The triumphant feeling of crossing a finish line does not know the boundary of age. For many, running provides the perfect opportunity to experience this feeling – even kids. From an early age, we experience feelings of motivation and achievement when completing a task or reaching a goal. For runners, completing a marathon is a common goal. But according to RunRepeat, less than 1% of the population has completed a marathon. Each year, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBSAL) hosts a Kids Marathon for local elementary schools to participate in a full marathon (26.2 miles) over the course of the entire program. However, the goal of the program does not just end at the finish line, but aims to help children learn about a healthy lifestyle with a major component being exercise.
Children kindergarten (k5) through fifth grade are able to sign up and “train” for the marathon. Whenever students run, whether at home, with parents or in PE class, they can log their miles to track their progress. The goal is for students to complete 25.2 miles of training in 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile or 1 mile increments between registration and race day. Then, the final mile will be run in person, where students will get to experience the race atmosphere, crossing the finish line, and receiving a finisher’s medal.
One of the marathon’s biggest advocates is Rebecca Recke, a physical education teacher at Bryan Elementary. Bryan Elementary first participated in the BCBS Kids Marathon event in 2005, when Recke’s own two children were in it. “They were actually the only two children from Bryan who registered,” Recke recalls. Ever since then, she has been encouraging her students to participate.
Running helped Recke in a special way, and she immediately shared her experience with others. When asked what motivated her to start participating in the event, she shared a personal memory: “My mom had ALS and died in 2004. I was grieving and couldn’t get ‘back to normal.’ A friend told me to sign up for the Mercedes Half Marathon the following February. I began training and found my way to learn how to function in my new normal. I experienced first hand how running was helping me. So, I got my kids to join me in road races leading up to the half. I had just started at Bryan Elementary and learned about the Kids Mercedes Marathon. So I signed up my kids.” And that was just the beginning of kids she would inspire to run the race.
The benefits for kids who participate in the Kids Marathon clearly goes beyond just the fitness aspect. “Kids experience exactly what adults experience when they complete a 5k or other road race…exhilaration in having crossed the finish line. There is no doubt that students feel a sense of accomplishment,” Recke states. Then she adds, “You can’t buy that on Amazon!” The BCBSAL race allows kids to feel like champions as they complete the program and receive their medal. And it’s likely that after participating once, they’ll want to do it again. Recke remembers, “Last year in the drizzling rain, one of my students came to me following his race and asked with excitement, ‘Can I do it again?’”
This perhaps is one of the biggest benefits: the introduction of a lifelong healthy habit. Recke’s own children are still reaping the benefits of that race they ran back in 2005. “I watched this in my own kids. They participated in the Kids Mercedes during elementary school, and as adults they both continue to participate in road races. My daughter participates in local 5k races. My son completed his first half marathon and then his first full marathon both in New York City. They are hooked on the feeling that being active provides.” This is exactly what the BCBSAL Kids Marathon is all about: helping kids learn about the positive feeling that comes with an active, healthy lifestyle.
Parents, families, teachers, schools, and communities can help support students and the marathon. Recke, who has experienced the race both as a parent and a teacher, says, “Classroom teachers are vital when they partner with the PE coaches to promote students to register. They can send reminders of registration deadlines. These teachers also are invited to attend the day of the event and help organize students as they make their way to the starting line.” Families and communities are encouraged to participate along with schools and students. “Parents can support the PE coaches in planning the event meeting spot by providing waters and bagels for a pre race snack,” Recke adds. Parents can even join in the run if they purchase a parent bib while registering their child.
The 2024 live event will be hosted on a brand new course at Spain Park High School in Hoover on February 24. The event is accessible for the entire family, complete with ample parking, a shuttle bus, and a spectator-friendly finish line on the track. Visit the BCBSAL Kids Marathon website for more information and to register your runner!