On a warm spring morning families gathered on the freshly cut grass that soon filled up with a sea of white jerseys. The multi-color flags that lined down the field perpendicular blew in the wind, as little ones flew on by down the designated path it created. They were getting there practice in, overly excited to start running as moms had to stop them in fear they would soon tire out before the races have begun.
The children were soon called to gather with their age groups for some age-related warm up. Our circle included head, shoulders, knees, and toes. Then it was off to the races. With on “on your mark, get set, go” some little feet took off full speed ahead while others paused and dipped their toes slowly step by step before chasing after the fast ones.
No matter in what order they cross the finish line, smiles crossed all the faces well before that moment.
This is the Healthy Kids Running Series, a program that introduces running and promotes being active and healthy for kids.
The program is a great stepping stone when it comes to paving the way to create runners. It serves as a positive way to get kids familiar with the sport. Kids get excited to run through its races, the program teaching them that they can make it to that finish line. This is a great teaching tool to show them that they can achieve anything they set their minds to—even if it seems hard. It also teaches that hard work leads to success. They might catch the running bug, wanting to pursue the sport in school or after-school programs.
Healthy Kids Running Series is a five-week program that takes place in the spring and the fall for those as young as 2-years-old to 8th graders. The national, community-based non-profit program takes place in various states across the U.S. including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, and Texas—just to name a few.
The overall goal is to get kids to go, while fighting childhood obesity, introducing the sport and encouraging positive self-esteem.
The distances for the races vary on the child’s age group. This includes:
Pre-K 2- to 3-year olds: 50 yards dash
Pre-K 4- to 5-year olds: 75-yard dash
Kindergarten to First Grade: 1/4 mile
2nd to 3rd Grade: 1/2 mile
4th to 8th Grade: 1 mile
The races are done in waves, first all the girls then the boys for each age group. Parents line up on the sides, cheering for their runners. For the little ones, this either causes them to start crying or to start running. It might take a little coaching from the parents to get the 2- and 3-year-olds down to the finish, but over the five weeks, most get the hang of it. There are even a few kids in this age group who really take off sprinting and perform well.
As a result, the parents seem to take this really seriously. They can be heard screaming in excitement at the finish line, encouraging their child to finish strong. For this reason, my family dubbed the program “savage track.” We take it super lightheartedly and all in good fun to encourage my son to be fit. We showed interest in running, doing a few kids’ dashes with me at 5ks and can be found on the daily running laps in my house.
For this reason, I signed him up for the program, because I thought he would enjoy it. Not for its competitiveness that some parents take seriously. After each week, the child’s stats are posted to see how they finished. All kids receive a medal at the end of the five weeks, but those who score enough points to land them in the top three spots for each age group also get an additional trophy.
In general, it’s a super friendly and welcoming event each week, and most families are doing it for the fun of it too.
Ready, Set, Go, Over
These races go by extremely fast. It’s nice to get there early and have the little ones run around, but this could wear them out quickly. Once the race is over, families can stay and watch the other events or just head on home. Since the race is right before dinner, my family uses stays for my son’s race and then “celebrates” out to dinner.
Is 2 Too Young For Healthy Kids Running Series?
This is a good question that really depends on the child. My son enjoys running around, even if it’s just outside or in my house. But that doesn’t mean he is super focused when we are there, he still is 2.
This means he does his own thing when it comes to the warm-up and stretching or becomes a baby and needs me to hold him until his race begins. The first week he cried at the starting line and didn’t want to run at first. The crowds’ cheers caught him off guard. But once he saw the other kids running he followed. The next time he races there were no tears. He did pause at the “go” because I bet he really didn’t understand what was going on, but again then took off.
Weather plays a major role in the Healthy Kids Running Series. Our location (at a local high school) only allowed the program to reserve the space for the specific dates scheduled. This meant no rain dates. And it rained 2 of the 5 weeks. That means there was one run, then a break for a while because of rain, then another race, then another break because of Memorial Day before the final race.
The races still go on if it’s drizzling but it will get canceled in bad weather if conditions aren’t safe enough to run.
The Final Race
Rain was in the forecast, yet again, but it managed to hold off and ended up being perfect weather for the final race. All the races went off without a hitch, and there was great energy because all runners were finally completing their goal.
After crossing the finish line, the tiny runners were given medals for their hard work. These were hung around their necks courtesy of the East Brunswick Police Department.
After the kids’ races was a parent 1-mile race. This was a great way to lead by example and show tiny runners that their parents love running and being healthy, too.
Then the children that who places first, second and third place in the series were awarded with trophies.
Overall, this program flew by. But I am so happy as a mom and as a runner that I was able to further introduce my son to running.
We absolutely will return to the Healthy Kids Running Series.