Amanda De Leon Garcia first learned about Marathon Kids through a fellow coach, when she saw his run club at a 5K. As a P.E. coach at Santos Livas Elementary in Alamo, Texas, she already knew that physical, emotional and mental health were important to her. “Physical activity is important to me for life health,” she says. “Being physically active is known to add years to your life, and can help with emotional and mental health as well.” When she learned these factors were central to what Marathon Kids is all about, she knew she wanted to start a Marathon Kids run club of her own.
Alamo, Texas—not to be confused with the Alamo—is a small town at the southernmost tip of the state in the Rio Grande Valley. The area is rich with vegetable farms and citrus groves, yet, even being surrounded by fresh produce, the students of Santos Livas still need guidance about healthy lifestyle choices. “Students need to learn how to find something they love,” says Coach De Leon Garcia, “something they can look forward to and be active at the same time.”
The run club at Santos Livas is the Lions Running Club, with 60 students participating, ranging from Pre-K students to fifth-graders. The Lions meet once a week after school and also run during P.E. times on free Fridays—and they definitely stay active: “We try to average two miles every time we meet,” says Coach De Leon Garcia, “and we compete in 5Ks.” She and her colleague Coach Porras Garcia work together to track miles using Marathon Kids Connect, the new digital lap-tracking app that was launched at the start of the 2019–2020 run club season.
RUNNERS WITH DETERMINATION, AND WITH HEART
“Each of my students has their own attitude towards running club,” says Coach De Leon Garcia. “Most are determined and competitive about getting their miles in, while others just enjoy the run while laughing with friends.” The one thing they all have in common? “They love to go to running club! They all love to scan their bar codes and check how many more laps they need.”
The Marathon Kids method—working toward completing four full marathons, or a total of 104.8 miles, over the course of the school year, one mile at a time—helps students build engagement and motivation at their own pace. Breaking it down into small increments makes it manageable for runners of all ages and at any fitness level.
Coach De Leon Garcia’s students work together to reach their milestones, and the older kids help the younger ones to finish what they’ve set out to do each time they meet. “They set the behavior standards very well,” Coach says, “knowing they represent a club. I have some fifth-graders who will do an extra lap or two with my Pre-Ks just because they want them to finish.” Being in a mixed-age club is teaching everyone about mutual respect and what it means to be a valued member of a community.
TACKLING CHALLENGES WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR, AND REAPING THE BENEFITS
Coach De Leon Garcia’s sense of humor is clear when she talks about how her run club manages difficult moments out on the track. “I’m that coach that is constantly calling out their names and yelling motivational things,” she says. “When it gets hard, I like to challenge them, or I join them. I always tell them—if my old lady self can run, so can you. And they leave me behind, thinking, ‘This old lady better not beat me!’”
She’s seen plenty of benefits from the run club, for both her students and herself. “The benefits I’ve seen for my students have been in their diet changes and their leadership role in the school,” she says. “My students have been cutting out junk food and sugary drinks since they started running club. They love to talk about healthy food choices and meals as well as help others.”
Children learn by example, and Coach De Leon Garcia is setting a good one. “I’ve seen great benefits as in challenging myself to run half-marathons and make better food choices,” she says. “I like to set the example for my students and remind them to be physically active, to inspire them.”
As for anyone who is where she once was—wondering what it might be like to start a Marathon Kids run club—here’s what she has to say: “You have to love what you do and who you do it for. Once you have those two things down, Marathon Kids run club is golden.”