Putting One Foot in Front of Another with Marathon Kids

Our three-story nest was just about empty. I puttered, putting final touches on the house, when I came to the well-worn poster on my son’s closet door. Discolored tape, frayed edges: This old thing has got to go! Yet I hesitated, my hand hovering above the brightly colored image—an abstract runner in motion. Marathon Kids! In an instant, I was deep in memory.

A crisp, sunshine-filled February day; my husband and I, herding our young family. The oldest drags her heels, in full-on early-tween mode. Her younger sister skips ahead, excitedly calling out to friends. Tony Berger Stadium hums with energized youngsters and their bustling families. Balloons shine against the bright sky. Music stirs the crowd; medals gleam and clink. Enthusiastic volunteers marshal the masses. Matthew, our “baby,” revels in the celebration as we make our way toward the track.

Moving Through Elementary School

That February was one of many Marathon Kids final mile celebrations. The program was originally founded in central Texas by Kay Morris as a kindergarten-to-5th grade children’s run/walk program. Morris’ goal was inspiration, to get kids moving at whatever pace fit. The inaugural year (1995), my daughter was 7 years old, her sister 5, and little brother—a curly headed ball of energy—only 3. My memory’s a little hazy on all the details (hey, that was more than 20 years ago!) but the excellent P.E. teachers at North Oaks Elementary–now Kathy Caraway Elementary—introduced us. Our girls, new kids in Round Rock ISD, quickly embraced Marathon Kids. And, naturally, Matthew wanted to do whatever his big sisters were doing. He hit kindergarten and Marathon Kids running and didn’t stop until 5th grade’s last and final mile.

Record keeping was fun. We proudly posted progress charts, tracking quarter mile by quarter mile. Popsicle sticks, each worth one lap, were counted (“Look how many I got in P.E. today!”). Calculations were performed–how many laps equaled a mile? How many miles were yet to go? What was needed to reach that big goal, and how much time was left?

Kids are kids, and Matthew had his share of whiny times. But with every “I don’t feel like doing my Marathon Kids today” came an opportunity to talk about commitment, dedication, and reward: If you want to finish, you can’t slack off. Sometimes, the biggest obstacle to success is simply getting out the door. Our family pulled together to turn yuck into fun. Sisters, mom, dad—we’d find a way to help overcome that down moment.

Bigger Rewards than a Medal

Who knew I’d have such fond memories of an elementary school program? As a runner and marathoner, I rejoiced that my family and I were sharing common footing. Those special P.E. days, when parents were invited to join in for laps, were a treat. Not just for time with my kid but for the other parents’ positive energy. Maybe, thanks to their kids, they’d started walking or rediscovered joy in running. February’s final mile celebration—full of beaming parents, proud kids, moving masses—always brought me to tears.

Just like a race is never simply about the finish line, Marathon Kids was so much more than activity. Yes, the P.E. program promoted covering a marathon-length at whatever pace, and my uber competitive son made a point to run each mile every year. Marathon Kids, however, wasn’t focused on speed, nor was comparison among participants encouraged. It was about discovering individual awe. That feeling when you realize taking on the impossible, a little piece at a time, no matter your age or physical ability, can bring amazing success.

Growth wasn’t merely stronger muscles, a healthier lifestyle, or better cardio. Character was built on those yuck days, when heading out the door didn’t seem fun at all. But Marathon Kids did anyway. They learned to look beyond and see the horizon.

Sure, Marathon Kids had cool swag—that yearly poster, finisher t-shirts all my kids wore forever, the impressive medal—but the tangible reward was confidence. Marathon Kids knew they could. Not just run or walk for 26.2 miles but complete what they’d started. Finish stronger than when they began.


Marathon Kid Lessons, All Grown Up

My now 25-year-old son recently sat at our kitchen counter, reviewing his objectives for an upcoming mentor meeting. He’d prepared, scheduled appropriate time for the drive into Austin, brushed up and printed copies of his resume. Matthew’s been on his own for a few years and is evaluating career directions. With a sigh, he mused about the long hours required at his current job: “I’m already at work when I see people getting their early morning run in and I think, ‘I’d like to do that.’ Once I have more free time, I’ll get back to working out.”

For a second, I see that wiry kid with his mischievous grin and brown legs hurtling down the track. Oh, sweetheart, I think, you may not be physically running right now but the Marathon Kid is still moving. Working hard, intent on the horizon. Persevering. Facing big challenges.

Putting one foot in front of the other and heading toward success.

Leah Fisher Nyfeler is a dedicated word wrangler. Her blog, Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life, embraces adventure and explores topics spanning workouts to life transitions and travel. Former editor in chief of Austin Fit Magazine, Nyfeler’s writing currently appears in a variety of print and online publications, including Texas Lifestyle MagazineMedium.com, and more. She lives, writes, and edits in Austin, TX, where she relishes working out with friends, eating fabulous food, and reading just about anything.

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