Running movement graying
By Fred Deckert
The running movement is getting grayer! The Echo 5K run had 8 participants under 20, 65 from 20 to 39, and 102 at 40 and above! There were about 10 children in the one mile. This was not unusual, in fact there were probably more 20-39 than average. There’s really no question that while cross-country and track may be doing well in the schools, the road races have few children and teens participating. Is this a problem? I believe it is. When it’s common knowledge that obesity is a problem even among our youth and parents are concerned that their children are pursuing undesirable recreational choices, healthy exercise is an option that should be available.
While there are plenty of sports available for the well coordinated and physically well developed child, those on the outside of that envelope are often left in the cold. Team sports also dominate in school, we are all aware that some children simply get left out. Running, in and out of the school environment is often useful for those kids, and they sometimes find a skill they didn’t realize they had.
What can running clubs and race directors do about this? First, we must make participation cheap and easy. Second, it should be rewarding. Third, it should promote family participation. I believe many of our running events are too focused on the bottom line and for charitable purposes but not on fostering future membership in the running movement. GWTC attempts to rectify this with their participation in the Summer Track Series and by age group awards in the GWTC Grand Prix. While the Track Series seems to be doing well, Grand Prix awards indicate the younger age groups are not well represented in road races.
We can help families participate by family caps on entry fees. There should even be races that are free for kids. Expensive trophies and T-shirts aren’t as important as a memento like a finishing medal or a ribbon, neither is expensive. While most experienced runners feel a 5K race is fairly short, children do not share this perception. We envy the seemingly unlimited energy of the kids, but this is deceptive. You will not see many children maintain those sprints for very long, the 5K becomes for many, a series of sprints and walks. A 1K or even shorter distance is a far better venue to introduce children to distance running than exhausting them with the 5K or longer distances.
On the reward end, in addition to the recognition of participation, we ought to have family awards too. I’d like to see; Largest family group participating, most generations participating in one family, and even competitions like father/daughter, mother/son, brother/sister etc. rewarded for the special effort involved in putting together those combinations. Perhaps we could even get some business support via donated prizes like tickets to children’s entertainment venues.