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Here at Marathon Kids, we know that active kids do better. We also know that kids who are able to listen, communicate, and problem-solve are better equipped to succeed in school and in life. These are all skills they need to navigate the world around them.

Using the pillars of the Marathon Kids program, many of our coaches are using their running clubs not only for physical activity, but also to prime their kids’ brains, to encourage them to build relationships, and to help their runners unlock the key concepts of social emotional learning.

Core Social Emotional Learning Competencies

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, is on mission to help make evidence-based social emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of the school day, from Pre-K to high school. CASEL’s five competencies are embedded in SEL curriculum and help a child succeed in their personal and relationship skills. More importantly, these five competencies help educate hearts, inspire minds, and help students navigate the world more effectively.  Schools and youth organizations across the nation are now increasingly implementing social emotional learning into a student’s day.

The five competencies are: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making.

CASEL

What is Social Emotional Learning?

SEL is more than a program or a lesson. It’s a process through which children and adults learn how to:

✓ Understand and manage emotions

✓ Set and achieve positive goals

✓ Feel and show empathy for others

✓ Maintain positive relationships

✓ Make responsible decisions

It is about how teaching and learning happen, as well as what you teach and where you learn.

Through SEL curriculum, kids learn positive self-talk, problem-solving skills, and how to build relationships with others. They start to recognize that everyone is unique, that listening to understand can help resolve misunderstandings, and that people sometimes interpret information or experiences differently. And that’s okay!

Social Emotional Learning SEL

Learning Soft Skills

While technology can make our lives easier, it can also cause children to spend less time communicating face to face, to have difficulty expressing how they feel in appropriate ways, and to need guidance in navigating relationships with others.

Soft skills—which are needed to effectively communicate, problem-solve, collaborate, and organize—are becoming increasingly important for success later in life. Recruiters and employment experts have started reporting a “soft skills gap,” especially among young workers more accustomed to texting than talking. Some employers are expressing frustration that while they can teach employees a new skill, they can’t teach them how to communicate, listen, or get along with others.

Social emotional learning plays an integral key role in helping students achieve both academically and interpersonally.  The world needs more critical thinkers, problem-solvers, and well-balanced, relationship-building humans to face new challenges and demands.

Marathon Kids + Social Emotional Health

Through running, we show kids they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. And, the success kids find in setting goals and tracking their progress at running club trickles down to other parts of their lives as well. When kids have higher self-confidence, they are more willing to break out of their shell, try new things, and persevere when things get tough.

Not only are Marathon Kids participants reaping the benefits of physical activity and building endurance, but they are also learning the importance of goal-setting, determination, and relationship-building.

Let’s take a look from a high-level perspective at how the Marathon Kids program connects with CASEL’s five competencies:

Through stories we’ve collected, we know our simple, fun, and effective running clubs create a space for so much more to happen than just conquering laps. Kids are self-evaluating and reflecting on their performance. Some kids who aren’t involved in sports feel like they are athletes—possibly for the first time—and that they are part of a team. Running club becomes a social outlet to create community and spark friendships with a diverse group of peers.

“It felt great to have my teammates cheer me through the spirit tunnel.”

Social Emotional Learning SEL

What’s next?

Whether you are a teacher, coach, parent, principal, administrator, or volunteer, we want to help you incorporate physical activity into your school’s schedule. There’s power in movement. Use it to ignite and regulate kids’ brains, build relationships, and create well-balanced kids who are ready to navigate the world around them. The Marathon Kids program can be integrated into SEL curriculum, brain breaks, and your school culture. Click here to learn how to build social emotional learning skills through physical activity by watching one of our virtual training videos.

“I believe Marathon Kids will help improve kids’ lives socially and emotionally, which will lead to their success in the classroom.”Marathon Kids coach Rene Hernandez

For more information about our free program and training opportunities, including a social emotional learning module, please contact us at info@marathonkids.org.

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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Hailey Walker’s last name is ironic, considering that she prefers running to walking. “I always wanted to run. I thought it was fun to run, plus I could get where I wanted to go faster than if I walked.” Eleven years old and in fifth grade at West Lenoir Elementary in Lenoir, North Carolina, Hailey has been a runner since she was very young, but she didn’t start tracking her mileage until her PE teacher, Coach Abee, told the class about Marathon Kids.

Sharon Abee has taught PE for 24 years and has been involved with Marathon Kids for two. “I felt like this program would help my students get in better shape,” she says, “and help them set goals and reach them, improve overall school behavior, and allow them to make new friends.”

When school is in session, the West Lenoir run club students run every morning from 7:20 until 8:00 a.m., when they head in to start their school day. “My students have PE every day,” says Coach Abee, “so they also run at the beginning of every class. We try to average three-quarters of a mile a day. With 180 school days, that puts you on track to finish all four marathons”—the standard Marathon Kids goal for student runners to cover in one school year.

Once a week, Coach Abee says, “we have a running day on the track, so students can catch up and stay focused on completing 104.8 miles”—the cumulative total of those four marathons. Some students wind up exceeding the four-marathon goal. Hailey, a natural and dedicated runner, loves running so much that she left that goal in the dust months ago.

Setting a Goal to Beat Another Marathon Kid’s Incredible Record

Two years ago, a Texas third-grader named Kelbie Black became the top Marathon Kids runner in the country when she covered over 550 miles during the 2017–2018 school year. When Coach Abee learned about Kelbie’s incredible accomplishment, she asked Hailey if she was interested in trying to exceed it. “Of course, she said YES!”

For Hailey, beating Kelbie’s record wasn’t about personal glory. It was about showing herself and others that dedication gets results. “I wanted to show other kids my age that you can do it. If you work hard, then you can accomplish anything.”

With her coach’s help, she set a goal of running 600 miles before the end of the school year. “Hailey and I sat down and did the math on how many miles a week she would need to break Kelbie’s record,” says Coach Abee. “She looked at the runners’ report that I printed every morning, so she always knew how many miles she had and if she was on track.”

“When my mom would drop me off at school in the mornings,” Hailey says, “I would go to the gym, put my stuff away and get my scan card, and head out to the track to run until I had to go in to school. I would usually get in at least two or three miles in the morning, sometimes more, and I’d get to do more laps on days the teachers took us outside. Mrs. Abee would scan my card; it would keep track of what I ran for that day.”

With Distance Learning, Run Club Shifted from School to Home

Then the global pandemic hit, and schools across the country closed, including West Lenoir Elementary in mid-March. Hailey had to shift to logging her miles alone, at home. “My goal that I had set for myself was 600 miles,” she says, “but I didn’t quite make it before they had us doing school at home. But I am proud of the miles I did accomplish, and I am wearing my Fitbit at home to keep track of my miles to get there.”

Coach Abee wasn’t worried about her student reaching her goal. “Hailey has perfect running form, and running seems effortless for her. She is also one of the most driven students that I have had the pleasure of coaching. I never had to push her or remind her what she needed to do in order to break the record. She took it upon herself to ask me where she was and how many miles a day she needed to reach her goal.”

When Hailey started logging miles from home, Coach Abee worked with her student’s parents to keep track of her progress. “Hailey’s dad used GPS to measure a track at their house. She is now close to 700 miles. She has been using a Fitbit and sending me her daily activities.”

That’s right—Hailey broke Kelbie’s record at the end of April, and she’s kept on going since. And her “new normal,” including distance learning and running on her homemade track, doesn’t seem to have thrown her off much. “I’ve enjoyed getting to spend more time with my family and getting to play outside longer,” she says. “Staying at home has not changed anything for me because I’m still running as much, if not more. I think my speed has picked up.”

She is already looking ahead to next year and beyond, and is seeking new ways to challenge herself. “When I go to middle school, I want to join track, and I have been told by many of my teachers that I need to do long-distance runs.”

Staying Motivated Is Simple: Just Keep Going

Running isn’t always easy, even for naturals like Hailey. When asked what she does to stay motivated on the tougher days, her response is simple: “Sometimes it does get hard, but I just keep going. I enjoy running because it keeps me active and healthy. There’s nothing I dislike about running.”

On those tough running days, Coach Abee has some savvy advice for her students that can be applied to many areas of life, not just physical fitness. “I tell them that setting and reaching a goal is not meant to be easy—that it is supposed to challenge them. I have also told them that when they reach that goal and look back at the work that it took to get there, they are going to be extremely proud of themselves.” She also shares her own experience with and love of running, showing her students inspirational videos and telling them stories about what running has meant to her over the years.

Staying active has helped Coach Abee adjust to her own “new normal” caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Along with teaching online classes full-time every weekday, she’s been prioritizing exercise even more than she did before. “I think many of my students have been outside more, too,” she says. “COVID-19 has people outside exercising with their families. I’m happy about that!”

She’s encouraged her students to keep up with their mileage from home by logging it on an assignment she set up specifically for her Marathon Kids runners. She’s also following her own advice. “I have kept my sanity by going to the local greenway every day and either walk/running or riding my bike. It is the highlight of my day every day since the stay-at-home order went into effect.”

The Numerous Benefits of Exercise: Feeling Good in Body and Mind

Hailey and Coach Abee are of twin minds about the benefits of exercise. “Physical activity is important to me because I want to have a healthy lifestyle and stay fit,” Hailey says. As for Coach Abee, “I know that the more I move and stay active, the better I feel. I want to be running, hiking and biking until I am a very old lady.”

Coach Abee has seen significant positive changes in her students due to their Marathon Kids running. “All of my students’ confidence levels have soared, and their overall school behavior has improved,” Abee says. “Recess now has a purpose. I feel as a teacher that Marathon Kids has enhanced my PE program tremendously. My students are setting goals and reaching them!”

As for Hailey? “She has become so much more confident in herself,” Abee says. “She is so humble about her accomplishment, and she encourages her classmates. She is going to do something great in life!”

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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Amanda De Leon Garcia first learned about Marathon Kids through a fellow coach, when she saw his run club at a 5K. As a P.E. coach at Santos Livas Elementary in Alamo, Texas, she already knew that physical, emotional and mental health were important to her. “Physical activity is important to me for life health,” she says. “Being physically active is known to add years to your life, and can help with emotional and mental health as well.” When she learned these factors were central to what Marathon Kids is all about, she knew she wanted to start a Marathon Kids run club of her own.

Alamo, Texas—not to be confused with the Alamo—is a small town at the southernmost tip of the state in the Rio Grande Valley. The area is rich with vegetable farms and citrus groves, yet, even being surrounded by fresh produce, the students of Santos Livas still need guidance about healthy lifestyle choices. “Students need to learn how to find something they love,” says Coach De Leon Garcia, “something they can look forward to and be active at the same time.”

The run club at Santos Livas is the Lions Running Club, with 60 students participating, ranging from Pre-K students to fifth-graders. The Lions meet once a week after school and also run during P.E. times on free Fridays—and they definitely stay active: “We try to average two miles every time we meet,” says Coach De Leon Garcia, “and we compete in 5Ks.” She and her colleague Coach Porras Garcia work together to track miles using Marathon Kids Connect, the new digital lap-tracking app that was launched at the start of the 2019–2020 run club season.

RUNNERS WITH DETERMINATION, AND WITH HEART

“Each of my students has their own attitude towards running club,” says Coach De Leon Garcia. “Most are determined and competitive about getting their miles in, while others just enjoy the run while laughing with friends.” The one thing they all have in common? “They love to go to running club! They all love to scan their bar codes and check how many more laps they need.”

The Marathon Kids method—working toward completing four full marathons, or a total of 104.8 miles, over the course of the school year, one mile at a time—helps students build engagement and motivation at their own pace. Breaking it down into small increments makes it manageable for runners of all ages and at any fitness level.

Coach De Leon Garcia’s students work together to reach their milestones, and the older kids help the younger ones to finish what they’ve set out to do each time they meet. “They set the behavior standards very well,” Coach says, “knowing they represent a club. I have some fifth-graders who will do an extra lap or two with my Pre-Ks just because they want them to finish.” Being in a mixed-age club is teaching everyone about mutual respect and what it means to be a valued member of a community.

TACKLING CHALLENGES WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR, AND REAPING THE BENEFITS

Coach De Leon Garcia’s sense of humor is clear when she talks about how her run club manages difficult moments out on the track. “I’m that coach that is constantly calling out their names and yelling motivational things,” she says. “When it gets hard, I like to challenge them, or I join them. I always tell them—if my old lady self can run, so can you. And they leave me behind, thinking, ‘This old lady better not beat me!’”

She’s seen plenty of benefits from the run club, for both her students and herself. “The benefits I’ve seen for my students have been in their diet changes and their leadership role in the school,” she says. “My students have been cutting out junk food and sugary drinks since they started running club. They love to talk about healthy food choices and meals as well as help others.”

Children learn by example, and Coach De Leon Garcia is setting a good one. “I’ve seen great benefits as in challenging myself to run half-marathons and make better food choices,” she says. “I like to set the example for my students and remind them to be physically active, to inspire them.”

As for anyone who is where she once was—wondering what it might be like to start a Marathon Kids run club—here’s what she has to say: “You have to love what you do and who you do it for. Once you have those two things down, Marathon Kids run club is golden.”

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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Coach Jessica Kessel was familiar with Marathon Kids well before she wound up starting a run club. As a P.E. teacher at Copperfield Elementary in Converse, Texas, she’d attended physical education conferences for years and spoken there with Marathon Kids representatives, but she didn’t have the funds to pay for the program to come to her school. When she received an email inviting her to apply for a grant to start a run club, she knew her students would love being Marathon Kids.

Every year, the elementary schools in the Judson Independent School District hold a track and field meet for fourth- and fifth-graders. “This is a huge deal for our students” at Copperfield, Coach Kessel says. “They get to run on the track where our high school state champions run.” Copperfield students come from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities, and “range from kids who have never participated in a sport to kids who have tried out but not stuck with any particular sport, and finally to kids who are athletes and members of various teams.”

Receiving the Marathon Kids grant opened up even more opportunities for Coach Kessel’s students to train.“What has surprised me the most is how many of our students have never been a part of a club or team. This is a true treat for them.”

COPPERFIELD STUDENTS WERE READY FOR A RUN CLUB

Copperfield Elementary is in the process of building a track. When it is complete, all of the school’s 700-plus students will participate in Marathon Kids at least once a week, during P.E. class. For now, nearly 100 students in third, fourth and fifth grades are active in the Bobcat Roadrunners run club. They meet for a half-hour in the mornings before school—third-graders on Mondays, fourth-graders on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and fifth-graders on Wednesdays and Fridays—and typically run between one and two miles per session.

The group has taken advantage of the Marathon Kids Connect app, the digital lap-tracking app, in order to make it easier than ever for Marathon Kids and their coaches to track miles. Coach Kessel monitors her runners while they jog and uses iPads to scan their Marathon Kids Connect ID cards.

Initially, she says, the run club was more of a social gathering than an athletic endeavor, but soon the students began taking it more seriously. “Now they compete to see their scores rise and compare their scores with others, so it is beginning to develop a competitiveness that they lacked at the beginning.” She’s been surprised to find that participation hasn’t dropped off. Instead, it’s only increased as the weeks have gone by, proving her initial instinct correct—that Copperfield students were more than ready for a Marathon Kids run club.

THE STUDENTS KEEP EACH OTHER GOING

Runners of all ages and experience levels know that running has its easy days and its tough ones. When the going gets tough for the Bobcat Roadrunners, Coach Kessel encourages the students who are highly motivated to work with those who are less motivated and help them keep moving. “They seem to respond to peer assistance,” she says of her students, “and don’t require much redirection from coaches.”

Physical activity is important to Coach Kessel on several levels. “This is our business and our passion,” she says. She works out “religiously,” and her students respect the fact that she practices what she preaches.

COACHING A MARATHON KIDS RUN CLUB IS BOTH FUN AND GRATIFYING

There are plenty of benefits in Marathon Kids for everyone involved, starting with the students. Coach Kessel has seen significant boosts in self-esteem in her Marathon Kids runners, stemming not only from the pride that comes from developing their athletic skills and reaching milestones, but also the sense of belonging that comes from being part of the club.

As for herself, before starting the Bobcat Roadrunners, Coach Kessel wasn’t sure how much of a challenge it would be to head up the run club. She’s been relieved to find it hasn’t been a chore; in fact, it has turned out to be something she appreciates. “Teaching the kids how to compete without pressure and that life is a competition” through building their mileage one mile at a time—these, she has found to be unexpected joys.

For others who are thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach, Coach Kessel gives two enthusiastic thumbs up. “For coaches, there’s pride in seeing that something you do is working. I would highly endorse pursuing this program because [other run club coaches] will be surprised at the gains of previously non-athletic kids.”

Looking for fun ways to get kids moving? Check out our free resources for teachers on Pinterest!

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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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Rain, hail, sleet, snow, and cold can play a factor in the safety level of your run club session. But with a little bit of preparation and a strong desire to be active, we can kick our fears of cold weather to the curb, and get faster along the way.

Cold Weather Running Tips Flyer

How cold is too cold?

Generally speaking, it’s safe to be outside in temperatures as low as -17°F. According to research by the American College of Sports Medicine, the risk of frostbite and hypothermia increases at a greater rate past that point. That
being said, Marathon Kids does not recommend kids being outside for long periods of time in subfreezing temperatures. As a general rule of thumb, temperatures above 32°F are recommended for outdoor activity.

When looking at outdoor temperatures, pay attention to the windchill factor (the “feels like” temperature) to get the most accurate idea of comfort level for your runners. Knowing the signs of hypothermia and frostbite are key to keeping your runners safe.

Cold weather running tips

❄️ Layer Properly
❄️ Warm-Up and Cool Down
❄️ Take Breaks
❄️ Stay Hydrated
❄️ Check Your Route

Running Games

If it’s too cold to be outside, try playing some indoor running games or sports to allow kids to reach moderate-to-vigorous activity levels (MVPA) and earn some miles. Remember, 20 minutes of MVPA equals one mile!

Marathon Kids running club Michigan

Tips from Marathon Kids Coaches

“In these chilly, Northern Michigan snowy-weather days, we keep motivated by keeping a clear head without any negative comments like ‘It’s too cold’ or ‘We can never run outside.’ Help each other stay positive. Have a once-a-month hot cocoa date after practice to warm up. As much as possible, RUN RUN RUN yourself so your runners know they are not alone and you are giving the same, best effort you are asking of them EVEN when it is cold, wet, and your lungs start to hurt. A rule always is (no matter the weather conditions) if you pass by someone on the trail or the track, you need to offer a piece of encouragement. Have fun! You are building memories with your friends and coaches AND you are building your body to be stronger with each and every step.”
—Coach Kelly Gough, Au Gres, MI

“We are from Berwyn, Illinois, a western suburb just outside Chicago, so we feel the lake-effect winds and snow. We try hard to have kids wear layers, t-shirts, long sleeves, sweatshirts, hats, and gloves, but most end up wearing their winter jacket. We just started staying in, but the kids never know if we are going to play a game, run laps, or both.”
—Coach Gert August, Berwyn, IL

“We are in Beaverton,Oregon. We do tell [our runners] that the quicker they move, the warmer they’ll get. These runners are amazing! 25 degrees this morning and these kids were still out there smiling (or maybe their faces were just frozen that way!). Way to go Eagles!”
—Coach Brent Van Volkinburg, Portland, OR

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 Special Education teacher Maria Ornelas applied for a grant to fund a Marathon Kids run club at Lockwood Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles, California, she shared in her application that she was excited to become a run club coach “because running motivates the students to do their best on the track and in their classrooms. I want to teach the students that they can have fun for free, and without being on their iPads. This gives me an opportunity to collaborate with parents in regards to their child’s movement options.”

The Physical Education teacher at Lockwood had first brought the Marathon Kids program to the school several years earlier, and Ms. Ornelas was interested in getting involved for the sake of her students, who have moderate to severe autism. “When Marathon Kids was first implemented in our school, only the sixth-graders were part of the team. I found that my students were better able to focus in the classroom after they had some exercise or running time, so I asked the P.E. teacher about including my students in the program.”

Marathon Kids Run Clubs Help Children Manage Daily Stress

Ms. Ornelas saw that the daily physical activity gained through the MK program helped her students release anxiety along with the stress they often felt when they arrived at school—“a win-win for all.”

Her run club, called Lockwood Shining Stars, began with only 65 students participating. It grew over time, and currently has about 200 participants from several different grade levels at the school, ranging from TK (Traditional Kindergarten, for younger kindergarteners) through sixth grade, as well as three classes of children with moderate to severe autism.

At Lockwood, It’s A Group Effort

Ms. Ornelas wanted to get involved with Marathon Kids “because I could invite other teachers to join our Lockwood Shining Stars, in order to help our students cope with life stressors through exercise. We now have students in different grade levels running at different times of the day. It is a great sight to see children running with their friends and having fun!”

She teams up with other teachers to get the students moving. “The teachers who participate in Marathon Kids take charge of their students. There are about four classes that run or exercise after breakfast, while other teachers will take their students out to run before or after lunch, three to five days a week.”

The students’ daily mileage varies according to each classroom as well as the kids’ ages and ability levels. “We motivate our participants to complete one marathon at a time,” says Ms. Ornelas, though individual students reach their milestones at their own paces. “There are students in the upper grades who cover two to three miles daily.”

In years past, individual teachers tracked their students’ laps as the kids completed them, but this year, with the introduction of free digital lap tracking through the Marathon Kids app, some of the Lockwood teachers have begun to digitally track their students. Ornelas says the goal is for everyone involved with the Lockwood run club eventually to track digitally.

The Entire Community Benefits From Run Club

The benefits of Marathon Kids run clubs extend beyond the student runners. “Through Marathon Kids,” Ms. Ornelas says, “students are learning about proper nutrition, and parents are learning about proper nutrition through parent programs in our school.” She reports that many students who used to choose juice for their workout and recovery drink have begun choosing water instead when they run.

Ms. Ornelas plans to use the program to set her own running goals and make positive changes. “I have seen some little changes in myself since starting the program. I don’t like to feel sluggish when I don’t have some form of physical activity.”

Most of all, though, she sees how running makes life easier for her students. “Physical activity is important because it helps a person to deal with daily stressors in a positive way. Physical activity helps to keep the mind clear and gives positive energy throughout the day.” And whether the student runners naturally enjoy exerting themselves or it’s an effort for them to complete their laps, “either way, they run and enjoy the time they spend with their friends on the track.”

Motivation—And A Little Friendly Competition—Are Key When Running Gets Tough

When running gets tough, learning to push through the hard moments is a key lesson for any runner. At Lockwood, “We run for about a half-hour daily, and we always give the students high-fives and encourage them to keep running.”

But running inevitably gets tough at some point, no matter how intrinsically motivated the students might be. Ms. Ornelas says, “I have noticed that many students are encouraged by their peers. The sixth-graders are trying to outrun one another, which makes running fun and motivating for them, while getting them ready for middle school. They really like to outrun each other. The competition among the students is great. I see smiles and hear laughter as they run with their peers.”

Keeping track of their progress is another key element of the kids keeping their motivation high. “When they return to the class, they can see where they are on the graph. If they are below their friends, they usually want to be at the same miles with their friends or have more, so visual charts are always great.”

Marathon Kids Values Progress Built Over Time

Ms. Ornelas says, “My students are now able to walk/run a mile to a mile-and-a-half, whereas before, they could not even complete the first lap without taking a break.” When it’s time to head back to class and focus on academics, “I also see that they are not as jittery when it’s time to engage in their educational learning.”

For other teachers or coaches thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club, Ornelas has this advice: “I believe that Marathon Kids provides many resources that can be given to students and their families to encourage them to exercise together. Marathon Kids is also a great way to start the day. Running and exercise help the students not only physically, but mentally as well. They release tension when they exercise, and then they feel more relaxed and ready to learn.”

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Marathon Kids was founded in 1995 with the simple idea that kids who set distance goals and track their progress on a mileage log will make healthier choices, both on and off the track.

Research findings from three independent studies on the Marathon Kids program confirmed this to be true. These studies affirmed that our program was making a difference in participants’ lives, and determined our six evidence-based pillars to long-term healthy behavior adoption.

This year, researchers from UTHealth School of Public Health – Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living conducted another independent analysis of the Marathon Kids program and its effectiveness with elementary school children. They were exploring if coach-led Marathon Kids run clubs help children reach the recommended daily minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), and to gather insights about intrapersonal factors such as goal-setting and self-efficacy.

Is the Marathon Kids program helping kids make better choices and reach their goals?

The results of this analysis revealed that the Marathon Kids program does help children reach their 60 daily minutes of MVPA, especially when their schools don’t have adequate Physical Education class time for students to meet that goal. The analysis found that the Marathon Kids program can help provide more than 100 additional minutes of MVPA outside of P.E. in the form of walking and running, an important contribution to the school ecosystem to provide additional opportunities for kids to engage in physical activity.

The analysis also found that the Marathon Kids program helps students with setting, working toward, and achieving goals. The structure of the program, based on cumulative mileage logged over time by walking or running, makes it accessible to students of all abilities and fitness levels. Of the students who set a goal of covering 104.8 miles (the distance of four marathons) within one Marathon Kids season, 44.7% of them reached or exceeded that goal. Over half—56.4%—covered at least three marathons, 69.7% completed two, and 87.5% completed at least one full marathon.

Are coaches satisfied with the program?

The study found a high rate of satisfaction among Marathon Kids coaches with the program, with a mean satisfaction score of 50.6 (with 56 representing the highest possible score), and more than 92% of coaches reporting they plan to implement the program with their students again next year. Furthermore, 21.6% of coach respondents indicated greater than 100% participation, meaning even more students participated than expected after the initial registration period. Coach respondents reported high overall confidence in implementing their run clubs, with a mean score for the total sample of 4.5 (with 5 being the highest possible score).

What are some coach-recommended best practices?

The respondents agreed it’s essential to provide student runners with praise and recognition. Finding ways to celebrate their students’ achievements, both major and minor, was a priority for many of the respondents. Nearly half held a season kick-off event or ceremony, while nearly three-quarters hosted a Finishers celebration or ceremony at season’s end. Others announced finishers at their schools’ Student of the Month assemblies or designated a Runner of the Week. One coach suggested finding ways to praise all kids, “not just the one who ran the most that day. I have a small running club, but I always try to give each child some type of compliment that makes them want to keep coming back.”

Other coach-recommended best practices include providing the runners with regular encouragement and motivation, not just at the start or end of the season, but throughout. Some made it a regular practice to discuss their students’ efforts and achievements during P.E. class. “I always recognize achievement in my gym,” one coach said, “regardless how small. Gains are gains!” Another emphasized the importance of teamwork and good sportsmanship, and providing social support for the student runners. “Encourage kids to cheer each other on, and not to treat it like a competition.”

The Marathon Kids program is helping children build fitness and healthy habits for life. These student runners are also learning to set goals and work steadily toward them as they value others’ achievements in the same process. Developing such important life skills from an early age will benefit everyone, not just as individuals, but as a community.