Originally published Nov. 20, 2021 by The Commercial-News, Danville, Ill.

By Carol Roehm

It might not be the Boston Marathon, but don’t tell that to the 200 or so students from Potomac and Armstrong-Ellis grade schools.

The kindergarten through eighth-grade students have been training since the first week of school for the highly anticipated second annual Potomac Grade School 5K and 1K Fun Run that took place Friday, Nov. 19.

Potomac Grade School’s physical education teacher John Lubinski hatched the idea for the 12-week “Couch-to-5K” exercise program last school year as a way to spur his students to become physically active while maintaining social distancing during the pandemic.

“We were here at school, but we had a shortened day,” he said. “I thought, ‘How can we get these kids moving when we can’t touch the (sports) equipment?’”

Lubinski relied on his background as an avid runner to design a program that consists of cardiovascular, strength training, and flexibility exercises, such as yoga.

“I’m a runner, and I know what they had to do as beginners,” he said of training for a running event. “They spent three months off for summer and now they’ll spend three months moving. Couch-to-5K got them up and moving.

“They all had access to the calendar (of exercises), so they knew what we were doing ahead of time,” Lubinski explained. “At first, we would run for one minute and walk for a minute, but we would work our way up to running for 10 minutes and walking for two minutes.”

For the second year, the Couch-to-5K program culminated with the fourth- through eighth-graders prepared to run a 5K, and kindergartners through third-graders ready to run a non-competitive 1K fun run. The students from Armstrong-Ellis participated along with the Potomac students at this year’s event.

On Thursday, Potomac’s seventh- and eighth-graders filled more than 200 custom-printed race bags with treats, bottled drinks and coupons for Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“All of this stuff has been donated by parents,” Lubinski said of the boxes of treats and cases of bottled drinks.

Last year, the young Potomac 5K runners each received a finisher medal that had been donated by the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon team. The unused medals were left over from an event.

Each 5K participant this year received a custom medal with Potomac’s cardinal mascot on it, and the boy and the girl who each clocked the fastest 5K time received an award belt.

“I was able to purchase the custom awards and race bags with a generous donation from Gibson Area Hospital,” he said.

Lubinski said seeing his students “buy into” the training program he developed and being excited for race day every year has been a rewarding experience for him.

“It was on race day last year that I realized how much fun they were having and that sense of accomplishment they had crossing the finish line,” he said.

“At first it was pretty hard, but it gets easier the more we do it,” eighth-grader Carleigh Lape admitted about the Couch-to-5K program. “If we didn’t do it for 12 weeks, we wouldn’t have been able to do this (race).”

Seventh-grader Lyndee Williamson agreed. “He gets us prepared.”

Seventh-grader Adisyn McCarty said she almost missed the inaugural 5K last year because she was in quarantine, but Lubinski changed the date of the race so more students could participate.

“I like that the little kids cheer us on, and the teachers hand out water,” Adisyn said.

Not only do they enjoy doing the exercises in the Couch-to-5K program, but many of his students declared Lubinski “the best PE teacher.”

Seventh-grader Carly Grant said she doesn’t mind doing the training program because “it’s better because (Lubinski) does the exercises with us.”

“He makes us feel confident,” seventh-grader Kayla Crull added.

Rhys Showalter, a seventh-grader, said, “He’s the best PE teacher in the world.”

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