Kids Marathon organizers promote long-term health

(August 19, 2007) - Kim Smith and the staff at the Bay View Family YMCA in Webster have organized the annual Kids Marathon to combat childhood obesity and educate children on the benefits of exercise and healthful eating.

Over the course of five weeks, nearly 100 youth athletes ages 6 to 12 will attempt to run/jog/walk 26.2 miles. Running a marathon at any age can be a difficult task, and Smith, the race director, welcomes the challenge of getting children into long-distance running.

We want children to realize that physical activity is fun, and the more we make this something they will enjoy, the more likely they'll keep running after the marathon, said Smith, who added that this is believed to be the first race of its kind aimed at youth runners.

We're trying to make a change in their lifestyle, not just a short-term change but a long-term one they will take with them the rest of their lives.

The goal is for each child to run/jog/walk five miles a week during the training program, which kicked off Aug. 11 and will include a group run every Saturday at 10 a.m.

All runners who have completed the 25 miles will then run/walk the final 1.2 miles together, crossing the finish line of the Preferred Care Rochester Marathon on Sunday, Sept. 16, at Frontier Field.

Kira Ashton's intentions to run a full marathon stem from her desire to become a better athlete.

Running can make you better at everything you do, including all of my sports, said Kira, 10, a fifth-grader at the DeWitt Road Elementary School in Webster who plays lacrosse, tennis, basketball and does karate. In almost every sport I do, you have to be good at running to be good in the sport, and I want to be a good runner so I can be good at my sports.

Smith and her staff have brought on experienced runners to teach the children proper running techniques and about safety issues such as stretching, staying hydrated and eating healthful foods.

Kevin Witt is planning on running as many of the miles as his 11-year-old body will allow. Kevin, who suffers from asthma that requires the use of an inhaler, learned about the benefits of healthful eating from his family, especially his sister, who helped him devise a weekly food plan.

It's a lot harder for kids to choose to (eat) healthy, especially when your friends might be eating pizza and junk food, said Kevin, a sixth-grader at Willink Middle School in Webster.

I used to eat a lot of junk food, but with my family's help I now have a plan of what to eat each day, and how much to eat. I'm allowed to eat a little junk (food) and a lot more fruits and vegetables than I used to.

While the runners aren't required to keep tabs of their daily diet, a registered dietitian will be on-hand at each of the training sessions to answer questions.

The runners must keep track of their progress in a running journal and are rewarded with a miniature toe token for every time they meet the week's goal of five miles.

(The rewards) are good because it makes us feel like we can set goals and reach them, said Abby Merritt, 12, a seventh-grader at East Irondequoit Middle School who is running with her sister Kaitlynn and plans to use this experience to join the school's cross country team in the fall.

This is all about educating kids on what they eat and how it affects you. Instead of just being a couch potato, I will know I need to run around, play and stay healthy.

Not all of the participants will attempt to run the entire distance.

Claire Ashton and her older sister, Kira, have been training for the marathon by running around North Ponds Park in Webster with their mother.

While Kira has aspirations of running all 26.2 miles, her younger sister has set more realistic goals for herself.

I'd like to run the whole thing but it's a long way to run for someone as young as me, said Claire, 8, a third-grader at the DeWitt Road Elementary School who ran in the Pink Ribbon 5K race on Mother's Day with her sister.

It's still fun because it's a challenge... . I don't think about how far I have to run, I just run.

Seeing the runners follow through on their goals is one of the benefits Smith gets out of organizing the marathon.

This whole age group we're targeting is the 'lost group,' Smith said.

As we're becoming more aware of childhood obesity, we know how important it is to start programs for these younger children who have already gotten off the track to fitness.

Hopefully, this leads to a healthy lifestyle.