Starsiders stride to yearlong goal
Elementary school running club promotes exercise, commitment
Catching his breath just past the finish line of an area 5K race, Zach Griffiths sported an ear-to-ear grin Saturday morning.
The Starside Elementary School fourth-grader had just completed -- in pretty good time -- his first-ever road race. Shawnee's "Run for Mercy," which started and finished at Mill Valley High School, provided Zach and about 30 other members of the school's running club with the forum they needed to accomplish a yearlong goal of running a 5K, or 3.1-mile, race.
Running club is a fun way to get exercise and get involved at school, said fifth-grade teacher Mandy Adcock, one of the club's sponsors.
But it also teaches students the valuable lesson that hard work pays off.
"It's a commitment," Adcock said. "They know that they can't just come once a month and be able to finish the race."
Zach said he and other students put in a lot of miles all year to prepare for their race.
"Basically, when you set a goal, your biggest challenge is to try to beat it," he said.
Pleased and a little surprised with his fast finish, Zach said some friendly competition in practice, especially with friend and fellow fourth-grader Jonny Hodges, must've helped, too.
"Usually I have Johnny on my tail," Zach said. "So I usually have to sprint a little bit to get past him."
About 30 students, mostly fourth- and fifth-graders, participate regularly in the Starside running club. Along with Adcock, gym teacher Toni Cook and fourth-grade teacher Amanda Wilkins sponsor the club.
Starside runners, teachers and a few parents on Saturday numbered 47 -- unofficially the largest group participating in a race that drew more than 900 runners.
Several fifth-graders, mobilizing before Saturday's run, said there were plenty of reasons they liked running.
"It's good exercise, and it'll make your muscles stronger," said Drew Buffkin.
"It'll help you in sports," said Joey Johnson.
John Williams explained the club had been working up to three-mile runs since school started.
"We started little, and we builded up," he said.
Max Ralston said he had done a run or two before but placed dibs on Joey, a rookie but of lankier build.
"He's got a lot of legs," Max said. "He can cover more ground."
Adcock and Wilkins are avid runners and have each completed a marathon.
Both said their feats provided a huge motivator for younger runners. Knowing their teachers can finish a 26.2-mile race inspires students to run, and they learn that many of the same practice techniques work for races long or short.
The running club runs and conditions throughout the year. Leading up to Saturday's 5K, students who planned to race practiced twice a week, Tuesdays after school and Thursdays before classes.
Wilkins said training up to the race was important. Also important were lessons in pacing, a new concept for many young harriers. Wilkins said eager youngsters had a tendency to get too eager, shooting out at the start and zapping all their energy early on.
"Run for Mercy" proceeds will benefit Oceans of Mercy, a locally founded charity for AIDS orphans in South Africa. Starside's running club plans to head to Lawrence in May for another benefit run, the 5K "Nash Dash" sponsored by the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.