Coach Martin Gow Creates an Inclusive Running Club for Students of All Backgrounds and Abilities
By Catherine Morris
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At the elementary school where Coach Martin Gow teaches PE, he says, “We serve every student that walks into our school. My running club is something everyone can join and do. There is no official language—just go outside and do your best.”
His school, Carman Elementary in San Juan, Texas, is located about 15 miles north of the US–Mexican border. The school is part of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District. Along with Pharr and Alamo, San Juan is a small city within the McAllen metropolitan area, in the southernmost tip of the state.
Gow’s inclusive approach to his running club matches that of Marathon Kids, which aims to help kids of all backgrounds and abilities find their inner athlete and build the foundation for a lifetime of good health through running. But it took Coach Gow some time to find the Marathon Kids program.
“I started my running club as a walking club back in 2011, thanks to the Fuel Up to Play 60 program,” he says. “Since then, the club has gone through different programs and platforms to make it better.” None of the platforms he tried was quite the right fit, but Gow kept searching for the one that would match both his needs as an educator and his students’ needs as developing athletes.
Then, in 2016, he learned about Marathon Kids. “I’ve been part of Marathon Kids since before the app was introduced,” he says, referring to Marathon Kids Connect, the program’s free digital tracking and reporting platform. Prior to the app, which was released in 2020, Coach Gow and his students used the mileage logs provided by the program to track their distances and celebrate milestones. Since the app was introduced, he says, “I’ve just seen Marathon Kids get better.”
Running Helps Kids Start the Day on the Right Foot
On school mornings, says Coach Gow, “I love coming to school and seeing my students waiting for me to go outside to run, walk or jog. I even have parents ask me how I convince them to get up early and want to go to school. Even on cold days, they want to run!”
These days, Gow often takes his students to run in the park next door to the school. The city began building the park right after the Covid-19 pandemic began. As with so many other educators in the US and the world, the pandemic has caused numerous challenges for Coach Gow, but the park has been a welcome development.
“During virtual schooling, we couldn’t meet or come to school. Now that we are back in person, I’ve been using the park with my classes, and we love it.” They use the gym only when it’s too cold or wet to head outdoors.
Gow meets with his running club four mornings a week before class, to run, walk or jog for 30 minutes. Three of his students typically cover more than two miles each session. “The rest of my students usually all do more than a mile each time they show up.”
Keeping Kids Motivated to Move
“On Fridays,” Gow says, “we have a fun run day. I use an obstacle course in the gym with music. Students get to go through obstacles while listing to music instead of just running outside. They love Friday’s fun runs, and are always excited to see who the top runner is for that week.”
Switching things up is just one of Gow’s methods for keeping his students engaged, motivated and energized. Friendly competition is another. “On a weekly basis, we celebrate the top runner from each class, and we also celebrate other students, like the one who had perfect attendance, and so on. We have a bulletin board where we showcase their accomplishments.”
The Marathon Kids program encourages kids to run a total of four marathons, or 104.8 miles, over the course of the school year, one mile at a time. This teaches kids about setting goals and applying steady effort over time to reach them. This fits well with Coach Gow’s approach with his students. “I remind them about our track meets and cross country meets—that usually, by running, they will improve their chances” to qualify for the meets.
The Marathon Kids program encourages kids to go at their own pace while challenging themselves to unlock their own potential.
Kids Love Running with Marathon Kids
Coach Gow’s running club is the biggest club at Carman Elementary. “Every year since we started it,” he says, “students always ask, ‘Are we going to have running club this year?’ To me, that is the motivation I need to get it going.”
One of the best parts, Gow says, “is that I always tell them it is not just a running club. They can jog or walk to be in it, too.” The Marathon Kids program encourages kids to go at their own pace while challenging themselves to unlock their own potential. In this way, it is a truly inclusive program that welcomes kids of all abilities.
One of Gow’s favorite things about hosting the running club is the continuity he has seen over the years. “I have families with siblings who tell me they want to join my running club because their older siblings were in it. I feel that is something that makes an impact on my club—older siblings telling younger siblings about the time they spent in the running club. They look forward to that grade level to be able to join. It is like a rite of passage.”
Marathon Kids Helps Both Kids and Adults Live Healthier Lives
“Since my students use the park to run,” says Coach Gow, “I walk as well, to supervise and monitor them. I always go in the opposite direction, to be able to see them on the trails.” He carries a Samsung tablet and uses the Marathon Kids Connect app to scan his students’ QR codes as they pass by. “I also use my own QR code to log my miles. It feels good to be able to start your day with a morning walk.”
This mirrors another important aspect of the Marathon Kids program—that of adults modeling healthy choices and behaviors in order to motivate children to get and stay active. This is a value Gow believes in deeply.
“As a Physical Education teacher,” he says, “I love what I do, and I feel that exercise is one of the most important subjects in school. I believe that if you are physically active at a young age, you will continue being physically active at an older age.” This, too, dovetails with the research-based Marathon Kids philosophy that introducing kids to running at a young age empowers them to be active and healthy for a lifetime.
Gow loves helping and encouraging other schools and educators to start their own running clubs. “Every time we have a staff development meeting, I am always showing pictures of my students and letting them know how easy it is start it. I feel the Marathon Kids program is the easiest program to use. Everything is provided, and it’s free.”
Make Marathon Kids Your School's Running Partner