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The Daisy 5K is Austin’s oldest 5K event. Hosted by local nonprofit organization Austin Runners Club and held every year since 1978, the Daisy would have marked its 43rd annual run this month, if it weren’t for COVID-19. Originally scheduled for May, this year’s 5K was postponed due to the global coronavirus pandemic. But while the Daisy is indefinitely on hold, the coronavirus can’t stop ARC from continuing its charitable efforts: Since this year’s run was set to benefit Marathon Kids, the nonprofit has committed to doubling all donations to Marathon Kids during the month of May, up to $10,000.

Founded in 1974 for charitable as well as health and educational purposes, Austin Runners Club seeks to “promote and encourage running, walking, wheelchair racing, and related activities in order to educate the public to their benefits.” This mission makes it a natural match for Marathon Kids, whose mission is to instill in children a lifelong love of running and set them on a path toward a healthier future.

Being A Human Is Being A Runner

The president of Austin Runners Club, Iram Leon, has long been a Marathon Kids supporter. His daughter, Kiana, was a Marathon Kid in elementary school. Now 13 years old, Kiana is an accomplished runner, and she and her father still enjoy running together. “I think Marathon Kids helped instill her love of running,” Iram says. “She did her first 5K when she was eight and her first 10K at 10. She recently completed the Austin Distance Challenge Half-Track, in which she ran a 5K, a 10-miler and three half-marathons. She was the youngest participant, but we ran the entire thing side by side.”

Iram started running as a child as well, when he was in third grade. “People ask me when I started running, but all you have to do is look at a child shortly after they start walking and you’ll see they’re trying to move faster. Being a human is being a runner.” He encouraged that movement in his daughter, and was pleased when she joined the run club at school. “She’d do Marathon Kids on the weekdays, and then on the weekends we would do things like run on the track going in opposite directions, high-fiving each other.”

Iram is deeply and personally familiar with the importance of running, for both physical and emotional health. After running recreationally and competitively for more than 20 years, running took on new significance in his life at age 30, when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

Running As Therapy, Running For Life

“Shortly after I turned 30,” Iram says, “I woke up with a Grand Mal seizure. I found out I had brain cancer that has a 10-year survival rate of only 12 percent, so statistically speaking, I wasn’t supposed to make it to 40.” For several years, he was unable to drive due to recurring seizures, but he kept running. “I actually put off my initial brain surgery to run a marathon, the first I’d qualify for Boston on,” he says. “Running was and is my therapy.”

It has continued to play this same role in his life since mid-March, when Austin’s Stay-at-Home orders went into effect. “I’ve kept running every single day through the pandemic. On Wednesday, May 20, it will actually be two years since I missed a day of exercise. I’ve done a few virtual races. I did a virtual trail marathon with the chairman of the [Marathon Kids] board on the greenbelt on May 17. We got lost and actually covered a little over 28 miles.”

Marathon Kids Board Chair, Chris McClung and ARC President, Iram Leon

Twenty-eight miles isn’t terribly tough for this seasoned long-distance runner, who is used to daily runs of seven to ten miles and longer runs on weekends. “Occasionally I do two-a-days. But for the most part, lately I’ve actually been running longer but easier.”

He isn’t sure when he’ll have the opportunity to take part in a race again. “Some that I planned to be a part of have been canceled from March through September,” he says. There are other important events on the horizon, however, including an MRI in coming weeks and a milestone birthday in August. “If all goes well and I get to August 8 this year,” Iram says, “I’ll have made it to 40. There was a study that showed that long-distance runners with brain cancer have a higher survival rate, so I quite literally run for life.”

Joining Austin Runners Club For Community, And Now, To Give Back

Iram has served as president of the Austin Runners Club for the past five years, taking it one year at a time. “My time [as ARC president] ends soon,” he says, “but when I first got to Austin, it was their events that got me back into racing for the first time since college. Since I was diagnosed with brain cancer, they were the ones who gave me rides to get to workouts and races. So when someone nominated me to be president, it was my chance to formally return to them and the running community at large.”

He feels a deep commitment to the organization and its mission. “They’ve been around since 1974,” he points out. “An all-volunteer organization that’s been around since longer than I’ve been alive owns the oldest 5K in town and the Decker Challenge—both around over 40 years, and always run by volunteers. That just shows that it’s a simple community thing to run together.”

Community is the basis of the Austin Runners Club, and it’s an important aspect of the sport for Iram, especially on those days when running feels tougher than usual and motivation is running low. “I rarely run alone,” he says, “so the accountability partnerships help. Some days you help each other out—when one of you is down, hopefully the other is up. But even if you’re both down, or several of you are, that company and the keeping moving helps.”

At this point, running is simply a way of life for Iram. “I just love my sport for the run of it. I’ve never given it up, and I never intend to.”

Visit MarathonKids.org/donate/ during the month of May to have your donation to Marathon Kids matched by Austin Runners Club. You can also visit AustinRunners.org to learn more about the ARC, including the benefits of membership (dues are just $30 a year!) as well as annual events like the Austin Distance Challenge and the Decker Challenge (a classic Austin half-marathon set for December 2020).

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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Christina Edwards is a longtime runner and working mom of two. Since Stay at Home began in mid-March in the Austin area due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Edwards and her husband have focused on balancing the family’s daily workouts with their children’s online schooling, all while continuing to work full-time from home.

The Edwards children—West, who is eight years old and in second grade, and Wynne, who is six and in kindergarten—attend Davis Elementary in northwest Austin. When school was still in session, they ran with the Davis Marathon Kids run club, and they have kept their running habits going since Stay at Home began.

“My kids are running five days a week,” says Edwards. “I tell them they need to take at least two days off, so they’ve been averaging about 10 miles a week.” West is largely self-motivated, thanks to his innate love of running. Wynne started running mainly because big brother was doing it. “My daughter is very stubborn,” Edwards says, “and wanted to prove she could hang with us for two to three miles.”

Parents Can Set a Good Example

“We never pushed our kids to run,” Edwards says, “but they saw us running and biking, as I do triathlons and have run a couple of marathons since West was born. He is obsessed with Usain Bolt, even though he considers himself an endurance runner.”

Earlier in elementary school, West kept asking his parents if he could run more. He even wanted to join a running club, says Edwards, “but we were not sure if it was just a fleeting thing. After begging for a year, and doing a lot of research—we found that a lot of running clubs that cater to kids are either very serious or too far of a commute with less than ideal hours for two working parents—we reached out to Austin Youth Fitness about starting a run club at Davis. Our PE Teacher and the AYF founder, Larry Chauvin, were amenable, and we got a run club started.”

They needed a minimum of 10 kids to make it happen. Fortunately, West wasn’t the only kid at school who was excited to join a run club. “There was plenty of interest, and I think the first run that started this past winter was at capacity with 26 kids!”

Building Up Mileage, One at a Time

Soon, West was covering two to three miles a day at recess with a couple of friends. “They use a scan card to run at recess and track the laps,” says Edward. At times, West has been at the top of the Davis mileage board, while at other times he’s fallen to fifth or sixth place. Now that the school has closed, she says, West’s PE teacher is allowing him to track his mileage from home. “He went back to first place in terms of mileage completed during this homeschool period.”

Even during the first couple of weeks of Stay at Home, when the Edwards family hadn’t yet started tracking the children’s miles, West was running almost every day. “His goal when he started was nine marathons, because that was the most the top runner ran last year at Davis.” The family started tracking mileage sometime during the second or third week of distance-learning, and in the weeks since, West has exceeded his own goal. “In total, he has run 11 marathons,” reports his mom—and counting.

Physical Activity Is Important, Especially During Trying Times

“Since we started staying at home,” Edwards says, “I have encouraged the kids to stay active because it is healthy and burns some energy, as both kids are very high energy. My daughter has also learned how to ride a bike, so that has been really fun. The kids tend to run early in the morning, around 6:30 or 7 a.m., after my husband and I get our workouts in. Then we’ll bike during the day, and if it’s a nice evening, we’ll go for a neighborhood bike or scooter ride, or walk our dog, Kona. It’s a great way to get out of the house and move a bit, since we obviously are not participating in our normal activities as we did pre-pandemic.”

Staying active has been especially important since Stay at Home began, Edwards says, “as it helps us maintain a routine that the kids were already used to before, since they would run regularly at school and on the weekends. Now, it gives us fresh air and a way to get out of the house regularly, and it is a great bonding activity. Beyond that, it continues to provide the physical and mental health benefits we need, especially during this time.”

Physical activity has always been important to Edwards, and is even more so now. “I have always been very active. I think, growing up, it was a good outlet for extra energy, but also to work out my emotions. Whether that is just leveraging a physical outlet or taking time to think through or problem-solve personal and work problems—for some reason, when I’m active, it gives me a different perspective.” She also appreciates running for other important life lessons. “Running itself teaches work ethic—set a goal, put in the work, and you can achieve it—and mental strength. Even when something is uncomfortable or isn’t easy, you keep on going.”

Tricks for Staying Motivated

On those days when running feels tougher than usual, Edwards has a couple of tricks up her sleeve to keep West and Wynne engaged. “For my kids, we have them run different animal speeds—for example, ocean animals: Starfish is walking, dolphin is jogging, and sailfish is sprinting. Or I will give them a goal to focus on: Run from here to the next mailbox.”

For herself, when she needs motivation to keep moving, she uses repetition to trick her brain into pushing through the difficulty. “I count to 100 on repeat, or repeat a song lyric stuck in my head over and over. Sometimes they’re kids’ songs!”

Watching her son develop his joy for running has been especially rewarding for Edwards. “We really didn’t push him to do it, but coming from a family of recreational runners, it has been great to see him pick up a healthy interest and stick with it. I think it has instilled confidence and taught him about intrinsic motivation, which I find a really important characteristic to develop, as well as discipline. It also helps get him ready for his day, as it is part of his routine.”

Adjusting to the New Stay-at-Home Lifestyle

“It definitely took a while to get a routine in place,” says Edwards, “with homeschool and both my husband and I working full-time. Both my kids have always responded better to understanding expectations ahead of time versus not really knowing what is going to happen, so when we first started staying at home with them, one of the first things I did was set a schedule that included active time, be it running, biking or just playing outdoors, as well as how much screen time they could have. I had to adjust it a lot based on what was working and what wasn’t, for the kids as well as for our work schedules.”

Before Stay at Home began, Edwards was used to rising by 4:30 a.m. to get a workout in before the kids woke up. The kids, for their part, were doing most of their running at school. “Now,” Edwards says, “I actually get to sleep in! I wake up around 5:30 during the week to work out.” The kids take turns choosing the route for their morning runs, and the whole family covers their miles together.

Seeing West’s evolving love of running has been fun for Edwards; she also loves seeing Wynne follow in her big brother’s footsteps. “My daughter is now just as motivated to run, and I think that is the case of big brother rubbing off. I love seeing her strength and determination to keep up with West, and her unabashed confidence that she has the ability to do anything she sets her mind to. It is really refreshing to see her mindset as she runs and stays active without any of the gender stereotype influences on her abilities and what brings her joy.”

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Hailey Walker’s last name is ironic, considering that she prefers running to walking. “I always wanted to run. I thought it was fun to run, plus I could get where I wanted to go faster than if I walked.” Eleven years old and in fifth grade at West Lenoir Elementary in Lenoir, North Carolina, Hailey has been a runner since she was very young, but she didn’t start tracking her mileage until her PE teacher, Coach Abee, told the class about Marathon Kids.

Sharon Abee has taught PE for 24 years and has been involved with Marathon Kids for two. “I felt like this program would help my students get in better shape,” she says, “and help them set goals and reach them, improve overall school behavior, and allow them to make new friends.”

When school is in session, the West Lenoir run club students run every morning from 7:20 until 8:00 a.m., when they head in to start their school day. “My students have PE every day,” says Coach Abee, “so they also run at the beginning of every class. We try to average three-quarters of a mile a day. With 180 school days, that puts you on track to finish all four marathons”—the standard Marathon Kids goal for student runners to cover in one school year.

Once a week, Coach Abee says, “we have a running day on the track, so students can catch up and stay focused on completing 104.8 miles”—the cumulative total of those four marathons. Some students wind up exceeding the four-marathon goal. Hailey, a natural and dedicated runner, loves running so much that she left that goal in the dust months ago.

Setting a Goal to Beat Another Marathon Kid’s Incredible Record

Two years ago, a Texas third-grader named Kelbie Black became the top Marathon Kids runner in the country when she covered over 550 miles during the 2017–2018 school year. When Coach Abee learned about Kelbie’s incredible accomplishment, she asked Hailey if she was interested in trying to exceed it. “Of course, she said YES!”

For Hailey, beating Kelbie’s record wasn’t about personal glory. It was about showing herself and others that dedication gets results. “I wanted to show other kids my age that you can do it. If you work hard, then you can accomplish anything.”

With her coach’s help, she set a goal of running 600 miles before the end of the school year. “Hailey and I sat down and did the math on how many miles a week she would need to break Kelbie’s record,” says Coach Abee. “She looked at the runners’ report that I printed every morning, so she always knew how many miles she had and if she was on track.”

“When my mom would drop me off at school in the mornings,” Hailey says, “I would go to the gym, put my stuff away and get my scan card, and head out to the track to run until I had to go in to school. I would usually get in at least two or three miles in the morning, sometimes more, and I’d get to do more laps on days the teachers took us outside. Mrs. Abee would scan my card; it would keep track of what I ran for that day.”

With Distance Learning, Run Club Shifted from School to Home

Then the global pandemic hit, and schools across the country closed, including West Lenoir Elementary in mid-March. Hailey had to shift to logging her miles alone, at home. “My goal that I had set for myself was 600 miles,” she says, “but I didn’t quite make it before they had us doing school at home. But I am proud of the miles I did accomplish, and I am wearing my Fitbit at home to keep track of my miles to get there.”

Coach Abee wasn’t worried about her student reaching her goal. “Hailey has perfect running form, and running seems effortless for her. She is also one of the most driven students that I have had the pleasure of coaching. I never had to push her or remind her what she needed to do in order to break the record. She took it upon herself to ask me where she was and how many miles a day she needed to reach her goal.”

When Hailey started logging miles from home, Coach Abee worked with her student’s parents to keep track of her progress. “Hailey’s dad used GPS to measure a track at their house. She is now close to 700 miles. She has been using a Fitbit and sending me her daily activities.”

That’s right—Hailey broke Kelbie’s record at the end of April, and she’s kept on going since. And her “new normal,” including distance learning and running on her homemade track, doesn’t seem to have thrown her off much. “I’ve enjoyed getting to spend more time with my family and getting to play outside longer,” she says. “Staying at home has not changed anything for me because I’m still running as much, if not more. I think my speed has picked up.”

She is already looking ahead to next year and beyond, and is seeking new ways to challenge herself. “When I go to middle school, I want to join track, and I have been told by many of my teachers that I need to do long-distance runs.”

Staying Motivated Is Simple: Just Keep Going

Running isn’t always easy, even for naturals like Hailey. When asked what she does to stay motivated on the tougher days, her response is simple: “Sometimes it does get hard, but I just keep going. I enjoy running because it keeps me active and healthy. There’s nothing I dislike about running.”

On those tough running days, Coach Abee has some savvy advice for her students that can be applied to many areas of life, not just physical fitness. “I tell them that setting and reaching a goal is not meant to be easy—that it is supposed to challenge them. I have also told them that when they reach that goal and look back at the work that it took to get there, they are going to be extremely proud of themselves.” She also shares her own experience with and love of running, showing her students inspirational videos and telling them stories about what running has meant to her over the years.

Staying active has helped Coach Abee adjust to her own “new normal” caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Along with teaching online classes full-time every weekday, she’s been prioritizing exercise even more than she did before. “I think many of my students have been outside more, too,” she says. “COVID-19 has people outside exercising with their families. I’m happy about that!”

She’s encouraged her students to keep up with their mileage from home by logging it on an assignment she set up specifically for her Marathon Kids runners. She’s also following her own advice. “I have kept my sanity by going to the local greenway every day and either walk/running or riding my bike. It is the highlight of my day every day since the stay-at-home order went into effect.”

The Numerous Benefits of Exercise: Feeling Good in Body and Mind

Hailey and Coach Abee are of twin minds about the benefits of exercise. “Physical activity is important to me because I want to have a healthy lifestyle and stay fit,” Hailey says. As for Coach Abee, “I know that the more I move and stay active, the better I feel. I want to be running, hiking and biking until I am a very old lady.”

Coach Abee has seen significant positive changes in her students due to their Marathon Kids running. “All of my students’ confidence levels have soared, and their overall school behavior has improved,” Abee says. “Recess now has a purpose. I feel as a teacher that Marathon Kids has enhanced my PE program tremendously. My students are setting goals and reaching them!”

As for Hailey? “She has become so much more confident in herself,” Abee says. “She is so humble about her accomplishment, and she encourages her classmates. She is going to do something great in life!”

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 PE teacher Rene Hernandez ran his first 5K, something clicked. “I loved the feeling of being able to complete the run, and I knew I had kids who would love to start running.” He’d always known the importance of staying healthy; as a physical education teacher, he says, “I have always loved being outdoors, and I know that if we have our health, we have everything. I preach it every day to my kids.”

He knew he wanted his students at Augusto Guerra Elementary in Alamo, Texas to experience the same sense of accomplishment he’d felt upon crossing that 5K finish line. An internet search of running clubs in Texas turned up Marathon Kids, and the Guerra Marathon Club was born. The run club, made up of 60 student runners ranging in age from eight to 11 years old, met for an hour after school three days a week, before Texas schools closed for the year. “My running club is for kids of all abilities and teaches them to live an active lifestyle,” says Coach Hernandez. The runners met in a large field and typically covered one to two miles together per session, using the Marathon Kids Connect digital lap tracking app to track their miles.

The Guerra Marathon Club was sponsored by beloved Texas-based grocery store chain H-E-B. At Guerra, says Coach Hernandez, “We serve a majority of low-income kids who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise to join a run club. Many of these kids love exercise; they just needed a willing adult to coach them.”

Providing a Positive Push

Now that they’ve experienced the structure, inspiration and community that comes with participating in a run club, many of Coach Hernandez’s students have fully committed to being active and challenging themselves to push further with their running skills. “Many of my marathon club members have joined local 5Ks and placed at the races, so they are lifelong runners now.”

But while those milestones and successes help bolster the students’ commitment to getting regular physical exercise, any runner knows it’s not always easy to get outside and stay motivated. When running gets tough for his students, Coach Hernandez says, “We always lead by example to make sure they know it’s going to get better for them.”

Run Clubs Create a Safe Space for All Participants

One of the most important things about the Guerra Marathon Club is the safe space and community that it provides for the students. “Our club offers kids of all levels a place to call home and be themselves,” says Coach Hernandez. “Many kids have been scouted by high schools through their running talent.”

He’s also seen personal benefits since starting the run club at his school, including drawing energy and motivation from his students. “Sometimes, after a tiring day, seeing my students motivated and excited to run makes me feel great and excited for the running session.” For other teachers who are considering coaching a Marathon Kids run club, Coach Hernandez says, “It’s well worth it and very rewarding to see the positive impact the club will have on the kids and their families.”