Lauren Moellering was only 8 years old when she ran her first kids marathon as part of the Fort4Fitness program.
Now, shes preparing to take part for the fifth time in the final 1.2-mile run that is the finale of the event, only this time shell be running with her sister, who is in kindergarten.
In the past few years Lauren has become something of a disciple for running. In fourth grade she talked to her gym class about the event, and a lot of her classmates decided to take part.
That made her happy, Lauren says, but it also made her gym teacher happy.
Eventually, a running club started at the elementary school Lauren attended. Students would practice running for a few weeks and then run a final race. It was so popular that students wanted to do it twice a year, once in the fall and again in the spring.
And in time, Lauren even talked a few couch potato friends into giving running a try. Their parents encouraged them to run, she says. Theyre absolutely enjoying it now. They just enjoy finishing the races.
Lauren, in a way, could be called the kids marathon organizers wildest dream. She went from just running as a kid to running middle school cross country.
Of course the kids marathon doesnt have that as its goal. Its not trying to generate a generation of super-runners or anything like that. Its just trying to get kids off the couch and away from their video games once in a while and get them up and moving around.
And theyve made it pretty easy. Starting in the beginning of the summer, kids who sign up are instructed to run just a little bit now and then and then keep a log of how much they run. The goal is to hit 25 miles by the finale, when runners as a large group run the last 1.2 miles.
To run 25 miles over the summer might sound like a lot, organizers say, but a lot of kids dont realize theyre already doing it. Just a quarter mile a day running and walking adds up to nearly two miles a week, so most youngsters are easily completing a summer-long marathon.
Kids being kids, though, a lot of them dont keep an accurate log.
The result is that in the past many people who started the program werent showing up on the final day because they couldnt show that they had actually completed 25 miles.
So this year kids marathon participants can set their own goal and choose a distance that they hope to run over the summer. It can be as little as 4 miles, or 10K, a half a marathon or a full marathon. The hope is that all of those who signed up at the start of the summer will at least show up for the final event.
To attract more participants, the kids marathon has also partnered with 29 different organizations, including schools, in which members gather pledges for their organization based on how much they run. That way more kids are attracted to the kids marathon and charitable organizations get some benefit.
If nothing else, Lauren says, getting out and doing a little bit of running helps your self-esteem.
It feels good to finish, she says.