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Start Your Engines: Youth Running Programs Offer Training, Inspiration and Fun

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Girls on the Run - COURTESY LEE KROHN
  • Courtesy Lee Krohn
  • Girls on the Run

Study after study shows that kids who develop a love for running can reap lifelong benefits, including lowering their risks for obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Other perks include better sleep, higher self-esteem and more energy. Kids VT has compiled a list of spring and summer events designed to get kids moving. They range from fun runs to competitive races to races with obstacles thrown in. But first, we’ll introduce you to two training programs that will inspire you to lace up your shoes, hit the trails, pound the pavement and see what you’re really made of.

Girls on the Run

This national nonprofit aims to build a world “where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.” And it gets them running in the process.

“Girls tend to lose self-confidence twice as much as boys by age 11,” said Rachel Desautels, the executive director for Girls on the Run Vermont, which will serve an estimated 1,800 kids on more than 120 teams statewide this season. “At the core of Girls on the Run is a movement for girls to develop more self-confidence,” Desautels said. “There’s so many messages that say that girls can’t, that you ‘run like a girl’ in a negative way.”

Girls on the Run - COURTESY LEE KROHN
  • Courtesy Lee Krohn
  • Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run Vermont is offered through Vermont schools twice a week, beginning on March 28. It welcomes kids who identify as girls, transfeminine, non-binary and gender-fluid in its two programs: Girls on the Run, for kids in third through fifth grade, and Heart & Sole, for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. The cost is $115, with a $30 discount for siblings. Financial assistance is available.

Coaches are needed. They are volunteers who receive training to implement a running program rooted in a social-emotional curriculum. “You don’t have to be a runner to be a coach. It’s a common misconception,” Desautels said. “We are just looking for folks who are willing to be role models for kids.”

Each session focuses on a new topic. Kids learn about subjects, such as positive self-talk, bullying, gossip and how to identify and manage emotions.

“It’s not what you would think of traditionally as track,” Desautels said. “They are running laps, but many times they’re running with notecards and talking with teammates, or they’re processing a game as they’re running. It’s interactive,” she said.

Girls on the Run - COURTESY LEE KROHN
  • Courtesy Lee Krohn
  • Girls on the Run

The season culminates with a celebratory, non-competitive 5K run for the kids, their coaches, guardians and families.

“They can walk it. They can skip it. They can jump it. As long as they’re moving their bodies and smiling, that’s the most important thing,” said Desautels.

Girls on the Run - COURTESY LEE KROHN
  • Courtesy Lee Krohn
  • Girls on the Run

Amanda Cowan, who is heading into her 16th season as a Girls on the Run coach in the Mount Mansfield Unified Union School District, said she has witnessed the program create “confident girls who are comfortable in their own bodies and feel like they have the tools they need to go to middle school and make healthy choices for themselves.” Cowan, one of the district’s physical education instructors, recalled the pride a girl on the autism spectrum exuded on the day of the final run.

“Watching her cross the finish line with her mom was probably the most amazing memory that I have. I’m tearing up talking about it,” Cowan said. “She wasn’t a student who had ever done physical activity like that before. She was so proud of herself. She wore her Girls on the Run medal for the rest of the school year.”

Cowan said that student went on to run cross country through high school.

Cowan admits that coaching in the program has had an equally positive impact on her. In fact, she has long-term plans to keep coaching.

“I’m not willing to give it up,” she said, laughing. “I think I’ll just keep going until they tell me I can’t go anymore.”

Visit gotrvt.org to learn more.

RunVermont
RunVermont, the organization that produces the People’s United Bank Vermont City Marathon & Relay, has a number of programs to get kids in on the action race weekend, May 28-29. RunVermont Junior Milers is a 12-week program designed to get kids ages 11-18 ready to participate in the relay portion of the May 29 Burlington marathon. Registration costs $35 and includes a pair of running shoes. Scholarships are available. Typically, Junior Milers serves up to 60 youths each year, but the program is expected to be smaller this year due to a shortage of local partnering organizations.

Mini Marathon in 2021 - COURTESY LEE KROHN
  • Courtesy Lee Krohn
  • Mini Marathon in 2021

One event wide open for registration is RunVermont’s May 28 Timberlane Dental Group Mini Marathon for ages 4-14. Administrators say they expect between 500 and 600 kids to participate.

The Mini Marathon offers a two-mile competitive race open to ages 9-14, as well as a one-mile and half-mile non-competitive runs for kids ages 4-14. Adults can run alongside their kids during the half-mile race for free. Registration costs $20 per child and closes on May 25. Day-of sign ups are not available.

RunVermont also facilitates the Mini Milers program for kids ages 4-10. Volunteer leaders meet weekly with kids to teach fitness, good nutrition, community service and goal setting. Because fewer schools are participating this year due to COVID-19, RunVermont has created a virtual Mini Milers program that anyone can utilize.

Mini Marathon in 2021 - COURTESY LEE KROHN
  • Courtesy Lee Krohn
  • Mini Marathon in 2021

“It’s a great way to welcome spring, get outside and get moving and get your child ready for Mini Marathon on May 28,” said Kate Vetter who is the digital communications manager for RunVermont.

Michelle Dow, RunVermont’s director of youth programs, is looking forward to watching the young runners. “It’s such a joy to be out there and see their smiling faces,” Dow said. “You will have kids who don’t think they can run or walk another step and the encouragement that they get from other kids out on course is really heartwarming to see.”

Visit runvermont.org to learn more.

Upcoming Dates for Youth Races and Runs in Vermont: