfaction score of 50.6 (with 56 representing the highest possible score), and more than 92% of coaches reporting they plan to implement the program with their students again next year. Furthermore, 21.6% of coach respondents indicated greater than 100% participation, meaning even more students participated than expected after the initial registration period. Coach respondents reported high overall confidence in implementing their run clubs, with a mean score for the total sample of 4.5 (with 5 being the highest possible score).

What are some coach-recommended best practices?

The respondents agreed it’s essential to provide student runners with praise and recognition. Finding ways to celebrate their students’ achievements, both major and minor, was a priority for many of the respondents. Nearly half held a season kick-off event or ceremony, while nearly three-quarters hosted a Finishers celebration or ceremony at season’s end. Others announced finishers at their schools’ Student of the Month assemblies or designated a Runner of the Week. One coach suggested finding ways to praise all kids, “not just the one who ran the most that day. I have a small running club, but I always try to give each child some type of compliment that makes them want to keep coming back.”

Other coach-recommended best practices include providing the runners with regular encouragement and motivation, not just at the start or end of the season, but throughout. Some made it a regular practice to discuss their students’ efforts and achievements during P.E. class. “I always recognize achievement in my gym,” one coach said, “regardless how small. Gains are gains!” Another emphasized the importance of teamwork and good sportsmanship, and providing social support for the student runners. “Encourage kids to cheer each other on, and not to treat it like a competition.”

The Marathon Kids program is helping children build fitness and healthy habits for life. These student runners are also learning to set goals and work steadily toward them as they value others’ achievements in the same process. Developing such important life skills from an early age will benefit everyone, not just as individuals, but as a community.