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In 1995, an Austin public relations consultant and avid runner set out to bring her love of movement to a younger generation. Now 25 years later, Marathon Kids founder Kay Morris is both humbled and awestruck by the impact her creation has had on so many young lives. “It still feels unreal,” she said.

The idea began when she heard media reports about increasing rates of childhood obesity along with decreasing physical activity. She learned that American children were running considerably less than their global peers.

A magazine article about a teacher who created a “run around the world in increments” program helped clarify Morris’ vision: she believed young kids would enjoy running a marathon in the same gradual way. Morris created a chart where kids could color in every quarter-mile and track their progress until they completed the whole 26.2-mile course months later. The idea was simple and straightforward. Since it rewarded completion, not speed, it was an endurance race that everyone could win.

“One thing I’ve learned as a runner is that it’s not just about muscular well-being, it’s about psychological well-being,” she said. “I thought this feeling that ‘I’m vivacious and I can do something!’ would adapt well to children. So I took what was beautiful to me about running and adapted it to young people.”

Kay Morris

Gathering Support

Once the seed of the idea was planted, Morris reached out to Austin ISD and their PE teachers, who embraced the idea with gusto. She teamed up with Paul Carrozza, owner of local running store RunTex, who became Marathon Kids’ first sponsor. 

It was important to Morris that they capture the imagination of children of all skills, shapes and backgrounds. 

That first year, Morris expected about 200 elementary kids to join. More than 1,600 signed up.  

“It was the elementary school PE teachers who built this program with me. I drove all around to each of their schools in my little Honda Civic,” she said. “There were no texts, nobody using emails. Honestly the fax machine was almost always broken. It was an adventure!”

In addition to inspiring individual students, her team of supporters wanted to build up the entire community, so they planned kick-off events and finisher celebrations, giving kids free T-shirts, medals and the opportunities to meet professional and Olympic athletes. 

“The key was to keep it simple and to celebrate in a joyful, colorful, inexpensive way,” Morris said. “I wanted university track & field venues to host the celebrations because it’s so important that children of all income levels get to be on a college campus. Just being on a campus with their parents can ignite their dreams of higher education.”

Expanding the Dream

Morris soon realized that her simple Austin prototype could be easily expanded to other cities. With the help of corporate sponsorships, Marathon Kids hired a small staff and began thinking big. Volunteer ambassadors would travel from city to city to present their mission and set up free programs. “Our first year in Austin, we had 1,600 participants. When I left Marathon Kids in 2012, we were in major cities across the country and there were 275,000 Marathon Kids.”

Looking Ahead

Today, Marathon Kids serves kids in all 50 states—and now with the virtual program, parents can support their kids’ physical activity goals during periods of remote learning. Morris has been thrilled to see everything her small idea ignited, but she refuses to take all the credit. 

“Never do I have a sense of ‘I did this!’ It was truly a step-by-step journey with teachers, sponsors and eventually staff. I’m most proud that we decided to keep the program free. I’m proud that Marathon Kids has good bones and has endured. I’m proud of all the people who came forward for these children.”

And when asked how she feels to know how many young lives she impacted? “I confess when I see little children running with their parents, I have a little light shine inside for them, hoping maybe our efforts will carry them through a lifetime of vitality.” 

To keep Marathon Kids free for all kids, please consider a donation to Kay’s 25th Anniversary fundraiser.


Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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For Immediate Release: 9/1/2020

AUSTIN, Texas – Over the past 25 years, Marathon Kids has gotten 2.5 million kids moving—and now, it’s time to celebrate! Founded in Austin in 1995, Marathon Kids offered the first children’s running program grounded in research. And that research was compelling: It showed that regular exercise improved kids’ physical and mental health and even boosted their academic success. It also showed that early physical activity set kids up for a lifetime of fitness. These tenets became the basis for the nonprofit’s commitment to helping children of all abilities lead healthy, active lives.

A quarter-century later, Marathon Kids has expanded its reach to kids in all 50 states as well as the U.K. The organization has remained agile and future-oriented even as it has hewed close to its longtime vision of seeing “all kids active and healthy for a lifetime.” In 2020 alone, as the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has raged across the world, Marathon Kids has made key innovations to make its programming accessible to kids of all backgrounds and abilities. With the launch of Marathon Kids Connect, an all-new, cloud-based physical activity tracking and reporting platform, Marathon Kids also removed the cost barrier by offering the program completely free to all schools and community organizations. Visit MarathonKids.org/Connect to join, access free resources, and get kids moving.

There are more exciting events in the works, starting this September, when Marathon Kids will celebrate its milestone anniversary and kick off the new running season by teaming up with Academy Sports + Outdoors to host a virtual relay race. We Run the World is a free walking and running event spanning the entire month of September. People around the country will join forces to run or walk a cumulative 25,000 miles (slightly more than the circumference of the earth!), with FitRankings tracking participants’ miles.

Relay registration is pay-what-you-can, ranging from free of charge to $50; contributing at least $10 gets you swag like a virtual running badge and printable race bib along with endless bragging rights. Participants will be invited to keep track of individual and community progress on the Leaderboard, and there is a virtual Hall of Fame for anyone who wants to upload a photo with the hashtag #MKRunTheWorld. All are welcome to run or walk in this epic virtual event, including kids, grownups, and families; the more people participating, the more ground covered together! Learn more and register at MarathonKids.org/WeRunTheWorld.

At the end of the month, when We Run the World reaches its 25,000-mile finish line, it will be time to pass the baton to a new season of Marathon Kids who are primed to start the 2020–2021 running season. The Austin Independent School District will launch the new season with a Marathon Kids Day celebration in October. Plans are also in the works for a finishers’ celebration in the spring—whether virtual or in-person remains to be determined, but either way, it promises to be legendary!

Be sure to follow Marathon Kids on social media, including the hashtag #MKRunTheWorld, and check out the organization’s blog as it highlights the Faces of Marathon Kids—nine key figures who have been instrumental in launching the nonprofit and helping it innovate and expand into what it is today. Each will be celebrated on the Marathon Kids blog, including fundraising pages for each figure to raise necessary funds so the Marathon Kids program can remain free for all, for good.

About Marathon Kids

Marathon Kids shows kids through running that they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. Kids in the program work at their own pace to run or walk the equivalent mileage of up to four marathons. They run (or walk) one lap at a time, one day at a time, and before they know it they’ve gone farther than they ever dreamed. Kids enrolled in the program have a network of dedicated adults showing them how it’s done, and most importantly, a motivated and inspiring coach supporting them every step of the way.

Partners and supporters include Nike, H-E-B, LA Dodgers Foundation, Academy Sports + Outdoors, City of Austin, Cap 10K, Dallas Loop-the-Lake Foundation, Active Schools, Austin Runners Club.

More information is available at marathonkids.org.

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For Release: 8/11/2020

AUSTIN, Texas – For 25 years, Marathon Kids has been encouraging kids to run for their mental and physical health with real results. That’s why they’re kicking off their 25th anniversary season with a virtual relay race that will bring together athletes, hikers, walkers, and past and current Marathon Kids runners from all over to celebrate this historic milestone, presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors.

During the entire month of September, Marathon Kids is asking people to come together around the country to run or walk a cumulative 25,000 miles—slightly more than the circumference of the earth! In a partnership with FitRankings, they’ll be tracking miles from participants near and far. 

To register for this epic virtual event, visit marathonkids.org/weruntheworld. Registration starts at $10, but everyone is invited to pay what they can. There are rewards at every donation level from $10 to $50, which include a virtual race bib, virtual badges that celebrate personal mile markers, event T-shirts, and more!

Founded in Austin in 1995, Marathon Kids is a nonprofit on a mission to get kids moving. The Marathon Kids program is implemented in Austin ISD districtwide, as well as hundreds of other schools across the country. Kids who participate in the running and walking program set goals to cover a cumulative four marathons, or 104.8 miles, one mile at a time over the course of the school year.

As of 2020, the Marathon Kids program is offered at no charge for all schools and community organizations and includes access to Marathon Kids Connect, the organization’s new physical activity tracking app and reporting platform. Marathon Kids Connect was developed to make it easier than ever to track and report on kids’ active time, and it will help to meet students’ shifting needs if the 2020–21 school year includes periods of distance-learning from home. Teachers and coaches can use the platform and app to connect, get involved, and support their student runners in making progress, hitting milestones, and celebrating achievements.

More About Marathon Kids

Marathon Kids has inspired more than 2.5 million children over the past 25 years to live happier, healthier lives.

When kids participate in Marathon Kids, they have a much better chance of getting enough daily physical activity. That’s good news for their bodies and their minds. When kids feel healthy, they perform better in school, exhibit better behavior, and make better choices.

Research shows that the Marathon Kids program gets kids active and jump-starts long-lasting healthy habits. Through running, Marathon Kids shows kids they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. Visit MarathonKids.org to learn more.

About Academy Sports + Outdoors

At Academy Sports + Outdoors, we kickstart fun by inspiring play. At each of our 259 locations, we carry a wide range of apparel, footwear, hunting, fishing and camping equipment, patio sets and barbeque grills, along with sports and recreation products, at everyday low prices. For more information about Academy Sports + Outdoors, visit academy.com.