Jan / 2021

Faces of Marathon Kids: Chris McClung

Chris McClung has been supporting Marathon Kids for 16 years. Please consider making a donation in his name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

Chris McClung—Co-Founder of Rogue Running and Marathon Kids Board Chair

In 2004, Chris McClung was in graduate school at the University of Texas. “We had a project to do associated with the governor’s initiative to promote health and fitness in the state,” he recalls. “We were supposed to figure out how to market that initiative, particularly to the Hispanic population, so a couple of my fellow students and I went to a health fair.”

Marathon Kids happened to have a booth at the fair, and McClung was talking to a representative about their running programming in Austin schools when a woman came up and interrupted the conversation. “She was just profusely excited about the Marathon Kids program. She was talking about how her kid was doing it through his school, and they had started running laps after school together. She talked about how she had lost 30 pounds and was feeling better and healthier because of it, and how her relationship with her son was improved because of their ability to do this activity together. I thought that was pretty cool.”

McClung had played soccer in college and then taken up running after graduating in 2000 as a way to stay in shape. He’d quickly fallen in love with the sport, and by 2004, had run several marathons. He had yet to conceive of running as a career, but “I knew it was something I would be doing for a lifetime. As a runner myself, I already knew the impact it could have on someone, but to see it in action in the community made me want to get involved with Marathon Kids. I knew what it would have done for me if I’d been involved in it earlier in my life, so I wanted to give that back to others.”

Soon after the health fair, McClung was directing a race in Austin on the UT campus, and selected Marathon Kids as the race beneficiary. “Then,” he says, “Kay Morris, the Marathon Kids founder, pulled me in, and I’ve been involved in almost every way possible since—as a volunteer, as a sponsor through Rogue Running, and now as chair of the Marathon Kids board. I’ve got three kids who are Marathon Kids. It’s been a cool ride over the last 16 years.”

The Impact of Running Extends Far Beyond Physical Health

Becoming co-founder and owner of Rogue Running has given McClung a deeper understanding of the impact running can have on someone’s life. “I coach adult athletes because I believe running is a vehicle for life change that extends well beyond the sport itself. I see that in adults all the time: how they build confidence, how they build self-esteem, how they relieve stress and find an outlet for so many things in life. And then it facilitates this change in life that affects their work life, their relationships and everything else.”

He believes the impact running can have on children’s lives is also profound, including building confidence in school. “Obviously there’s a physical benefit as well, but for me it’s more about confidence, self-esteem and the things it will open up in kids’ lives beyond just moving one foot in front of the other.”

One of the things that originally drew him to Marathon Kids was the fact that it was free and accessible to all.

It’s free, it’s incremental, it’s easy, and everyone can really have access to it. Those were core principles that Kay brought to the program early on. She wanted to make sure that not only can kids do it, but any kid can do it, it’s easy to facilitate, and you have kids of all activity levels and all backgrounds who can access the program. Those were pillars of the program early on, and still are pillars today.

Chris McClung

Favorite Memories from the Early Days of Marathon Kids

McClung moved to Houston after graduate school and helped launch the Marathon Kids program there, and was also involved in the organization’s early expansion to Dallas and other cities. “To see the first event they had in Houston was a pretty cool experience.”

Before that, when he was still in Austin, he would assist with Marathon Kids kickoff events at the University of Texas. “Kay was really big on getting kids onto college campuses,” he says, “not only to experience the kickoff event and get excited about the program, but also to see the University of Texas and to hopefully be influenced to want to go to a place like that someday.”

He remembers being a volunteer at one of those early UT events. “They would bring the kids down out of the stands in waves, and they would come through after finishing a lap and get autographs from University of Texas athletes. Just seeing the look on their faces after running and then getting to see those athletes, and being so excited to get autographs from these people that they maybe didn’t know, but who were obviously role models for them—you only have to see that once to think, This is a big deal.

The Future of Marathon Kids

These days, McClung is excited about taking Marathon Kids into a new digital era with Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based physical activity tracking and reporting app that launched in 2020. “I think it will only make it easier for people to reach us. We’ve been a very school-based model, which has served us well and has been a great way for schools to engage in it. But now, with the digital platform, pretty much anybody can do it. A family, a neighborhood group, a church group—anyone.”

Marathon Kids is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and though the organization now has a national presence, McClung still sees it as quintessentially Austin. “It’s cool to be part of something that was built here 25 years ago,” he says. “To me, the organization represents what Austin is—a physical activity-oriented community, where people like to get outdoors. And Marathon Kids was very grassroots. Early on, Kay was driving around in her car from school to school, helping teach the PE teachers how to facilitate the program. It was a very grassroots, low-key, scrappy, entrepreneurial spirit that built Marathon Kids, and that is still embedded in the organization today, and it still represents what Austin is really all about.”

McClung looks forward to another 25 years for Marathon Kids, and a reach that extends even further, to kids everywhere. “We would really like to see the community continue to embrace Marathon Kids as this organization that is Austin-grown, but that can also reach much further beyond Austin. The University of Texas has the motto that ‘what starts here can change the world,’ and in Austin, there’s a lot of that happening with businesses that are coming here or that started here, and with the entrepreneurial spirit that this city has. We have this opportunity now to take something that was born here and to take it much further. I think that’s very much what Austin is about.”

To keep Marathon Kids free for all children, please consider a donation to Chris’s 25th-anniversary fundraiser.