Marathon Kids Coach Nora Ryan Emphasizes Teamwork and Fun

“At Piney Point, the Marathon Kids program means teamwork, accountability and fun!” That’s what Coach Nora Ryan has to report about her Marathon Kids running club, the Trackers, at Piney Point Elementary in Houston, Texas. Four thousand students in Houston will run with Marathon Kids this year, and Piney Point is responsible for 1,200 of them, as the entire school participates.

Piney Point Trackers

Coach Ryan oversees the school’s Marathon Kids program with P.E. Coach Mike Kaehey. Together, they put a lot of thought and effort into making physical education fun for the students. They’re learning as they go, making tweaks as needed to the structure of the program in order to shift its focus toward simplicity and teamwork.

Last year, for example, miles were tracked individually, but this was difficult to manage in such a large school. Starting in the 2018–19 school year, Coach Ryan implemented a new system. Now, teachers keep track of their own students’ mileage on group logs posted on their classroom doors. Each classroom has an appointed student “tracker” who is responsible for updating their daily progress — hence the running club’s name, Trackers.

Youth Run Club

The new group-tracking system has simplified the mile-tracking process, and it has highlighted teamwork with very positive results. Rather than competing with each other in the classroom, the Marathon Kids runners now see their running and mileage progress as a team effort. When they set out to run four laps, for example, the faster runners might complete more than four, or they might go play soccer or tag while the rest of the runners complete their laps. But the class works together, and the group heads back inside only when everyone has reached the goal.

The Importance of Teamwork

“We built the program around teamwork,” Coach Ryan says, “and tracking the miles as a group makes everyone accountable as they work together as a team. The goal is the same for every grade level — to reach four marathons (104.8 miles) by the end of the year. The challenge is to give the best they can. We found this was a fun way to build a strong relationship within each group and to celebrate success as a team.”

Move More to Achieve More

Piney Point Principal Bobbie Swaby is a big supporter of Marathon Kids because she believes in the importance of giving students more opportunities to move during the school day. Piney Point’s Marathon Kids runners head outside to the school’s quarter-mile track at least twice a day; some teachers even take their students out three times a day, weather permitting.

Nora cites support from the principal and teachers at Piney Point as one of the main reasons the Trackers running club is successful. It’s no wonder the club has such strong support: the teachers have all seen improved focus and behavior in their students when they come back from running. On days when the kids don’t have the opportunity to run, there’s a marked difference in their ability to concentrate on academic work.

Fourth-grade teacher Miriam Riley reports that, in addition to increased focus and calm in the classroom, she’s noticed that Marathon Kids has really improved her students’ physical endurance. Runners who used to struggle to complete two miles on the track are now easily completing four or five. Other teachers also appreciate the health benefits they have experienced themselves as a result of running with their students as they work toward their mileage goals.

Marathon Kids Run Club

Time on the Track

Coach Ryan also notes that students’ running time on the track serves more purposes than simple training or exercise. “Our time on the track is more than just meeting our Trackers goals for the day,” she says. “It’s our time for friendly competition among avid runners, for catching up with friends whether they are in our class or a different one, and for enjoying interesting conversations between students and teachers. It’s also a time to just stretch our limbs during the school day.”

Active Kids do Better

“Piney Point is one of our leading schools,” says Felicia Ceasar-White, Houston ISD’s Health and Physical Education Manager, “and Marathon Kids has actually changed the whole school’s culture. Kids are learning better, they’re participating in a number of activities; they have really just been awesome.”

Coach Ryan agrees. “The track keeps us motivated,” she says, “and we hold each other accountable since we all have the same end goal.” As the students achieve milestones, Coaches Ryan and Kaehey visit the classrooms together, where they hand out rewards and incentives to keep the kids motivated.

Focusing on Nutrition

As with every Marathon Kids running club, the Trackers club focuses on nutrition as part of the program. The runners learn about the importance of using healthful foods as fuel for their active bodies, so they can stay fit and healthy throughout their lives. One of Coach Ryan’s tools that she uses in teaching about nutrition is MyPlate, which focuses on building a healthy eating style throughout your lifetime. MyPlate emphasizes habits like filling half your plate with vegetables and fruits, incorporating whole grains in your diet, and eating a variety of vegetables.

Building Heathy Habits for Life

With the whole school involved in building healthy habits for life, Coach Ryan is helping to make a positive difference in the lives of Piney Point’s students and teachers alike. The Trackers running club is a great example of the Marathon Kids mission of getting kids moving and putting them on the path toward a healthier life.