When P.E. teacher Kyle Black started a Marathon Kids running club at Taylor Creek Elementary in Lampasas, Texas, his daughter, Kelbie, wasn’t too excited about the prospect. She was in third grade at the time and had never found running to be enjoyable.
Coach Black knew his daughter could get into it if she gave it a chance, so he encouraged her to participate. “I love the Marathon Kids program,” he says, “because it focuses on reaching all students regardless of their athletic ability. It has changed the culture of our school. Our kids seem more confident and look healthier.”
And he was right about Kelbie: She quickly got into running once it became clear that their after-school training sessions were a great way to spend unstructured time chatting, laughing and catching up with friends. “I love running with my friends and different people,” she says. “When you run with other people, you get to help each other reach your goals.”
It was a pleasant surprise when it turned out she was better at running than she’d expected, especially the discipline and endurance aspects: She became the first kid at her school to hit the standard Marathon Kids goal of running four marathons, or a cumulative 104.8 miles. And she didn’t stop there. She kept going and wound up becoming the first Marathon Kid—not just at Taylor Creek, but in the entire United States—to complete more than 21 marathons over the course of the 2017–2018 school year. In terms of miles, this made her the top Marathon Kids runner in the country.
Now ten years old and in fifth grade at Taylor Creek, Kelbie has a new milestone in sight. Sometime this spring, she will log her 1,000th mile with Marathon Kids. That’s a lot of ground covered, accrued over the three years that she’s been running with Marathon Kids—an average of over 330 miles per year, which is the equivalent of more than one full marathon a month.
Over the course of that time, she has grown and developed in several key ways. Her father, Coach Black, reports that he and Kelbie’s mother, Lindsay, have noticed that since Kelbie started running, she is better equipped to deal with frustration when homework or other activities get difficult. “We found out that Kelbie is dyslexic the same year we began Marathon Kids,” he says. “The program helped her realize that she can still accomplish tasks even if they seem impossible.”
The Blacks have also seen Kelbie’s confidence grow. “She is naturally competitive,” says Coach Black, “but she’s often hesitant to start. Her confidence to begin and complete tasks has grown noticeably over the last three years.”
Kelbie has noticed the same changes in herself: “I have been doing better in school,” she says. “Once I started running, I felt more confident in other things that I was doing, and I feel better.”
Improved academic performance and feeling better both physically and mentally are benefits of an active lifestyle that are extensively documented in research on the subject, and which are also widely reported by Marathon Kids runners and their coaches. Kelbie says that if she could tell other kids something about the importance of running and staying active, she would want them to know that “running is a fun way to be active. It helps you in school and helps you stay healthy. Running helps every aspect of your life.”
She has learned a lot about pushing through tough moments from her three years of running with Marathon Kids. “When it gets difficult,” she reports, “I think about finishing another mile or another lap to complete another goal. I focus on my goals when it gets hard.” That’s a strategy that probably any kid would benefit from adding to their toolbox.
Next up? Kelbie’s 11th birthday is in June, followed by middle school starting up in August—and you’d better believe she is relying on everything she’s learned from running to help her tackle that major life milestone. “I want to keep running to be ready for moving into middle school,” she says. If drive, ambition and stick-to-it-iveness count for anything in middle school (and we all know they do!), Kelbie is sure to be a great success in sixth grade and beyond.