May / 2020

Coach Rene Hernandez Builds Community Through Running

When PE teacher Rene Hernandez ran his first 5K, something clicked. “I loved the feeling of being able to complete the run, and I knew I had kids who would love to start running.” He’d always known the importance of staying healthy; as a physical education teacher, he says, “I have always loved being outdoors, and I know that if we have our health, we have everything. I preach it every day to my kids.”

He knew he wanted his students at Augusto Guerra Elementary in Alamo, Texas to experience the same sense of accomplishment he’d felt upon crossing that 5K finish line. An internet search of running clubs in Texas turned up Marathon Kids, and the Guerra Marathon Club was born. The run club, made up of 60 student runners ranging in age from eight to 11 years old, met for an hour after school three days a week, before Texas schools closed for the year. “My running club is for kids of all abilities and teaches them to live an active lifestyle,” says Coach Hernandez. The runners met in a large field and typically covered one to two miles together per session, using the Marathon Kids Connect digital lap tracking app to track their miles.

The Guerra Marathon Club was sponsored by beloved Texas-based grocery store chain H-E-B. At Guerra, says Coach Hernandez, “We serve a majority of low-income kids who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise to join a run club. Many of these kids love exercise; they just needed a willing adult to coach them.”

Providing a Positive Push

Now that they’ve experienced the structure, inspiration and community that comes with participating in a run club, many of Coach Hernandez’s students have fully committed to being active and challenging themselves to push further with their running skills. “Many of my marathon club members have joined local 5Ks and placed at the races, so they are lifelong runners now.”

But while those milestones and successes help bolster the students’ commitment to getting regular physical exercise, any runner knows it’s not always easy to get outside and stay motivated. When running gets tough for his students, Coach Hernandez says, “We always lead by example to make sure they know it’s going to get better for them.”

Run Clubs Create a Safe Space for All Participants

One of the most important things about the Guerra Marathon Club is the safe space and community that it provides for the students. “Our club offers kids of all levels a place to call home and be themselves,” says Coach Hernandez. “Many kids have been scouted by high schools through their running talent.”

He’s also seen personal benefits since starting the run club at his school, including drawing energy and motivation from his students. “Sometimes, after a tiring day, seeing my students motivated and excited to run makes me feel great and excited for the running session.” For other teachers who are considering coaching a Marathon Kids run club, Coach Hernandez says, “It’s well worth it and very rewarding to see the positive impact the club will have on the kids and their families.”