Sharon Sipps Dodd’s ties with Marathon Kids run deep. A physical education teacher at Travis Elementary School in Houston, Texas, Dodd first learned about Marathon Kids at a convention for health and physical education teachers that she attended over 20 years ago. Sometime later she met Marathon Kids’ founder, Kay Morris. Over the years, Dodd and Morris would see each other at Marathon Kids Kickoff and Finisher events at Rice University, and even made a Marathon Kids promo video together.
“I am a strong believer in teaching lifelong fitness and healthy eating habits,” Dodd says. She sees running and walking as universal—”the one thing you can do way into adulthood, by yourself or with others.”
MOVEMENT EQUALS A HEALTHY LIFE
Sponsored by Texas’s favorite grocery store chain, H-E-B, Dodd’s current Marathon Kids Running Club at Travis consists of three separate groups of about 12 students each, ranging from kindergartners to fourth-graders. Each group meets once a week to run along the school track or the pathway around the garden. The students typically cover two miles each time they meet, and they track their own progress on paper mileage logs. Those who are especially motivated also add miles that they run at home to their logs at school.
“Most of the students are typically happy to participate in the run club and excited to attend,” says Dodd. “A few are more hesitant or don’t want to participate initially, but after we warm up and share the activity or game for the day, everyone joins in.” The students love playing running games. Best of all, they don’t view it as exercise, or as a chore. Rather, they understand that movement equals a healthy life.
“I started the Marathon Kids program at my school because I knew that walking and jogging are the number one most popular physical activities,” says Dodd. “More people stick to this healthy habit as they grow into adulthood versus continuing to play basketball, football, volleyball,” or other team sports. Helping her students build that foundation of walking and running seemed like a natural choice to support a lifetime of healthy habits.
TEAMWORK MAKES TACKLING CHALLENGES EASIER
The Marathon Kids at Travis Elementary see their run club mileage as an extension of their regular P.E. classes and outdoor time at recess. Most run a quarter-mile each day at recess before heading off to play, and Dodd also assigns run days during Gym each week to help the students build up their miles and reach their milestones faster.
“The kids motivate each other and cheer each other on when we do timed laps,” says Dodd. “They all seem motivated to track their miles and discuss the number of laps they did at recess or track time with us, and they like that they get to add to that through Marathon Kids Club.”
She and the parent volunteers who assist her with the run club always emphasize teamwork, especially when the kids have a tough day of running in the Houston heat. “We remind them that they are a team and to encourage each other to keep going and celebrate at the finish line.”
Dodd also keeps excitement and morale high by maintaining a Wall of Fame at the school, where she starts posting students’ mileage logs around the beginning of February. When the student runners see their progress posted on the wall, they feel a sense of pride in all they are accomplishing. The Wall of Fame also inspires them to keep setting goals to work toward.
MARATHON KIDS COVERS MORE THAN JUST MILES
The Marathon Kids method isn’t just about running; it’s also about learning to make other healthy choices, including dietary ones. This dovetails perfectly with Dodd’s goal as a physical educator of helping students develop lifelong healthy habits.
Along with their mileage logs, her students also focus on healthy eating via fuel logs provided by the organization. Knowing these mileage and fuel logs would work in tandem, Dodd knew that Marathon Kids would be a successful program for her students. “It is a simple and powerful way to extend our physical education program beyond the once-a-week P.E. class the students receive at our school.”
ACTIVE KIDS MAKE BETTER LEARNERS, WITH BETTER ATTITUDES
Physical activity is very important to Dodd for a variety of reasons. “Healthy, active students make better learners,” she says, “but maybe even more importantly, physical activity helps to increase positive attitudes in children and adults. The endorphins that are released in the brain during physical activity helps us to combat the depression and hopelessness that seem to be taking over our society.”
She’s seen plenty of benefits for her students who participate in Marathon Kids. “The students—especially the ones who don’t play sports—really get into logging their miles and using pedometers or Fitbits to count their steps and their progress toward their goals.” She says that playing 20 minutes of running games is another fun way for the students to get in more miles. “They experience a sense of accomplishment and learn that they don’t have to be some superstar athlete to get fit.”
Her students who do participate in competitive sports use Marathon Kids as a way to stay in shape. “They tend to be very ambitious,” Dodd says, “seeing if they can complete five or six or more marathons,” rather than the standard Marathon Kids season-long goal of covering a total of four marathons, or 104.8 miles, one mile at a time. Many of Dodd’s students “take their running skills to the next level,” she says, such as “preparing for a 5K race or being part of the cross country or track teams.”
MARATHON KIDS OFFERS BENEFITS FOR EVERYONE
Dodd has also seen personal benefits since starting the Marathon Kids program. “It has helped me get into a walking/jogging routine. I complete my marathons along with the students and display my progress on the P.E. wall for all to see.”
For others who are thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a run club coach, Dodd has this advice: “Do it! The program is extremely flexible, and you can make it work with any setup or schedule you have. It requires virtually no equipment, and the Marathon Kids organization has all the teaching and coaching tips laid out for you.”