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A tale of two cities trying to make a difference.

the fight against childhood obesity has a strong and growing ally: running events staged specifically for children. While not a brand new concept, these races are nonetheless enjoying increased popularity. As these encouraging dispatches from Washington and New York show, children are approaching citywide running events with gusto as never before.

In D.C., Kids 1-Miler Boasts Record Turnout

In an unsurpassed showing of spirit and dedication to fitness, a record 1,363 children ran the 2004 Healthy Kids Fun Run, an annual 1-mile race presented by the Washington Post and held the day prior to the Marine Corps Marathon[R] in Washington, D.C.

American Running Association and AMAA executive director Dave Watt observed, "This was by far the largest turnout ever. We had double the kids we had last year." Watt, who was on hand passing out pedometers to the runners as they finished, added, "I think sometimes people underestimate what kids will do." His own daughter urged members of her soccer team to attend. An impressive 14 out of 16 showed up.

The two laps beginning at the Iwo Jima Monument in Arlington, VA were for entrants aged 6 to 13, with staggered starts allowing the children to compete fairly within their age groups. But the competitive drive that was clearly manifest on these young runners' faces never eclipsed the greater message: Everyone who signed up is a winner. The youngest stared proudly at their red participant ribbons as they filtered through the finish tents to receive t-shirts and goody bags.

U.S. Marines performed the opening ceremony in the foggy but mild weather, and a lively throng of spectators gave the event a mini-marathon feel. After the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance, the races were underway, with members of the Marine Corps bringing up the rear to support the last finishers in each group. Many kids and parents then stayed for the Finish Festival, which featured food, face-painting and games.

Will Ballard, age 8, competed for the first time this year. He said, "I wanted to run in the bigger marathon but I wasn't old enough." Will's father Chris has run the Marine Corps Marathon twice and Disney once. Will seems similarly dedicated to health and fitness. Chris says he practiced for this event, running a few miles with friends. And when asked what he plans to do with the rest of his day, the younger Ballard replied, "Now I have a soccer game."

Kevin Sullivan, wearing a sweatshirt adorned with no less than 25 patches commemorating as many consecutive Marine Corps Marathon finishes, said, "This might be my glorious end, so I'm doing a generational shift." He was referring to Caitlin, his 6-year-old daughter who was also competing for the first time today. "She trained with me all this week. I taught her how to run medium, not fast all the time." Caitlin nodded; the strategy worked. "I'm very proud of her," Kevin said.

Kevin Sullivan's parents met on a track. Caitlin's grandfather had been a great runner, and so the family tradition continues. And that's just what this day is all about. Race public relations coordinator Christine Banister Moore said that the Healthy Kids Fun Run was created "as a way for parents running the marathon to involve their children in the event's activities and expose them to the simple joys of organized running events." Looking out at the waves of delighted finishers on this autumn Saturday morning, it was hard to dispute that it worked.

Visit www.marinemarathon.com to enter the 2005 event.

In NYC, Learning to Run Like a Champion

Meanwhile, just a few days later and a few more before the ING New York City Marathon[R], some 700 New York City schoolchildren swarmed Central Park for the annual NYRR Foundation and Poland Spring Run with Champions. The popular race, now in its sixth thriving year, distributed participant ribbons to all and awarded medals to the top boy and girl finishers from each team.

After the students, representing 30 Running Partners sites, competed in their 1-mile races and 200-meter fun runs, they received t-shirts and sandwiches and broke into four groups. Professional runners then imparted wisdom and answered the children's questions. The talks were rotated, allowing the four groups of children to each speak with two athletes. These included Jose Alirio Carrasco, 2004 Olympic bronze medallist Deena Kastor, and Abdi Abdirachman, who was second in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials--10,000 meters this year.

But the real stars of the day were the enthusiastic student runners from all over New York City. Rose Gelrod, a coach of the newly-uniformed and particularly jubilant P.S. 63 Dragons, a team of third, fourth, and fifth graders from the Bronx, reported, "I remember the first year I took the kids down here, they'd never been to a meet. They were running around the park pushing each other and that was their idea of play. Now they're cheering and singing and they've grown so much."

Addressing the general assembly after the race, Kastor said, "My race is in just two days and I want to say that I truly am moved and inspired by what you did here this morning ... You're having a positive influence on this entire city by coming out here as part of this program. Congratulations to each and every one of you."

As a group of marathoners from Holland came streaming past, Run with Champions participants took a break from their stretching to loudly cheer and slap them five. The scene was one of many that indicate just how deeply the running bug has bitten into this Big Apple.

The looks on the children's faces were serious--if happy. The conventional wisdom from many of the coaches and teachers was that the children really enjoy the competition, which they don't experience so often within their regular curricula.

Indeed, the pre-race scene found the older kids out jogging and young kids in teams performing stretches. The P.S. 46M Jaguars busily worked through various side-stepping drills. And one boy exhibited immense focus as he did his push ups; what's more, no one was making him.

For more information on the NYRR Foundation, visit www.nyrrf.org.
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Title Annotation:FIGHTING obesity
Publication:Running & FitNews
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:1036
Previous Article:Think outside the cereal box.
Next Article:To run is human.
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