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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 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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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.

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For many, January is a traditional time for setting fresh health and wellness goals to improve their lives in the new year. So, why not up your game in 2019? Marathon Kids running clubs aren’t just for schools—they’re for anyone and everyone, including families that want to get and stay healthy together! If you’re looking for a way to be active with your family, why not start your own Marathon Kids at Home running club? Setup is quick, easy and affordable, and the benefits of regular running or walking with your kids are immeasurable.

Meet the Trammel Family

Take it from Katara Trammel, a Kempner, Texas, mother, teacher and mentor at The Homeschool Mommy. Trammel first learned about Marathon Kids when her son, Jermal Jr., attended Taylor Creek Elementary for kindergarten. “Jermal Jr. loved running with the Marathon Kids program,” Trammel says — so much so that she decided to incorporate his new passion into their family’s summer activities as well as their home school curriculum. “I love the fact that it allows us to spend quality time doing a physical activity outside,” Trammel says, “and that it eliminates the want for screen time.”

Marathon Kids at Home

The Importance of Staying Active Together as a Family

Before Marathon Kids came along, the Trammels were already used to being active together as a family. For years they have enjoyed mountain biking, road cycling, hiking and gardening together, and they love playing sports like volleyball and football as a family, or simply playing on teams with Nerf toys. They also do taekwondo and jujitsu together. “We love anything that raises our heart rates for at least 30 to 45 minutes,” Trammel says. “The key is to always have fun!”

Trammel believes that maintaining physical health helps to promote mental health. She reports that doing something physically active helps improve her son’s mood before it’s time to start his schoolwork for the day. “Running, walking or riding his bike really allows Jermal Jr. to come inside and start our school work eager and focused.”

She feels that the importance of staying active as a family is about even more than just the physical and mental health benefits. “Believe it or not,” she says, “being active together is a time when we learn and share with each other. Even in the midst of fun, our children will talk about things that are happening in their day-to-day life. They can ask questions or just feel comfortable to make jokes and be silly — just be kids. It definitely beats having every conversation only at dinner or in a structured environment!”
Marathon Kids at Home

Advice for Other Families Wanting to be Active Together 

Here is Trammel’s advice for other families that are hoping to add more physical activity into their family time: “As a parent, don’t be afraid to get out there. Even starting with a family walk is a great beginning, and you can build up from there.” She encourages families to focus on making it fun for everyone, such as by conducting a scavenger hunt or playing I Spy along your walking or running route.

“Be encouraging throughout the activity,” she says, “even if it’s just a fast walk from mailbox to mailbox or doing a shuttle run/walk in the driveway.” (Shuttle runs are a fun interval activity that involves setting up markers at short, regular distances, such as 10 meters apart. Runners run from the starting line to the closest marker, where they touch the ground before returning to the starting line. Then they run to the next closest marker, touch the ground there, and return again, and so on.)

Trammel’s final advice for developing a lasting healthy habit as a family? “Plan it. Put it on the calendar! When we write it down and everyone in the family knows, someone tends to remind the family, and it keeps us all accountable. Kids get excited about fun activities with the ones they love!”

Ready to Start Your Own Family Run Club? 

kids run club

Families that participate in Marathon Kids at Home work together to reach a total of 104.8 miles — the equivalent of four marathons. By tracking their progress as a group, one walking or running mile at a time, families establish healthy habits together and discover that they can achieve more than they ever thought possible.

Marathon Kids provides the framework, resources and rewards, and each Marathon Kids at Home family takes it from there, determining their own schedule, pace and method of movement. Running, walking, skipping, strolling, taking the dogs around the block — it all counts!

Marathon Kids at Home registration is just $20 per participant (shipping and handling included; parents can choose whether to pay for the whole family or only for the children). The registration fee includes four Nike incentives — one for each 26.2 miles achieved. Have questions? Reach out to programs@marathonkids.org — or simply register your family and start logging miles today!

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AUSTIN, Texas – Marathon Kids, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, today announced a generous donation from the Fort Bend Medical Society Alliance for the 2018-19 school year. Marathon Kids is funded primarily by corporate and private sponsors to help communities all over the United States create running clubs for kids.

The total amount of funding – $4,665 – will be used for Marathon Kids runners in Fort Bend County for the 2018-19 school year. Marathon Kids will provide training to coaches who receive funding.

“Nomita Bajwa, president of the Fort Bend Medical Society Alliance, and Stephanie Kellam, United HealthCare student wellness coordinator at Fort Bend ISD, are both Marathon Kids Ambassadors that attended our Leadership Academy last year,” said Marathon Kids Director of Training & Education Nurrie Wilson. “They and others in the school system have been instrumental in ensuring the students of Fort Bend County receive opportunities to improve their health.”

“The Fort Bend Medical Society Alliance is honored to contribute to a program that benefits kids in so many ways,” said Bajwa. “Research shows that children improve their self-esteem, are more focused in school, and better manage stress with regular physical activity. We support their mission to help kids live healthier lives.”

Fort Bend County is a county southwest of Houston, Texas. As of the 2010 census, its population was 585,375, making it the 10th most populous county in Texas. A rapidly growing area, Fort Bend ISD and Lamar CISD numbers one and three on the list of Houston area schools with the most development.

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids’ mission is to show kids that through running, they can achieve more than they ever thought possible, and put them on the path to healthier lives. The nonprofit organization empowers teachers, parents, and coaches to start a Marathon Kids running club in their home, school, out-of-school time organization, or camp.

Kids enrolled in the program work at their own pace to run, or walk, the equivalent mileage of up to four marathons (104.8 miles) over the course of the running club season. Marathon Kids provides the training, rewards, tools, and resources to a local network of dedicated, motivated, and inspiring coaches supporting them every step of the way.

Corporate partners and supporters include Nike, HEB, St. David’s Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, LA Dodgers Foundation, Active Schools, MedSpring, Austin Runner’s Club, Tejas Trails, and Athletes for Hope.

For more information, please visit marathonkids.org.

ABOUT FORT BEND MEDICAL SOCIETY ALLIANCE

FBMSA is a service organization whose members are physician spouses living in Fort Bend County. They sponsor WATCH, a healthy lifestyle program for children, and previously sponsored the WATCH your Wellness Health Fairs. They approved the Marathon Kids grant as a way of bringing awareness and activity to all schools in the area. They would like to thank the partnership with United Healthcare, FBISD, Wellness Geeks Consultants as well as the University of Houston, College of Nursing for making this Marathon Kids training accessible to schools in the area at the WELLCON 2018 conference.

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PICTURED ABOVE:  (Left to right) Hiral Pancholy, Nomita Bajwa, Vijay Bhuchar, Madhu Wadera.  Not pictured: Sonal Bhuchar, Soha Haque, and Rachel Varghese.

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Taylor Creek Elementary is a bright, happy school in Copperas Cove in central Texas. A little more than 500 kids and almost 50 staff are inside on a full school day. On this day in March, about half of them are running outside before school.

Running before school.

Smiling, Coach Kyle Black calls out to one of the kindergarteners:

“Hey, kiddo – why are you walking? You’re supposed to be running, silly!”

She grins. He can see it on the runners’ faces as they walk, jog, gallop, and sprint by; this is the best part of the day. Do we get to run today, Coach? the kids say as they enter the school, hopeful and anticipating.

It’s only the second year for the Marathon Kids program at TCE, and it’s clear that it has become part of the culture, with mileage logs and photos dotting every hallway.

Proud first grader standing by her class’ Marathon Kids mileage logs.

“Not everyone will be a runner,” says Coach Black. “We’re not trying to create runners. But we can reach kids through running.”

Coach Black poses with bibs representing marathons completed by his students.

Sometimes, the results are unexpected. Three or four kids have reported weight loss of 20-30 pounds since starting the program. A 5th-grade boy with a history of behavioral issues decided to join the Marathon Kids group and now it helps keep him stable. Another boy said he couldn’t run even 10 minutes a day. Several months later, he has finished three complete marathons.

Fifth grader Phoebe is in one of the military families based out of nearby Ft. Hood. Coach Black says that running gave her common ground with her dad, and now they run together. Phoebe and her friend Leah have run the most miles in the school behind Coach Black’s daughter Kelbie, who has completed an impressive 16 cumulative marathons. They typically run/walk for an average pace of 10 minutes per mile, Coach says.

Star runners, Leah, Kelbie and Phoebe

At Taylor Creek, the kids attend PE class twice a week, and sometimes three times a week as the schedule alternates. Since TCE implemented the Marathon Kids program, their FitnessGram pacer test scores have noticeably improved for participating kids. In fact, the average number of laps for a student not in Marathon kids – 23. The average for his run club participants? 37 laps.

When Coach Black first heard about Marathon Kids, he showed research to his administration. To help them better understand running’s positive effects on kids, Coach Black showed them brain scans of kids before and after physical activity. Plus, he says, it helps kids be kids.

“I think team sports sometimes wears the family down instead of bringing them together,” Coach Black says.

“Our culture values people by performance. If performance is a kid’s identity and they are injured and can’t participate, then they lose their identity. The Marathon Kids program allows kids to go at their own pace. They don’t have to be perceived to be a typical ‘sports star’ to achieve and meet their goals.”

Taylor Creek Elementary uses a digital app called EZ Scan to help the kids track their miles and meet their goals. Every time students complete a lap around the big, open field, they scan the QR code on their individual cards.

The coaches collect these cards and keep them in large envelopes for the kids to pick up when they arrive before school and during their designated daily 10-minute fitness time. The simple app streamlines the process and creates a structure that minimizes effort and time from staff.

Coach Black using the EZ Scan app on his phone.

Taylor Creek is also a Healthier US Gold School. This means they are certified for enrollment in Team Nutrition, which has created healthier school environments through the promotion of nutrition and physical activity.

Students are encouraged to have a healthy breakfast before or after they run. Combined with the social and physical connection of Marathon Kids, Taylor Creek is offering a better future for the kids at their school.

“Kids can accomplish more and be healthier than they thought they could,” Coach Black says. “And that is a great thing.”

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.