Originally published Jan. 18, 2019 in the Whidbey News-Times.

By Laura Guido

P.E.teacher Holly Troyer is helping kids get a running start to their day.

Three days a week, Troyer watches and encourages her group of “Marathon Kids” as they do laps outside Oak Harbor Elementary School.

An avid runner herself, Troyer brought the running club program to the school at the beginning of 2019. Marathon Kids is a nonprofit group that creates programs aimed at getting children moving with goals and incentives.

Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times Felipe Ruiz powers through the final stretch of the loop outside Oak Harbor Elementary School.

The idea is for each student to accumulate four marathons, which are 26.2 miles, over the course of the program. Each time a child completes a marathon, he or she receives a gift such as shoelaces, a T-shirt a bracelet and, finally, a certificate.

Each time the first through fourth graders circled the one-eighth mile loop Thursday morning, Troyer handed them a popsicle stick. At the end, students count how many they accumulated to tally how far they ran that day.

The running club costs $15 per student, but this year’s members only paid $5 while the rest of the cost was covered by the PTA, Troyer said.

Going into the new year, Troyer said she wasn’t sure how interested students and families would be in the new program. Originally, it was going to be capped at 30 participants. However, there was so much interest the cap was raised to 60.

“It’s been an amazing start,” she said.

Now that she knows the interest is there, Troyer plans to get the club up and running right away next school year.

Despite the brisk weather and the early time, most students who participated Thursday morning had smiles on their faces the whole time. As they ran by, the kids proudly announced how many laps they’d done. Second-grader Ben Pascoal beat his previous record with 24 popsicle sticks accumulated that morning.

“I just like how fast I can go,” he said.

Pascoal said he’s been running since he was around age 3, but many of the participants are new to the sport. Students are encouraged to go at their own pace and many choose to walk. Troyer said it doesn’t matter as long as they’re outside exercising.

“It’s just to get them moving,” she said.

Exercise not only helps the children stay physically fit, but research from the National Academy of Sciences suggests it improves academic performance as well. Cognitive functions related to attention and memory are enhanced by physical activity and aerobic fitness.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends young people age 6 to 17 have at least an hour of physical activity each day.

And doing that activity with friends comes with its own benefits. Troyer said students in the club are getting to know children from other classes and forming new relationships.

“It’s social, emotional and overall health,” she said.

Emma Ritter, a second grader, said she joined to get her daily step count up.

“It’s actually working for me, and I like it,” Ritter said.

She said she started running at a pretty slow pace but she’s improving.

“I’m starting to run with my dad on the weekends sometimes,” she said.

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    Club helps students work on fitness and social skills by running laps before school as part of a new Marathon Kids program.
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