Run, Forrest, Run!

Ah, running. I envy those people for whom running is effortless; those who, even in a monsoon, are determinedly dashing up The Great Road on a seemingly endless trek, with barely a sweat broken and nary a hitch in their rhythmic step. As for me, running never was and never will be my strong suit. My thoughts on that sort of exertion could be summed up by a mantra I developed sometime around the eighth grade: Run only if chased. In high school, however, no matter how often I intoned this phrase, I nevertheless was confronted by the daunting task of completing the “school loop”—the path the gym teachers mapped out that encircled the entire property line of my alma mater, West Windsor–Plainsboro (South, for those wondering; in those days, there was only one school, none of this North/South business). At the very announcement of the impending loop, my breath would quicken, my hands would grow clammy, and I would cite all sorts of maladies to get out of it: headache, leg cramps, botulism, black plague, inappropriate running attire. But those teachers were wily and responded with a simple, “Suck it up.” Which I did. Although running the loop did, in fact, suck, as I was careening over hill and dale, dodging fences, dugouts, and the occasional woodland creature to get to the end, I felt a swelling of pride in my heaving chest when I finally reached the finish line and collapsed in a gasping heap in front of my entire gym class (I always have had a flair for the dramatic). A sense of accomplishment would settle over my aching body like one of those silver wraps they give you at the end of a marathon, as if I had just run in a sprint from some far-off, mystical place, like Belle Meade or Rocky Hill. (Hey, I was 15; those places were far off.)

Thus, the second annual Princeton HealthCare Kids Marathon would’ve been the ideal way to motivate me to get up and go: Children register online to run or walk with friends, family, or in school, with the end goal of accomplishing a total of 26.2 miles (the distance of an actual marathon, mind you) at their own pace over a 10-week period. (Note: Technically, the official start date was March 20, but there’s still plenty of time make those miles happen!) Kids track their own progress with a handy chart and receive incentives every two weeks, and finally gather on June 6, 2010 to run their last 1.2 miles together at the Princeton University Weaver Stadium, followed by a post-celebration of family-centered activities and refreshments. The brainchild of the Auxiliary of University Medical Center at Princeton in an effort to support the nationwide efforts to fight childhood obesity, more than 20 area schools already have signed on to encourage their students to participate (including my darling former elementary schools, Maurice Hawk and Dutch Neck). Chief Medical Editor of NBC News and Princeton resident, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, gives it an enthusiastic thumbs up: “Helping young people to gain firsthand experience with the benefits of exercise is critically important, especially at a time when childhood obesity has reached near epidemic proportions. The Princeton Kids Marathon is a fun and innovative way for children and adolescents to get regular exercise and to reach an important goal.”

Getting started is a lot easier than avoiding the school loop: First, log on to Active.com and register either with a team (incidentally, the Princeton Day School team is looking for runners) or solo. Then, kids should find a safe place to run or walk with adults to rack up their 26.2 miles before May 31, 2010. Finally, pick up your T-shirt and race number between May 3 and June 5 at the Princeton Running Company (108 Nassau Street, Princeton; 609.252.9110 or therunningcompany.net). And then on June 6 … well, we all know what happens on that day. Kids participating in the marathon can help raise funds to support the University Medical Center at Princeton Outpatient Pediatric Clinic, too. Each child is encouraged to find 10 sponsors who will contribute $1 per mile (a $26 pledge).

With more than 500 children from kindergarten through eighth grade expected to participate, the Princeton Kids Marathon is a community event your Scooplet won’t want to miss. A $25 registration fee includes a T-shirt, a commemorative medal, prizes for every five miles logged, as well as gift bags, snacks, and those super-cool Mylar blankets (the aforementioned shiny, metallic wrapping typically given to marathon runners after a race). For more information on how you (and your child, of course) can get involved in the marathon, visit princetonkidsmarathon.org or call the auxiliary at 609.497.4069. And get running. Your school loop this is not.  —JH


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