If given the opportunity many kids would spend the whole summer playing video games or watching television. Not 7-year-old Carter Thomas. His Tuesday and Thursday summer evenings were spent running with dozens of other children, ages 5 to 13, in the Mile by Mile Family Running Club.
Recently, as he waited for the group to gather at Holmberg Park in north Spokane he confided, “I do races all the time – sometimes by myself.”
The club is the brainchild of Robyn McGinnity, an avid runner and Spokane Youth Sports Association cross country and track coach. “It’s always difficult to find activities that involve the whole family,” she said. She got the idea of a family running club after reading about a similar group associated with the Missoula Marathon.
Finding interested folks proved as easy as sending out an email. “I had this community of kids and families through SYSA who enjoyed running.”
When she told her running partner, Kelly Clark, about the idea she found enthusiastic support. “Robyn and I run when our kids are sleeping,” she said. “This was an opportunity to expose them to something we enjoy.”
Clark said the main goal was to encourage kids to exercise by running or walking a total of 26.2 miles – marathon distance – in one summer. For every mile completed, kids earned an orange wristband (a piece of yarn.)
Carter’s mom, Andrea Thomas, said, “This has been great for Carter. He pushes himself and now can run four miles.”
Her 5-year-old daughter, Keegan, enjoys the club, too. Even a playground accident that resulted in two broken arms didn’t stop her from running. Thomas laughed. “I have active kids.”
With no fees and a sturdy pair of running shoes the only equipment needed, McGinnity and Clark found plenty of eager families to participate. Parents can choose to run with their children or cheer them on from the sidelines.
Joe Feryn brings his sons, Adam, 8, and Colin, 5. He said, “I appreciate it because there’s no pressure, and the kids are learning to love running.”
Feryn’s no stranger to the sport – he’s the boys cross country coach at Gonzaga Prep. As his older son sprinted toward a buddy, Feryn said, “Adam really looks forward to this.” Then he smiled. “Colin comes along for the social aspect.”
Clark found lots of ways to demonstrate that running can be both fun and social. She said, “We typically run or walk for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on how many fun distractions we create, how hot it is, or how much time each family has available. There’s always an adult at the start and finish lines of each lap to cheer for kids and encourage them to drink water.”
Last Tuesday the fun distraction was ice cubes. Kids grabbed cubes from a cooler at the start of the trail and were encouraged to be creative with them. Some chose to hold them and see how far they ran before they melted. Others chose to slip them down a friend’s shirt. “I ate my ice cube,” said 5-year-old Joy Clark.
Playing with ice isn’t the only way to have running fun – jokes in a bucket proved to be a hit. Clark explained, “We put four to six buckets on the trail and each contained lots of slips of paper with jokes on them. As each kid gets to a bucket, they take out a joke and read it to whoever they are running with. They can put the joke back in the same bucket or carry it to the next bucket.”
Squirt guns, ice-block sledding, costumes and popsicles have also made the twice-weekly run enjoyable for kids and parents alike.
The group plans to run together next summer, and McGinnity and Clark would love to see similar family running clubs start up throughout the community.
McGinnity knows not everyone shares her passion. “I’ve always loved running,” she said. “It’s something that’s been good in my life.”
But she’s found that if parents have a negative attitude about running, it often trickles down to their children. McGinnity said that in addition to providing low-cost exercise, running boosts kids’ self-confidence and self-esteem levels. “If you can give kids just a little taste of it and make it fun, they won’t shut the door on it so quickly.”