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Coach Susan Cary first heard about Marathon Kids when the principal at Bennie L. Cole Elementary in San Antonio, Texas, where Cary teaches fifth grade, was working with a parent to find a sponsor to start a run club. “I love families and believe in the importance of building healthy habits together,” says Cary. “I have a passion for seeing healthy families thrive. This is what motivated me—the ability to accomplish this via Marathon Kids.”

Marathon Kids

Now in its third year, the Cole Mighty Milers consists of 72 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. The club meets year-round on a weekly basis, and students run anywhere from a half-mile to two miles at a time; many students also run after school to increase their mileage. And the run club isn’t just about logging miles. Through the Mighty Milers, students also learn about stretching exercises as well as healthy eating habits and both short- and long-distance running strategies.

The New Marathon Kids Digital Lap Tracking App Makes Tracking Miles Easy

School staff members and run club volunteers use the new Marathon Kids digital lap tracking app—Marathon Kids Connect—to keep track of the students’ mileage. About Marathon Kids Connect, Cary says, “We LOVE it! It’s quite easy to use, primarily due to the fact that the Marathon Kids website has great tech support. They do a wonderful job of responding to our questions right away and walking us through the process in real-time.”

The Cole Elementary staff and volunteers who help run the Mighty Milers also love the reports that are available through the app. “It allows us to share real-time goals with our kids on a week-to-week basis, enabling them to adjust and push themselves more each week depending on what their personal goals are.”

Run Club Allows Children To Showcase Their Skills

“A good number of our kids come from low-socioeconomic backgrounds,” Cary says. “Some kids have a healthy background with their families, but many do not. They want to learn, and have a hunger for athletics and improving their health habits.”
Marathon Kids

One thing the Mighty Milers focus on together is goal-setting. “We are continuously helping our kids set goals every time we meet,” says Cary. “We use the Remind 101 app to communicate with parents and ensure they are partnering with us on this task. Parents love to know how their kids are doing. This enables parents to get involved alongside us in setting the kids’ goals, both in and outside of the school club.”

She also points out the importance for students’ self-esteem of participating in a school run club with appropriate support and encouragement. “Students with and without running talent gain an opportunity to showcase their special skills through run club! Being able to excel in at least one area in school is extremely important in improving students’ self-esteem, motivation and attendance. Our Marathon Kids Cole Mighty Milers Run Club has done this and more for our seventy-plus students.”

Running Enables Positive Changes—In Everyone

Each year, Cary has seen increasing interest among her student runners to be involved in the Mighty Milers in order to gain healthy habits as well as a clearer and more powerful mindset. “We have more than a one-hundred-percent return rate from last year’s students, and more students asking to participate every day. Through our run club, our students experience firsthand the joy of completion, competition and commitment.”

Through their Marathon Kids run club, the student runners are meeting goals they never imagined, and self-reflection from the students indicates they believe running has helped them achieve their goals.

Cary has also seen benefits for herself since starting the run club. “The Marathon Kids program has motivated and continues to motivate me to be a role model for these kids. It has not only impacted me positively, but also my school and my family. I was twenty-five pounds overweight when I started this run club; since starting the club, I have lost twenty-two pounds and am still losing. My mother passed away at the young age of sixty-three due to due to her lack of living a healthy lifestyle. I want to be an example to my brothers and sisters as well as my students of what living a healthy lifestyle can do.”

Teamwork Helps Runners Push Through Tough Moments

The Mighty Milers know running gets difficult from time to time. To push through tough moments, the students take frequent water breaks and encourage one another. “We motivate our kids by running alongside them and encouraging them as we go with high fives and feedback,” Cary says. “We tell them, ‘Come on, you got this, you’re almost there, you can do it.’ The kids also see us scan our mileage cards as well.”

The students learn through their Marathon Kids running that you can’t always rush to the finish, because sometimes you might run out of endurance and focus. “These lessons will stick with our students as they return back to the classroom and try to finish reading chapter books, work in groups, or write essays.”

Cary says, “We are thankful for the positivity and smiles Marathon Kids puts on our students’ faces, and how it gives them something to look forward to at the end of the day. There is nothing better than seeing the face of a student that just completed their first mile and every mile after!”

For anyone who is thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club, Cary recalls the famous Nike slogan: “Just do it. The outcome far outweighs any negative thoughts or fears. You will be pleasantly surprised and more than pleased with the participation and the desire that your colleagues, students, parents and community have for the program.”

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The Lion Runners club is grant-funded, thanks to the generous support of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

In Watts, a neighborhood in southern Los Angeles, California, there is an elementary school called the 112th Street S.T.E.A.M. Academy, where educator Criss Moreno wears many hats. She is a fourth-grade teacher and the school’s technology coordinator. She is also in her third year of coaching the Lion Runners, the school’s Marathon Kids run club, which has 120 fourth- and fifth-grade members.

112th Street Elementary, as the community calls it, is a Title I school. Coach Moreno applies for any and every grant she can because her students are both deserving and in need. “I really wanted to help my students to get up and move,” she says. “They spend so much time on their screens that I knew if I could find an incentive to get them to move, it would really benefit them.”

She also knew it would help her fifth-grade runners prepare for their Fitnessgram, a physical fitness test designed by the California State Board of Education to test students’ fitness levels with the goal of helping them launch lifelong habits of physical activity. While Marathon Kids run clubs don’t test runners’ fitness levels, and children of all abilities and fitness levels are both welcome and encouraged to participate, the Marathon Kids mission isn’t that unlike the California government’s goal: to set children on the path toward healthier lives.

Physical Activity Offers Multiple Benefits

Coach Moreno has benefited from the run club alongside her students. “Because I get out on the track and walk at least a quarter-mile a day to encourage my kids to run, I have lost 100 pounds and kept it off,” she says. “With the help of Marathon Kids and my loving students, we are all making better choices and making sure we hit a minimum movement number each day.”

All the Lion Runners run at recess, and some run at lunch as well. Everyone runs a minimum of a quarter-mile each day, and some up to a mile at a time. This year, for the first time, Marathon Kids is providing digital lap tracking for teachers and run club coaches, who can download the free app on their phones and get instant data when their students swipe their ID cards after each lap they run. “In the previous two years,” Coach Moreno says, “I kept a spreadsheet to track my students’ miles. This year, each teacher has the Marathon Kids app on their phone, so any teacher can log the miles. The app makes this so much easier!”

Less administrative work leaves more time for running—and the benefits of movement that Coach Moreno sees in her students extend beyond the physical. Research has repeatedly shown that daily physical activity boosts cognition and brain function along with strength, balance and cardiovascular health. “Because the students are running at recess,” says Coach Moreno, “they are a bit tired when they come back to class, and this leads to better concentration—because their bodies are tired, but their minds are not.”

Staying Motivated And Healthy For Life

When the going gets tough—as it always does at some point, for every runner—Coach Moreno’s students fall back on a basic Marathon Kids tenet to stay motivated: achieving their goals in small, manageable steps. “I give them a minimum to achieve each day,” Coach Moreno says, “so most of them like to do double or triple that. And because we are making small goals, they slowly, on their own, increase the number of laps they run each day.”

Her students are familiar with adversity. “Watts is historically a troubled area,” she says. “It’s where the 1965 Watts riots kicked off. We see generational poverty, and many students come from single-parent homes. There is not a lot of motivation to live a healthy lifestyle.” But her students love earning rewards for reaching milestones, and the tee-shirts and other fun Nike swag that they receive from Marathon Kids gives them the incentive to keep trying. “The students don’t realize they are building healthy habits that they will use the rest of their lives.”

Setting Goals For The Future—And Achieving Them

Coach Moreno encourages anyone who is considering starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach to go for it, and offers this advice: “It will improve your health, it will improve your classroom, and it will make a HUGE difference in the lives of your students.”

What’s on the horizon for her as the school year progresses?

“I hope to lose another 30 pounds this running season!”

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

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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The Ambassador School of Global Education Running Club is grant-funded, thanks to the generous support of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

Patricia Andrade sees running and Marathon Kids as “a sport and program in which all students can be successful.”

That’s important to her, as an elementary school teacher and Marathon Kids run club coach at the Ambassador School of Global Education in Koreatown, a small, diverse neighborhood in central Los Angeles. “We have a very diverse school community, and that is reflected in our running club as well.”

Ms. Andrade inherited her run club when a former colleague moved on to another school, leaving the club to her, along with a great legacy. “She is an avid runner,” Ms. Andrade says of her former colleague, “and was a great motivator and example for our students, so I knew I had to continue that. Our students don’t have access to a lot of green space in their community, or to organized sports. This was a great opportunity to continue providing this sport and space to our students, and to make this a yearly program and club for them to participate in.”

Their run club’s official name is Ambassadors Who Run, but Ms. Andrade and her students refer to it simply as Running Club. There are currently 140 students and 26 parents registered—the club’s highest-ever participation in each category. The students, who range from kindergarten to fifth grade, meet after school every Thursday and Friday to run for an hour on the track and field. Everyone warms up together and takes plenty of walking and water breaks; still, many students manage to cover three miles during their hour together.

Los Angeles Run Club for Kids

Motivating Others To Live A Healthier Life

In early autumn, they’ve just started up Running Club again for the school year, so the students are working on developing their endurance and stamina after the summer break. “They definitely get tired,” Ms. Andrade says, “but they end up motivating each other, and they love seeing adults, the teachers and parents, running with them.”

Ms. Andrade loves Running Club in part because it provides a change of pace from teaching in the classroom. “Being a coach gives me the opportunity to take off my teacher hat for a bit and motivate students to make better choices with their health. Physical activity and Marathon Kids give us the opportunity to instill healthy habits in our students, to help them feel better about themselves, and to teach them to make this a lifestyle for the rest of their lives.”

There’s plenty of overlap between coaching and teaching, of course. Ms. Andrade can tell her Run Club students are taking her message to heart when she hears them say things like, “I brought my water bottle, my running shoes, my hat, my sunscreen…” She says, “All of these are indicators that they are listening to our tips and creating healthier lifestyles for themselves. Running club becomes part of their school experience and ultimately their lifestyle.”

Los Angeles Run Club for Kids

When The Running Gets Tough, The Runners Keep Going—After A Short Break

“The students love running and socializing on the track,” says Ms. Andrade. “Something about completing their laps, miles and marathons motivates them to keep going around the track and keep coming back every week.”

Still, every runner faces challenges from time to time. “The students definitely get tired, especially right now, when our L.A. days are still very warm. A few months into running club, there are usually a few students who will stop coming because it gets too hard, and completing marathons is no easy task.”

When students stop showing up, Ms. Andrade follows up with them. “I do individual check-ins with students at recess and lunch if I haven’t seen them in a while, to see if everything is okay and to motivate them to keep running, keep pushing and keep achieving those miles.”

The teachers also serve as cheerleaders out on the track. “We have a megaphone and we’ll walk or run in the opposite direction as the students, motivating them to keep going. We give them time reminders so they are aware when 15 minutes are left, ten, five and so forth, so they know there is an end and they can achieve laps within those time frames.”

They always encourage breaks—and then getting back on the track. “If it gets too tough, they can take a break from running for a few minutes. We remind students to stay hydrated and walk whenever needed. But we always get them back up and going again soon so they can complete their laps.”

Milestones And Rewards Keep The Runners Motivated

“Throughout the running season,” Ms. Andrade says, “we award our runners at our monthly school assemblies. We take the opportunity to showcase them as they complete their marathons, and they love getting to show off their Nike swag. The recognition and rewards help those who have fallen off to come back and restart their running journeys.”

The runners are also motivated by seeing their run club goals and mileage logs displayed prominently in the office. “They get to see their names as they complete their marathons,” Ms. Andrade says, “which is another great incentive and motivator.”

Run Club Is Good For Grown-Ups, Too

Physical activity is important to Ms. Andrade “because it keeps me healthy and ultimately sane. I was athletic in high school, and played volleyball and soccer all four years. I didn’t play sports in college, but kept going to the gym. Then adulthood happened. Stress is real, and it affects many aspects of one’s life. After a few years of failed gym memberships, I rediscovered a love for physical activity through CrossFit, and that has kept me healthy, but more importantly both physically and mentally strong.”

Coaching her school’s run club has helped her further develop her fitness. “I never considered myself a runner and have always struggled at it; long-distance running is mentally difficult. Running Club and CrossFit have changed that perspective now that I run with my students.”

Now she makes it a point to participate in local 5Ks along with some of her top Marathon Kids runners. “I challenged myself to run with them. It’s a great accomplishment and feeling even if it’s just three miles, because I challenge myself to keep my time or beat it every year. It is also an example to my students that size doesn’t matter. I may not look fit to the average eye, but when I exercise with my students and show them my progress at CrossFit or finish that 5K, they see that a healthy lifestyle can be carried in all shapes and sizes.”

She re-emphasizes the mind–body connection. “Did I mention it helps A LOT with my mental health? This teaching thing is no easy job!”

Los Angeles Run Club for Kids

Physical Activity Improves All Aspects Of Life

Ms. Andrade’s students are English Language Learners who are participating in the school’s Spanish Bilingual Maintenance program. She sees benefits from Running Club that extend not only to her students’ physical health and fitness, but also to their moods and academics. “Academic growth is directly connected to a well-balanced social-emotional and overall physical health. Our students love running club, and we start noticing trends throughout the year for those students who participate. Our students tend to get recognized in other areas besides running club, and also tend to receive certificates in achievement areas such as citizenship or academic improvement. I get updates from teachers that behavior in the classroom starts improving as well, and that kids are happier looking forward to their running days.”

The benefits of daily physical activity also extend to the students’ home lives. “Parents talk about how their children start sleeping better, start drinking more water, start making better food choices and want to continue running on their own time because it becomes routine.” Ms. Andrade says the most important thing for her is that “every child that joins our running club becomes a winner and achieves. They all get recognized and awarded for their effort; they wear their Marathon Kids shirts with pride, because they know they belong to something.”

Running Club enables kids of all kinds to come together and connect. “Academic ability, special education classification, language or learning labels—these don’t matter in running club. It is truly an equal playing field for all. Students start making friends with students from other grade levels and programs. It is also common for the older kids to become mentors to the younger kids and motivate them to keep running. You see lots of older students holding hands with the younger kids to help them keep going. It’s cute to see!”

Advice For Other Marathon Kids Run Club Coaches

One of Ms. Andrade’s biggest pieces of advice for anyone wanting to start a Marathons Kids club or become a coach is to get help from colleagues, parents or other community members. “Marathon Kids is a great program with lots of benefits, but it does require work, organization and structure. A support team, or even just one other person, can help with all the details, from scanning laps to motivating runners and advertising the club.” She shares coaching duties, including mileage tracking, with parents and other teachers. They all downloaded the Marathon Kids app so anyone can scan the runners’ ID card as they complete their laps around the track.

But the most important thing of all, she says, is this: “Run or walk with your students, and have fun!”

Her students frequently express their love for Running Club. “Our schedule is the same every week, yet I always get asked if there will be Running Club on Thursday and Friday. They tell me, ‘I’ll see you there!’” That love—of running, and of the community they have built together—is mutual. “What can I say? I love Running Club as much as my students!”

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

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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When P.E. teacher Kyle Black started a Marathon Kids running club at Taylor Creek Elementary in Lampasas, Texas, his daughter, Kelbie, wasn’t too excited about the prospect. She was in third grade at the time and had never found running to be enjoyable.

Coach Black knew his daughter could get into it if she gave it a chance, so he encouraged her to participate. “I love the Marathon Kids program,” he says, “because it focuses on reaching all students regardless of their athletic ability. It has changed the culture of our school. Our kids seem more confident and look healthier.”

And he was right about Kelbie: She quickly got into running once it became clear that their after-school training sessions were a great way to spend unstructured time chatting, laughing and catching up with friends. “I love running with my friends and different people,” she says. “When you run with other people, you get to help each other reach your goals.”

It was a pleasant surprise when it turned out she was better at running than she’d expected, especially the discipline and endurance aspects: She became the first kid at her school to hit the standard Marathon Kids goal of running four marathons, or a cumulative 104.8 miles. And she didn’t stop there. She kept going and wound up becoming the first Marathon Kid—not just at Taylor Creek, but in the entire United States—to complete more than 21 marathons over the course of the 2017–2018 school year. In terms of miles, this made her the top Marathon Kids runner in the country.

Nike Marathon Kids

Now ten years old and in fifth grade at Taylor Creek, Kelbie has a new milestone in sight. Sometime this spring, she will log her 1,000th mile with Marathon Kids. That’s a lot of ground covered, accrued over the three years that she’s been running with Marathon Kids—an average of over 330 miles per year, which is the equivalent of more than one full marathon a month.

Over the course of that time, she has grown and developed in several key ways. Her father, Coach Black, reports that he and Kelbie’s mother, Lindsay, have noticed that since Kelbie started running, she is better equipped to deal with frustration when homework or other activities get difficult. “We found out that Kelbie is dyslexic the same year we began Marathon Kids,” he says. “The program helped her realize that she can still accomplish tasks even if they seem impossible.”

The Blacks have also seen Kelbie’s confidence grow. “She is naturally competitive,” says Coach Black, “but she’s often hesitant to start. Her confidence to begin and complete tasks has grown noticeably over the last three years.”

Kelbie has noticed the same changes in herself: “I have been doing better in school,” she says. “Once I started running, I felt more confident in other things that I was doing, and I feel better.”

Improved academic performance and feeling better both physically and mentally are benefits of an active lifestyle that are extensively documented in research on the subject, and which are also widely reported by Marathon Kids runners and their coaches. Kelbie says that if she could tell other kids something about the importance of running and staying active, she would want them to know that “running is a fun way to be active. It helps you in school and helps you stay healthy. Running helps every aspect of your life.”

She has learned a lot about pushing through tough moments from her three years of running with Marathon Kids. “When it gets difficult,” she reports, “I think about finishing another mile or another lap to complete another goal. I focus on my goals when it gets hard.” That’s a strategy that probably any kid would benefit from adding to their toolbox.

Next up? Kelbie’s 11th birthday is in June, followed by middle school starting up in August—and you’d better believe she is relying on everything she’s learned from running to help her tackle that major life milestone. “I want to keep running to be ready for moving into middle school,” she says. If drive, ambition and stick-to-it-iveness count for anything in middle school (and we all know they do!), Kelbie is sure to be a great success in sixth grade and beyond.