Twice a week, the Kolter Cross Country runners meet up at their school’s recess field to run laps. Sponsored by Texas-based grocery store chain H-E-B, this Marathon Kids run club at Kolter Elementary School in Houston has over 100 students participating, ranging from second-graders through fifth-graders. “The club is very popular,” says Coach Tammy Parker. “Kids want to join so much that I have to limit enrollment so I can manage the group.”
Weather permitting, the students run for 45 to 50 minutes each time they meet and cover at least two miles at a time. Top students at each grade level cover three to four miles per run club practice; one fifth-grader can get in five miles during the allotted time.
Coach Parker has been involved with Marathon Kids for years, coaching run clubs at several different schools in the Houston area. Before Hurricane Harvey tore through the region in 2017, she’d used a tracking system to log students’ miles that was expensive and not user-friendly, and found it difficult to keep track of both mileage and attendance. She’s found the Marathon Kids digital lap-tracking app, which was launched at the start of the 2019–2020 run club season, to be “a lifesaver. It’s easy and saves me so much time.”
She uses her cell phone to scan students’ ID cards at every lap, and assigns student managers or volunteer parents to help scan IDs with an iPad. “Marathon Kids has created a wonderful option that’s so user friendly. Being able to scan each lap also motivates the kids when I update the runner reports. They are motivated by the tracking system too.”
For Young Runners, Motivation Is Key
Coach Parker has noticed her students’ internal motivation is typically a strong motivating force. “Kids have an internal desire to do more—to go one more lap,” she says. The Kolter Cross Country students are eager to reach each new milestone as they progress through the year. “Most of them are pretty enthusiastic when it comes to competition, whether it’s beating their own goals or their peers’. One family has twins, a boy and a girl, who have a sibling rivalry over who’s got the most miles and who’s going to beat whom. The kids are motivated!”
She says her run club students understand that the more active they are, the healthier they become. They know they are establishing healthy habits that they’ll be able to carry forward through the rest of their lives. “I can tell they have a sense of pride in themselves for accomplishing the goals they set.” Their parents email Coach Parker regularly with messages expressing amazement and appreciation for the run club and its benefits: “They write, ‘I would have never thought my kid would be so excited about running.’”
Still, there are tough days for every runner, when motivation runs low. On those days, Coach Parker says, her students rely on each other to keep going. “Most students have a running buddy there to help push them along. Others are self-motivated and prefer to run alone.” Sometimes, when the students’ energy or engagement seems to be flagging, Coach Parker will have an impromptu grade-level lap competition to get them moving. She also posts the students’ progress by grade level each week, “so they can see how many laps or miles they have completed. It keeps them focused on earning the next prize.”
The Benefits Of Running Are Physical, Mental And Emotional
Coach Parker didn’t enjoy running as a child. “Running was always a punishment during athletics when I was growing up. I didn’t develop my love of running until my mid-thirties. A friend asked me if I wanted to start running with her, and I’ve been hooked since.” She decided to become a Marathon Kids run club coach because “I wanted to teach my students that running can be fun, and something you can do throughout your life to stay fit and healthy.”
She has noticed many benefits, both for her students and herself. Some students who have struggled with weight issues have grown fitter and leaner through their participation in Marathon Kids. “It has given my students a safe space to exercise,” Coach Parker says. “Many parents that work late are unable to exercise with their children. I have students that say it gives them a break before they have to do homework.”
Coach Parker is grateful for the opportunity the run club has given her to get to know her students better. She’s also grateful to her love of running for helping her cope during hard times in her own life. “Physical activity and running helped me through one of the most difficult times in my life. I lost my mother to stage-four pancreatic cancer in November 2015. My morning or afternoon runs helped me so much mentally and physically. It was an opportunity to process things and provided me with a healthy way to grieve.”
Thinking Of Starting A Marathon Kids Run Club? Coach Parker Says Go For It
For others who are considering starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach, Coach Parker has two enthusiastic thumbs-up: “Do it!!! If you start it, the kids will come. The lap tracking through Marathon Kids is so user-friendly. The pros far outweigh any cons I can come up with. It has been awesome watching my kids develop a deeper love for running.”
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.