Recreation

Young runners are a growing concern

May 29, 2013 

RANDY YOUNG — newsobserver.com

These young athletes are going places … fast.

One-time runners with local youth running groups like the Chapel Hill / Carrboro Pacers and the Fleet Feet Mini Milers are showing up at all the finest destinations: from NC High School State Championship medal stands to running teams at colleges like UNC, Emory, UVA, Brown, Pennsylvania, Appalachian State, and Wisconsin, just to name a few.

And with local participation numbers running wild over the past decade, area youth cross-country and track and field programs, unlike the young runners they inspire, are not going anywhere.

“We had 120 kids out there this season, including scholarship members,” said Meredith Bolon, the Pacers head coach. “We were pretty full.”

“Every year it just gets better and better,” said Olivia Lawrence, who coaches the Chapel Hill Mini Milers’.

“When I started with the program, we had about 40 kids,” Lawrence added, “but it’s just grown and grown.”

The Pacers are one of the three biggest groups locally for young runners.

Like the Pacers, the Mini Milers’ emphasis is squarely on promoting a love of running through dynamic running-related games and exercises, helping to build endurance through a consistent running regimen.

Girls on the Run, meeting twice a week in small teams of 8-15 girls, teaches life skills through dynamic, conversation-based lessons and running games.

With all the success preparing young athletes for competition at higher levels, the Pacers want to instill a love of running as a lifetime activity. Runners are grouped according to age and/or ability, and competition remains secondary to an emphasis on participation and self-improvement.

The Pacers train on area trails each fall during cross-country season, and the program moves to UNC’s Belk Track for spring track and field practices, which traditionally include a number of activities which spice up practices.

Bolon said the season’s activities also included a trip to Pacers dad Nathanial Mills’s LunaPops store, an ice cream run to Franklin Street, scavenger hunts, an obstacle course run at the UNC Outdoor Education Center, a workout on the steps in Kenan Stadium,

and a pair of time trials, which reflect improvement over the course of the season.

“The kids did fantastic at the time trials,” Bolon said. There were tons of personal records. “We even had a McDougle middle schooler, Grace Dodge, who ran the fastest 200-meter dash (29.8) since back when Harrison Young ran for the Pacers.”

The Pacers’ also excelled at longer races this spring.

“There were 24 Pacers in the Chapel Hill Public School Foundation’s 5K for Fitness,” Bolon said, “and seven of them placed either first or second in their age groups.”

“We had kids in the Philosopher’s Way Trail Runs too. There were Pacers running at weekend races all season.”

Bolon said the Pacers will be sending runners to the USA Track and Field state championship meet in June, which doubles as a qualifier for the USATF Nationals at Greensboro A&T later this summer.

While kids are the stars at Pacers, Bolon said parents and volunteers were also standout performers

Bolon was especially appreciative of the support of volunteer parent lead coaches, including William Graden, Rob Crook, Harold Hill, Adrienne Jimenez, Karyn Hede, Tina Clossick, Andrea Knight, Jennifer Woods, and Gary Galloway. Bolon also had high praise for the student leaders: UNC senior Emily Braaten, UNC graduate student Samantha Smith, and Chapel Hill High senior Caleb Roenigk.

“We’re also fortunate to have Pacer parents and medic team Julia and Mark Rotenberry on site daily to triage when the occasional need arises,” said Bolon, who was also grateful for collaborations with Fleet Feet and cooperative efforts with Fleet Feet’s own Mini Milers youth running program.

“Fleet Feet sponsored a season kick-off night at their Carrboro store for both us and the Mini Milers sponsored by Fleet Feet and CEP,” she said. “Fleet Feet also gave us five free spots in the Fleet Feet four-mile road race this spring.”

While Bolon will remain in her position as Pacer Board President, longtime coach Harold Hill will take over the head coaching reigns for this coming autumn’s cross-country season.

Many Milers

Like the Pacers, the Mini Milers’ emphasis is squarely on promoting a love of running through dynamic running-related games and exercises, helping to build endurance through a consistent running regimen.

“We really try to make it fun,” Lawrence said. “It’s about having fun while running and building a foundation. There aren’t any super-long distances: at most, the kids run two miles at one practice.”

“We had two timed mile runs—one at the beginning of the season, and one in the final week,’ Lawrence explained. “What’s great is that about 95 percent of the kids improve their mile times.”

Mini Milers also participated in area runs, and notable trail runs served as goal races for both the spring and fall programs

“In the fall, we do the Pumpkin Run, and in the spring, they run a one-mile event at the Philosopher’s Way Trail Run,” Lawrence explained.

Geared for runners aged six through 12, the Mini Milers offer a Tuesday-Thursday program coached by Lawrence at Chapel Hill’s Glenwood Elementary School and a second program at Woods Charter School in Chatham County on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“We start up again for the fall on the second week in September, the week after Labor Day,” Lawrence said.

Girl Power

Like the Pacers, the Mini Milers’ emphasis is squarely on promoting a love of running through dynamic running-related games and exercises, helping to build endurance through a consistent running regimen.

Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a life-changing, non-profit program for girls in the third through eighth, aiming to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running, the program website (www.gotrtriangle.org) said.

Meeting twice a week in small teams of 8-15 girls, GOTR teaches life skills through dynamic, conversation-based lessons and running games.

GOTR of the Triangle 2013 fall program registration has already begun and will continue through September 11 for two Orange County programs, a Monday-Thursday program at Efland Cheeks Elementary School and a Monday-Wednesday program at Morris Grove Elementary School.

Girl Power

While it’s certain that the young athletes involved in local youth running programs are really going places fast—be it to high school, college, Olympic greatness, or perhaps to greater fitness and self-esteem—it’s apparent through their swelling popularity that local running is not going anywhere. It’s doing fine just where it is.

For more information

Mini Milers: go to http://www.fleetfeetcarrboro.com and click on “Training” or email minimilers@gmail.com.

Pacers: see www.ccpacers.org or email ccpacers@gmail.com

Girls of the Run: contact Juliellen Simpson-Vos by email at juliellen@gotrtriangle.org or by phone at (919) 401-6307.

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