Does the Marathon Kids Program Work?

Marathon Kids was founded in 1995 with the simple idea that kids who set distance goals and track their progress on a mileage log will make healthier choices, both on and off the track.

Research findings from three independent studies on the Marathon Kids program confirmed this to be true. These studies affirmed that our program was making a difference in participants’ lives, and determined our six evidence-based pillars to long-term healthy behavior adoption.

This year, researchers from UTHealth School of Public Health – Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living conducted another independent analysis of the Marathon Kids program and its effectiveness with elementary school children. They were exploring if coach-led Marathon Kids run clubs help children reach the recommended daily minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), and to gather insights about intrapersonal factors such as goal-setting and self-efficacy.

Is the Marathon Kids program helping kids make better choices and reach their goals?

The results of this analysis revealed that the Marathon Kids program does help children reach their 60 daily minutes of MVPA, especially when their schools don’t have adequate Physical Education class time for students to meet that goal. The analysis found that the Marathon Kids program can help provide more than 100 additional minutes of MVPA outside of P.E. in the form of walking and running, an important contribution to the school ecosystem to provide additional opportunities for kids to engage in physical activity.

The analysis also found that the Marathon Kids program helps students with setting, working toward, and achieving goals. The structure of the program, based on cumulative mileage logged over time by walking or running, makes it accessible to students of all abilities and fitness levels. Of the students who set a goal of covering 104.8 miles (the distance of four marathons) within one Marathon Kids season, 44.7% of them reached or exceeded that goal. Over half—56.4%—covered at least three marathons, 69.7% completed two, and 87.5% completed at least one full marathon.

Are coaches satisfied with the program?

The study found a high rate of satisfaction among Marathon Kids coaches with the program, with a mean satisfaction score of 50.6 (with 56 representing the highest possible score), and more than 92% of coaches reporting they plan to implement the program with their students again next year. Furthermore, 21.6% of coach respondents indicated greater than 100% participation, meaning even more students participated than expected after the initial registration period. Coach respondents reported high overall confidence in implementing their run clubs, with a mean score for the total sample of 4.5 (with 5 being the highest possible score).

What are some coach-recommended best practices?

The respondents agreed it’s essential to provide student runners with praise and recognition. Finding ways to celebrate their students’ achievements, both major and minor, was a priority for many of the respondents. Nearly half held a season kick-off event or ceremony, while nearly three-quarters hosted a Finishers celebration or ceremony at season’s end. Others announced finishers at their schools’ Student of the Month assemblies or designated a Runner of the Week. One coach suggested finding ways to praise all kids, “not just the one who ran the most that day. I have a small running club, but I always try to give each child some type of compliment that makes them want to keep coming back.”

Other coach-recommended best practices include providing the runners with regular encouragement and motivation, not just at the start or end of the season, but throughout. Some made it a regular practice to discuss their students’ efforts and achievements during P.E. class. “I always recognize achievement in my gym,” one coach said, “regardless how small. Gains are gains!” Another emphasized the importance of teamwork and good sportsmanship, and providing social support for the student runners. “Encourage kids to cheer each other on, and not to treat it like a competition.”

The Marathon Kids program is helping children build fitness and healthy habits for life. These student runners are also learning to set goals and work steadily toward them as they value others’ achievements in the same process. Developing such important life skills from an early age will benefit everyone, not just as individuals, but as a community.