My mom took up running when I was in high school. Although she’d never considered herself an athlete—she grew up in the pre-Title IX era, before it was OK for girls to sweat—she got caught up in the running craze of the 1980s, and she tried to recruit me, too.
It was not an easy sell. I was a basketball player best known for my free-throw shot; running was not my forte. I agreed to try it, though, seeing how excited she was about this mother-daughter bonding opportunity, and before long we signed up for our first race, a 5K in a tiny town where no one knew us.
I was grateful for the anonymity at first. But when the bus drove all the participants into the country and let us out on a gravel road next to a farm field, with instructions to run back into town, I began to wonder if we’d ever see my dad again. Mom and I were the last ones to cross the finish line—unless you count the ambulance, which ominously trailed us the entire race.
After that humiliation, my mom upped the ante, and we joined a throng of participants at the Bonne Bell 10K in Minneapolis. It was thrilling to hear the encouraging cheers of the onlookers, and to experience the camaraderie among the runners. I felt a great sense of satisfaction when I finished—not last, this time—and received my goodie bag.
Setting a challenging fitness goal, and then achieving it, can do wonders for kids—and for parents, too. That’s why the folks at Twin Cities in Motion have developed a program that aims to get youth and families exercising.
The program offers 12-, 8-, and 4-week online training programs that prepare youth for participation in one of three yearly events: a cross country run in the spring (the next one is set for May 18 at Como Park in St. Paul), events connected to the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in the fall, and a winter indoor fun run.
Children’s events have been part of the Twin Cities Marathon weekend for almost 20 years, but the Twin Cities in Motion youth program has only been around for seven, when Medtronic became the marathon’s sponsor. Although the program is geared toward youth in grades K–8, it also draws participation from the preschool and high school populations.
“It continues to grow dramatically,” says Sandy Unger, youth programs and community outreach manager. “Last year, in all of our running events, we had just over 5,100 kids participate, and that’s an increase of 19 percent over the year before. We have families who come and participate; we have schools and youth-serving organizations. We really try and encourage kids from diverse backgrounds and a variety of socioeconomic levels.”
The online part of the program is free, and draws participants from all over the world. The running events have a $10 entry fee, but the organization provides scholarships because it doesn’t want cost to be a barrier.
Unlike many youth sports programs, Twin Cities in Motion emphasizes its noncompetitive approach. It offers a variety of distances, from a diaper dash to a 10K, so kids can start at a comfortable level and keep challenging themselves to improve.
Some kids join the program because their parents are runners who want to make running a family activity. Other kids join because they like to run, and they end up inspiring their parents to become more active.
Unger says the ultimate goal is to decrease child obesity and make the Twin Cities a healthier community for everyone.
“We’re starting early to create good habits. Hopefully people will continue to run races over the years, and we will create the next generation of healthy kids,” she says.
Running definitely became a habit for my mom, despite her relatively late start; she’s still running regularly, and she has completed several marathons. Yoga and walking are much more my speed. But I’ve been keeping an open mind lately, ever since my ninth grader said he’s interested in taking up running this spring so he can become more fit.
It could be the opportune time for me to follow in my mom’s footsteps. My son and I could start training together, and work toward entering a 5K in an anonymous town this summer. What do we have to lose? If things don’t go well, we can always catch a ride from that ambulance.
Joy Riggs is a mother of three teenagers. She lives in Northfield. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.