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Having a Run of It

Pop quiz: On average, how long does it take most people run a mile?

What’s your guess? Ten minutes? Maybe 12?

According to Tina Klein, the answer is zero. Most people don’t bother to run at all, let alone a mile.
Klein is hoping to change that by inspiring a new generation to hit the pavement. She oversees Kilometer Kids, an Atlanta-based program that guides young people ages 7-12 as they run 26.2 miles over an 11-week period. 

“To me, it’s very personal because I want each and every child to succeed and excel,” she says. “I know running is a sport that will help them get there, and running is the one sport they can do their entire life.”
Kilometer Kids participants learn the fundamentals of training for a race and track their distance online. As the kids reach select mile markers, they earn prizes such as watches, shoe laces and even tennis shoes.
The program is designed to instill a lifelong love of running into the youngsters, showing them that the sport doesn’t have to be a punishment, as running often is viewed. 
“You don’t have to be a fast runner to have fun,” Klein says. “You don’t have to be first to have fun. You can still run and love the sport… It doesn’t matter what socio-economic background you come from. It brings people together. Running forms a common bond.”

A project of the Atlanta Track Club, Kilometer Kids launched in 2007 with 38 kids. Today, more than 3,000 students participate, as Klein and volunteer coaches and parents teach them the basics of training and eating healthy.
The kids train by playing fun games, and are served healthy snacks after training sessions. “They weren’t used to getting the healthy snacks. It’s a reward for them,” Klein says.

Toward the end of the program, participants take part in an actual road race. Recently, students hit the pavement to run the last mile of the Atlanta Half Marathon, for example.

But since some of the runners live in low-income neighborhoods and aren’t able to travel to the road races, the program comes to them. Kilometer Kids frequently holds mid-week fun runs in the communities it serves, which are set up just like a real road race — digital clock, finish line and finisher’s ribbon included.

Along with inspiring the kids to get active, the fun runs also inspire parents, Klein says. Many moms, dads, grandparents and other guardians volunteer during the big event, which in turn gets the entire family moving.

Klein recalls that she worked with one young overweight boy, helping him shed pounds through running. But she also talked to his mom about healthy food options, which reshaped the entire family.

“His mom came to me and told me, ‘I had no idea I wasn’t supposed to be feeding him this until you told me,’” Klein recalls. “It’s transformed his mother’s life — and his brother’s life as well.”