The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington may not be the obvious training hub that comes to mind when thinking of youth running, but something special is going on there. One of the perks of the Alexandria location is the opportunity for kids to train and run the George Washington Parkway Classic 5K. Matt McKinnis, long time a board member, volunteers his time to help coach kids along with Alston Waller, the Branch Director. They train every student that comes through their door to compete in the Parkway 5K. Some kids run the entire distance while others run/walk, but everyone gets it done. Matt and Alston share how they safely train their kids to complete the race and to cross that finish line at Oronoco Park.
In March training begins, there is a lot of talk and hype leading up to the kick off. The club trains for the 5K annually and returning runners know what to expect. Participants run twice a week, starting out in the gym, running laps and suicides- remember those? As it gets warmer, and endurance grows, practices move outdoors. The kids run around the block, building both their speed and endurance as the weeks pass. To keep it fun, coaches’ pair similarly paced runners to race each other, kids call their coaches out to race them- fun is a huge part of this training program. Another twist: coaches time kids’ laps, note their time, write that number on their hand as the time to beat on their next run. Seeing the number written on their hand gives kids solid motivation to push themselves.
Some kids run because they love the competition while others run because their friends do and enjoy the social aspect. Participation breaks down fairly evenly along gender lines and typically friends run with friends. The change to this convention occurs for the faster runners; when it is time to race they know exactly who to beat. They may not hang out with their competition at school, or even at the Club, but when it is time to run fast they seek each other out.
Matt, an athlete himself, knows participation and commitment to sports helps teach a sense of accomplishment. The kids he coaches learn to push themselves and this lesson translates into other aspects of their lives.
To alleviate issues on the morning of the race, Alston added some foolproof measures to get the runners to the race start on time. The night before the race, runners spend the night at the Boys and Girls Club in the gym and together board a Dash bus to the start line. This way everyone is where he or she needs to be and ready to run.
On race day the experience of crossing the finish line leaves kids with a real sense of accomplishment, the awards are a huge part of the journey. Kids who win their age group, or see a friend win their age group, are so thrilled and know the work that went in to earn that honor. All participants take this experience with them and will build on it next spring when they do it all over again.