Some students straggle out of winter break suffering from back-to-school blues. But tens of thousands of Marathon Kids are now sprinting into the spring semester with their eye on a goal line that reads “104.8 miles.”
That’s the distance students run during a school year with help from Marathon Kids, the Austin, Texas-based nonprofit that provides tools, motivation and support to help children live happier, healthier lifestyles. Midway through the 2017-2018 academic year, 90,175 runners in 46 states are taking part in the challenge.
“We want to get kids moving toward the goal of an hour of physical activity a day,” said Marathon Kids CEO Cami Hawkins. “It’s important for their fitness and cardio health, but research also shows it helps kids focus and perform better in school.”
Founded in 1995 by amateur runner Kay Morris, Marathon Kids is one of the country’s only evidence-based running/walking programs. Armed with extensive research into the health and emotional benefits of walking and running, Marathon Kids has expanded its program across the United States and has partnered with corporate sponsors like Nike to spread the gospel of daily fitness for children.
Marathon Kids challenges children to run or walk 104.8 miles — the equivalent of four marathons — over the course of a school year, a summer, or as part of a running club program. The program encourages parents and other adults to start running clubs in their homes, schools, workplaces and beyond. So far this school season, 681 clubs have formed.
Entire families are encouraged to run, but the focus stays on the kids. Just half of boys and about one-third of girls ages 6 to 11 get at least one hour of exercise each day, according to a recent report from the American Heart Association. Even fewer teens got enough exercise.
“It’s incredible how many kids are not getting the activity they need to keep their bodies healthy. For many kids, physical activity isn’t built into their day, and sadly it isn’t built into the lives of many adults either,” Hawkins said.
“But we’ve found that if you can just get kids outside and moving around, they realize it’s fun,” she said. “They develop a love for it and it becomes part of their identity — kids who are active are more likely to stay active as teens and into adulthood.”
Families who sign up with Marathon Kids receive a step-by-step set-up guide, mileage logs and prizes. A Marathon Kids smartphone app helps parents and children accurately track their miles.
“It provides the best of the digital world and the old-fashioned running community,” said Christin Paglen of Long Island, New York. She and her husband, Keith, joined Marathon Kids to encourage their 6-year-old son, Chip, to make fitness a daily priority.
“Schools no longer provide kids with the vigorous exercise they need,” she said. “Marathon Kids is a great way for the whole family to pack in as much exercise as possible before and after school.”
Like Hawkins, Paglen is a strong believer that regular exercise strengthens the mind as well as the heart. “There’s a lot of amazing scientific research that says if you want your kids to succeed academically, they have to be physically active,” she said.
Science aside, she said the key to Marathon Kids is the way it helps kids tap into the pure joy of exercise.
“Chip’s just one of those kids who really loves running,” Paglen said. “It’s a passion, and I don’t think he’ll ever stop.”
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