Jun / 2019

Doing It For The Kids: Fleet Feet Marathon Kids

As the head coach for Fleet Feet Sports, a family-owned and operated specialty running shop in Lincoln, Nebraska, Eddie Walters was excited when Marathon Kids reached out to see if he wanted to start a running club for kids through the store. (His exact response: “Umm… YESSS!”)

That first club, in 2018, was such a success that it was clear it was time to expand. As of this summer, Eddie now coaches three run clubs, collectively called Fleet Feet Marathon Kids: two in Lincoln—one through the store, the other a downtown club partnering with the Lincoln Police Department—and a third through the Fleet Feet store in Omaha. There are over 125 kids in the program, ranging from three-year-olds to eighth-graders, and the club continues to grow.

“Just having the opportunity to help kids stay active and running is a beautiful thing,” Eddie says. “Not to mention, for one hour a night, I get to be a kid, myself. You get to be the biggest goofball! When you get to be a kid again, it makes the night fly by.”

Each club meets once a week for an hour, on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening. The groups usually cover two miles per session: one mile on the track, and then another through playing a variety of games. Each runner takes their mileage charts home with them and logs their own miles throughout the rest of the week. “We encourage parents to put the logs on the fridge,” says Eddie, “and celebrate every single mile! We check in each week to see who ran how far and where.”

Running Is For Everyone

All kinds of children participate in the club, which Eddie believes is one of the coolest things about Marathon Kids. “Running is something that every kid can do. We have kids of all ages, and they all have their own story and own background. Some of them love to run, while others love to play games. We have kids that walk, run, or even skip.”

Runners who receive free or reduced-price lunches at school participate in the downtown club for free, sponsored jointly by Marathon Kids and the Lincoln Police Department. “We make sure that every kid can participate,” Eddie says. “If they need shoes, we get them donated. The idea is that no matter where you are in our community, you can be a part of Marathon Kids and you can come run with us.”

The downtown program has participants who face “obstacles you don’t normally see.” For them, Eddie says, it’s important to check in frequently so the children know they have support. “It has built a great relationship with the local police department, so the kids know who is there to help them and who is there to listen.”

A Focus On Fun, Not Competition

Eddie loves it when he receives a text from a parent about how much fun their child is having with Marathon Kids. He especially loves it when kids are so motivated to run, they ask their parents to run with them. But he acknowledges that it isn’t always easy. “I also love the kids that struggle with running. Sometimes kids are having a tough day, but we get to work with them, too. We get to motivate them and support them. Our goal is to have fun with every kid.”

After School Run Club for Kids

When running gets tough—as it does at some point for every runner—Eddie tries to empathize with his students and motivate them to push through the tough spots. “Every kid has their ups and downs,” he says. Sometimes the kids cry, or struggle. “You have to find a way to understand what is wrong and overcome it. A high-five or a hug can go a long way. Sometimes it can be a little work, but when you break the barrier, it is worth it.”

For Eddie, it doesn’t matter how fast the runners are; it only matters if they have a smile on their faces and they’re having fun. He does, however, enjoy challenging them. “I bet them that they can’t beat me to the next corner or around the track. Sometimes all you need to do is take them by the hand and run with them.”

Battling Against The Pull Of Technology

Eddie acknowledges that the run clubs, and physical activity in general, play a huge role in the children’s lives. “So many kids sit at home, play on their parents’ phones, or watch TV. They don’t realize the amount of fun you can have while running.” In today’s technology-filled world, he says, just getting kids outside is half the battle. “We are getting kids to run, and they don’t see it as work. They see it as a place for them to hang out with other friends and play games.”

Fleet Feet Marathon Kids

Eddie’s playing a long game, hoping to make running a habit for his run club kids so it will become an enjoyable part of their lives long-term. He hopes Marathon Kids will inspire them to start running 5K races or join the track team in middle or high school. “If not,” he says, “I know they will take up running again one day when they’re older and find a love for it.”

It’s All About Community

The biggest benefit Eddie’s seen in his runners since starting the Fleet Feet Marathon Kids club? “It’s all about the community. We have created something special through Marathon Kids. We get to teach kids why running is fun, but in return, they remind us why we enjoy the sport. We now have kids that reach out year-round to tell me about their running. They want to go run with their parents and they want to spend more time outside.”

Fleet Feet Marathon Kids

For anyone who is considering becoming a Marathon Kids run club coach, Eddie has this advice: “Do it, but make a promise that you will always be there for those kids. They think the world of you. Inspire them all to start running, and remind them that running can be fun. Watching them grow and develop through the program is amazing. Just wait for the first kid to come back after completing their first MARATHON! The excitement that you share with them will give you the greatest joy in life.”