Nathan Koeneman teaches Physical Education at Cullins-Lake Pointe (CLP) Elementary School in Rockwall ISD in Texas. Due to district COVID-19 restrictions, there is currently no dedicated Marathon Kids running club at CLP. Koeneman hopes to get one started in the 2021–22 school year. “For now,” he says, “all of our CLP Cowboys participate in Marathon Kids during PE—that’s every in-person student, grades K through six.” That means CLP has over 500 Marathon Kids runners, each with his or her own runner ID card to keep in the classroom and then bring to the gym for PE. His student runners conquered 4,139 miles this school year!
Adapting to Changes During the Pandemic
For Koeneman, the main PE challenge since the pandemic began has been having so little time with each student. “In the 2019–2020 school year, I saw each student three times a week. This year, however, due to COVID restrictions, I am seeing most students only once or twice a week.”
With so little time together, he says, “we have to make the most of the time we have. Marathon Kids is great because I don’t have to go over much instruction. The kids know what to do, and they can quickly transition in and out of our running sessions.”
At the start of the 2020–21 school year, CLP was evenly split between remote and in-person learners. “Remote students completed activity logs online,” says Koeneman, “and in-person students were able to use the gym with limitations on equipment. Marathon Kids was great for physical activity while also keeping a safe distance from one another.”
Since then, the school has gradually increased to about 75% in-person learners. Koeneman reports that it’s been a smooth transition adding new students into their classes using Marathon Kids Connect, a free, cloud-based platform that makes it easy and fun to track kids’ laps and report on their physical activity.
Creating Runners and Leaders in an Active Community
Koeneman’s students call him Coach K. Many of them come from active families and are used to outdoor recreation as part of their lifestyle. “Rowlett is a lakefront community with more than 30 miles of shoreline,” says Coach K. “We have all kinds of recreational opportunities for our students, so I hope to instill a lifelong passion for personal fitness, with a curiosity to try new things and set personal goals.”
Since his students come from a wide range of backgrounds and attitudes about exercise, Coach K’s main message is “to keep each student focused on their own personal level of skill, health and wellness—always looking to improve, no matter how they compare to their peers.” He appreciates the Marathon Kids program for the way it encourages kids to set personal goals and work to achieve them over time, one step at a time. “We are building leaders at CLP,” says Coach K, “and we want our students taking ownership of their path towards success.”
When Coach K first learned about Marathon Kids during a professional development Zoom session in summer 2020, he says, “I knew that Marathon Kids could be an important addition to our physical education program here at CLP.” He liked the fact that the programming was for kids of all abilities and backgrounds.
“I wanted to give my physical education classes a foundational piece that would include each and every student,” he says. “Marathon Kids provides structure and consistency while offering students the opportunity to see their goals achieved, mile after mile.”
Marathon Kids Helps Kids Reach their Potential
Coach K’s students look forward to running. “With that positive attitude, they are building a key part of the foundation for a healthy lifestyle,” he says. “I became a coach so I can provide the stability and encouragement en route to kids seeing their true potential.”
When he started Marathon Kids with his students, Coach K used Google Maps to measure and plot out eight different running routes around the CLP campus, utilizing the gym along with several fields, recess areas and bus loops. He quickly found an added bonus of the routes he plotted: They helped the students develop their math skills.
“The ‘trails’ vary in distance from 0.05 miles to 0.33 miles each lap,” he says. “This provides variety for my students and helps me teach about units of distance, as well as math equations with decimals. Students always want to know how many laps they need to get a mile during each running session.”
Currently, his classes run at least once every two weeks, and sometimes once a week. “We’ll run between 10 and 15 minutes each session before getting into other PE activities and games,” says Coach K. “The distance differs a lot based on the age groups, but my best runners in third through sixth grades can consistently run/walk one mile in 10 minutes or less. Next year I am going to begin recording individual mile times so we can see how much each student can improve over the course of the school year.”
Using Marathon Kids Connect to Keep Kids Moving—and Motivated
Coach K uses the Marathon Kids Connect app to log his runners’ miles by scanning their runner ID cards with his phone or iPad after each lap they complete. “The data automatically uploads after every session, so I can show my runners their mileage instantly,” he says.
About once a month, he uses the projector screen in the gym to display mileage totals for each class. “I’ll show the school’s mileage total, the class’s mileage total and the top five runners for each class based on mileage, and then I will run a full report that shows every student’s lap total and mileage total for the entire school year.”
Marathon Kids encourages runners to complete four full marathons, or 104.8 miles, over the course of a school year, one mile at a time. Each month, when he runs the numbers, Coach K checks to see if anyone has completed a marathon. “If so, we reward those runners with stickers on their runner ID card.”
Running Confers Benefits and Boosts Motivation
Coach K has seen benefits for himself as well as for his students since he started using the Marathon Kids program with his classes. “Physical activity is a foundation for a healthy lifestyle,” he says. “The benefits for me have been the same for my students, both physical and mental. It is important to build a routine, stick to it, and celebrate success. I have seen our kids show a commitment to their running, just like we want them to show a commitment to their learning in the classroom.”
He likes that Marathon Kids allows his students to see their progress and potential over a prolonged period of time. “Our students learn how to compete, and they experience how rewarding it can be to chase an achievement if they are truly willing to commit to it.”
Coach K makes sure to reinforce the idea with his students that “each step and each lap is working towards a greater goal. We also embrace friendly competition. To a few grade levels, it really matters who the top five runners (based on mileage) are in each class.”
If all else fails, he says, “there is no better motivation for students than seeing their own PE teacher out on the track running past them. I am always ready and willing to get some personal laps in to help students stay motivated.”
Becoming a Marathon Kids Coach
Are you considering starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach? Coach K thinks you should do it. “Getting started will be the toughest part, but the amazing staff at Marathon Kids is ready to help. It takes time to get students loaded and organized correctly into Marathon Kids Connect, but it is worth it. I have printed and cut out hundreds and hundreds of runner ID cards, but it is worth it. If you put in the time, effort and preparation, it will always be worth it for students.”
Best of all, Marathon Kids is helping Coach K reach his objective of setting a foundation for a lifetime of movement and good health for his students. “If I can open a child’s eyes to their potential and get them interested in new and exciting physical activity, there is no better fulfillment for me as an educator.”