Running wasn’t exactly Isaiah Smith’s forte when he started third grade this year.
Still, the husky 9-year-old was eager to participate with his classmates in a daily quarter-mile lap around the playground at Stevens Elementary School during recess. He started off walking behind his classmates in October.
Then as the school year wore on, he began jogging part of the way. By the last day, Friday, he was running the whole course without stopping.
All told, Isaiah completed 26 miles during the school year, a feat he didn’t initially think possible. Now, he’s enjoying the sport enough that he might keep up with it during the coming summer.
“Maybe,” he said, shrugging. “It was a lot of fun.”
And he wasn’t alone. All 84 third-graders at the school participated in the program pioneered by teacher Cheryl Brott this year, with more than two-thirds completing 26 miles, the so-called children’s marathon.
Brott started the program largely as a way to get her class and others active during the school year. She said the children running together for a goal helps to keep them motivated, while also providing a period of physical exercise during a time when they might otherwise be engaging in sedentary activities.
“We want them exercising, we want them active and we want them engaged,” she said. “It’s good for their bodies, and its good for their minds.”
Made possible with a $1,000 grant from the Hudson-Mohawk Road Runners Club, the program set 5-mile benchmarks for the students to achieve and then rewarded them with a small necklace charm once they had surpassed each one, up to 25 miles.
Students needed to sign in for the run each day and were given three straws. For each lap around the playground, they handed off a straw to a monitor, who then recorded the distance they had run.
“It’s a commitment for the students, and it’s a commitment for the teachers, but it benefits us all,” Brott said.
The program culminated Friday with a final run around the school grounds. The final jaunt was also the most challenging for the students: a full mile-and-a-half, as opposed to their accustomed quarter-mile.
Friday’s run also had added incentives: Brott and other volunteers were able to provide the children with authentic running bibs, a time clock at the finish line and prizes that were donated by local businesses.
Brott suspects the children would have stuck with the program even without the incentives. Still, she found that providing them with tangible evidence of their accomplishments helped keep them focused on the finish line.
“There are students who may never have thought of running that are just committed to this and stuck with it,” Brott said.
For instance, 9-year-old Timmy Marrow wasn’t about to stop running, even after he surpassed the 26-mile mark. He kept going for another mile after completing the elongated lap around the school’s back fields.
“I ran a little bit extra,” he said.
Ben Hladon was inspired by the daily activity with his classmates. Now he’s thinking ahead toward a time when he runs all 26 miles in the same day.
“I’m probably going to run a real marathon,” he said.