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Candace Atkinson Uses Marathon Kids Connect to Host a Virtual 5K

By MK Editor, May 23, 2021

As a lifelong runner, Candace Atkinson knew she wanted to get her kids into running as well. She had coached a boys’ running program at her kids’ elementary school in Clarks Summit, a township near Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania, but it had been suspended after only one season due to COVID.

Still looking for ways to get her kids outside and running, she began thinking about setting a goal for them to complete a 5K. “I find that kids really respond to a challenge to see what they’re capable of,” she says. Then, “I was searching on Google for running apps for kids and I stumbled across Marathon Kids!”

Marathon Kids Helps Kids Get Moving

“I’ve always been a runner,” Atkinson says. “During much of COVID, I would take my kids out on their bikes, and they would ride along with me while I went running. I understand that electronics are important for the kids to stay in touch virtually right now, but fresh air and movement are also important.”

Still, she says, “while I was getting my kids out, it was lacking that peer interaction and healthy competition that motivates everyone.” She was specifically looking for a way for her kids to train for a 5K virtually, but still see how they were stacking up with their peers, and Marathon Kids Connect fit the bill. The free, cloud-based platform includes a mobile app for distance and activity tracking, plus a Web dashboard where coaches, including parent coaches like Atkinson, can run reports, access resources and more.

Atkinson found it was just what she was looking for. “I set a date for March 14, 2021, to have the kids run a 5K, and sent out texts to see who was interested.” She wound up with nearly 40 participants, all kids from the local Abington Heights School District in 1st through 7th grades, and divided them into three groups by age. Everyone registered with Marathon Kids Connect so they could easily log their miles and keep in touch with the “team,” and the 5K training began.

The Benefits of Marathon Kids Are Research-Based

The running program Atkinson had previously coached at her kids’ school had focused on “peer pressure issues, stressors that kids face in school and at home, how to be a good friend, and so on. We used running to help with goal-setting and teamwork.” The Marathon Kids program also emphasizes goal-setting, encouraging kids to run four full marathons (104.8 miles) one step at a time over the course of a school year.

Marathon Kids programming is based in research confirming the benefits of running for children. These include mental health effects such as anxiety reduction and stress relief, which became more important than ever when the spread of COVID-19 changed life for people across the world, shutting down schools and reducing children’s ability to do “regular kid things” like playing sports and hanging out with their friends.

Anyone with a passion for inspiring kids to be physically active can become a Marathon Kids coach. As coach to her new Marathon Kids “team,” Atkinson began sending out weekly emails with suggested running distances, tips and tricks, and updated leaderboards so everyone could see their distances and rankings compared to others on the team. There were no set times when everyone would run together. Instead, everyone would run on their own and log their mileage, sending it to Atkinson for approval.

Sometimes during training, Atkinson says, the runners did meet up for safe-distance running. “If I had a day when I’d be taking my kids to run outside,” she says, “I would sometimes send a message to the team, so that anyone who was comfortable could meet us for a socially distanced outdoor run. But otherwise, the interaction in person was minimal to stay safe.”

Hosting a Virtual 5K with Marathon Kids Connect

Atkinson had hoped her Marathon Kids team could complete the planned 5K together, in person, but knew it would depend on local virus spread at the time of the mid-March event. The group wound up running the 5K virtually, reporting their results from home, and Atkinson sent out virtual congrats to the team.

As of late spring 2021, her kids are back in school full-time, now focusing on their baseball and softball teams. “I continue to run and to encourage the kids to stay active in whatever way they can,” she says.

The run club she had coached at her kids’ school before the pandemic has not yet started up again. With her son moving on to middle school this fall, Atkinson is hoping another parent at the elementary school will be interested in taking over coaching the program.

Even with her kids currently focusing on team sports instead of running, Atkinson will always keep encouraging them to run. “I think it’s important to always remind kids that running is a metaphor for life,” she says. “If you quit when things get hard, you never reach your potential or your goals. The real growth happens when you push through those hard times.”