Back in 2009, my good friend Craig approached me to see if I’d be interested in being a buddy runner for his eleven-year-old daughter Marina in her Girls On The Run 5K while he ran with his eight-year-old daughter Katrina. Not only did he offer to pay my registration fee, but he also offered to feed me breakfast after the race. Craig’s got my number – a free race and free food – of course I said yes!
Craig and his family picked me up on race morning in their minivan and we drove the thirty minutes or so to Fair Oaks Mall. The parking lot was already a mob scene when we got there, so we carefully parked before walking through the throngs of teenyboppers and their parents until we found the sign representing Marina and Katrina’s elementary school. This was a staging area the likes of which I’d never seen at a 5K. The race alone had 4,059 finishers and many of the girls were escorted by parents and siblings who weren’t running. My conservative guess is that there were over 5,000 people milling around the west side of the mall.
About Girls on the Run
Girls on the Run was founded in 1996 in Charlotte, NC by Molly Barker to inspire and motivate thirteen elementary aged girls into realizing the unlimited possibilities that lay ahead of them. The following year, the number of participants doubled and today Girls on the Run programs can be found in all fifty states and Washington, DC. Over one million girls have been served through the generous efforts of volunteer coaches across the country, and Girls on the Run 5K races are held throughout the USA to celebrate the culmination of each training cycle.
Here, Mom, Hold our Stuff
Our first task was to find packet pickup and get our race packets. Once our bibs were securely attached to our shirts, we rejoined the other nervous young runners gathered around the girls’ elementary school sign where I had the pleasure of meeting some of Marina’s and Katrina’s friends. We made small talk until it was time to walk to the starting line, leaving Elizabeth holding our bags, jackets, and anything else we were leaving behind.
The Running of the Girls on the Run 5K
Once we’d made our way to where the race would start, Marina and I made our best guess about what pace we’d be running and self-seeded accordingly. Craig and Katrina moved back a bit since Katrina was three years younger and planned to run at a slower pace.
It had been seven years since I had run a race shorter than a ten-miler, and I certainly wasn’t in 5K racing shape. Luckily for me, Marina had a pretty steady pace for a young runner and we settled into roughly a 10:30 to 11:00 pace – thankfully her race strategy wasn’t sprint, stop, sprint, stop… We chatted a bit while we ran, but I was careful not to ask too many questions so she could focus on her breathing and pacing.
As we ran, I explained that I was her running buddy, but that she would call the shots. I was there to help pace her, but if she needed to walk, we would. When we came to our first big hill, we slowed to a short walk, but as soon as we crested that hill, Marina picked up the pace and began to run.
Throughout the race I gave Marina tips about form, pacing, running effort, and taking advantage of relaxing on the downhills. Occasionally, a young runner would sprint past us only to stop from exhaustion; however, most participants maintained a more consistent and doable pace.
Marina and I finished the race in 35:49 (11:31 pace) and our overall place was 743 out of 4,059 runners. I couldn’t have been more proud of how well she did and how she never complained. At that age, I’m pretty sure I would have whined all 3.1 miles!
We had spotted Elizabeth cheering us in as we were heading toward the finish line, and were quick to join up with her despite the mass of runners and spectators. Together, we watched for Craig and Katrina to finish, and then quickly made our way back to the van.
Shirts and Stuff
The 2009 race’s main sponsors were New Balance and Argon ST. Each registered race participant received a short sleeved cotton t-shirt.
I Ran, Now Feed Me
After the race, as promised, we stopped at IHOP for breakfast. Our conversation continued on running and how the girls felt about the race. Craig asked Marina what tips I’d shared and what she’d learned, and she easily recalled all the running tips we’d discussed. I was so proud of this young lady, and how she could now help her younger sister. I could tell that both Marina and Katrina had enjoyed themselves and suspected that this wouldn’t be their last race.
Where are They Today?
Perhaps the largest testament to the Girls on the Run program can be summed up in the following picture. Marina and Katrina continued to join their elementary school’s Girls on the Run programs in both the spring and fall each year until they graduated from elementary school. Once they were too old to participate in Girls on the Run, they made their local turkey trot an annual Thanksgiving morning tradition.
Now at 17 and 20, the girls are successful students. Marina is a sophomore at Virginia Tech working on two degrees, one in Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, and the other in Theater. Katrina will be a freshman at Virginia Tech next fall, studying Clinical Neuroscience. With both girls once again at the same school, I suspect there just might be a race or two in Blacksburg that they’ll run together!
Katrina, today, on how participating in Girls on the Run impacted her life…
“Girls On the Run allowed me to use running as a metaphor for life. Training for the 5Ks as an elementary school student pushed my physical and mental boundaries; I learned to never give up and always try my best no matter the situation in my races. Acquiring this knowledge helped me face problems in other aspects of my life by applying that same mentality of giving your best effort. If I hadn’t participated in GOTR, I would have never became fully cognizant of how investing yourself in something you’re truly passionate about pays off if you give your best effort and keep a positive outlook.”
Craig’s thoughts on elementary school students running a 5K…
“I was in awe that all of those young kids were running a 5K. I was 18 or 19 when I ran my first 5K.”
- Are you familiar with Girls On The Run and the Girls On The Run 5K?
- Did you or have your children participated in any children’s running programs?
- If you’re a runner, how old were you when you ran your first race?