Looking for ways to keep your kids active? Get them on track for the Ottawa Kids Marathon

Getting kids excited about running can be a challenge, especially for longer distances. If asking kids to run cross-country events seems difficult, you might think the idea of kids running a marathon is impossible, but the Ottawa Kids Marathon is more than a race which is why it’s so appealing to parents, teachers and kids.

Ever year approximately 1,400 children between the ages of six and 12 register for the Ottawa Kids Marathon and they begin running it in March…say what?

“That is what makes the whole thing attainable for kids of all levels because the marathon distance is broken down into one-kilometre segments or 30 minutes of physical activity per day,” says Lisa Georges, a Kids Run Ottawa Program Coordinator.

In the weeks leading up to the race, the young runners track their kilometres in 30-minute chunks of time to reach 41 kilometres. This gets them to the start line of the Ottawa Kids Marathon where they take off running for final 1.2K of the marathon – a race that lasts about six minutes!

Empowering kids through physical activity

“It’s such a good program because of its proactive and healthy strategy where kids set their own goals,” says David Lewis, a parent and Kids Run Ottawa volunteer. “The kids can plan however they want so long as they work out how they’re going to reach the distance.”

Lewis, who is also a triathlete, has encouraged his daughters’ elementary school, Elmdale Public School, to annually engage students in the Ottawa Kids Marathon. For the last seven years, it’s been a successful activity for the Lewis family and Elmdale Public School. His daughter Mikaela, who is now 16, began the program in Grade 4, and her sister Sophia is now in Grade 5.

Kids Run Ottawa runs the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon

Flexibility is the name of the game for this race. If an activity gets a kid’s heart rate up for half an hour, it can count toward their 41 kilometres. These activities can include walking or biking to school, as well as active physical play and games with family and friends or gym class. Even time playing team sports, like hockey or soccer, is eligible!

“It can really be anything as long as it’s active,” says Lewis. “It’s for all kids, not just those who are already young athletes.”

“We’ve had kids of all levels of ability participate on our team,” says mother, teacher and Team Awesome member Stephanie Ranger. “Parents can sometimes be leery, but the kids just go with the flow. In the end, the physical fitness boosts their confidence to do something else.”

Some other favourite activities include dancing, bowling, skiing, martial arts, yoga, gymnastics, hiking, snowshoeing, skating, and swimming.

Although over 40 elementary schools participate, the program is also designed for parents and instructors to run the program easily with their kids outside of school.

Jack Shipway, the program director of the Ottawa Academy of Martial Arts, has signed off on many of his classes in Muay Thai, traditional and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as “kilometres” for students at his dojo.

Girls run the Scotiabank Ottawa Kids Marathon

“It’s a form of exercise and it’s a social activity as well,” he says. Pointing out that the program has great long-term benefit for kids to get active and set goals, so for the last several years, he’s been encouraging his students to take part.

Support from parent volunteers, run coaches, and local running stores also keep kids on track, says Georges. And come May, Run Ottawa’s free 1K run for kids during the first Saturday 5K Series is a great way for kids to gain another kilometre while experiencing a timed race before race day.

It’s all about that bling!

An avid runner, Ranger has organized the program at Vimy Ridge Public School and encourages both her kids to take part – her daughter Amélie is almost seven years old and her son Olivier is almost five.

“Last year, the three of us ran the 2K together,” says Ranger. “Amélie wanted to be like mom – she saw me training on my treadmill and wanted her turn too. Olivier’s hooked now as well. He just wants to run fast and get that medal at the end with the bagel and the banana.”

Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon kids sport their bling - medals!

While some parents may worry about their kids running off through the city street, on race day safety is a top priority for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. During the Ottawa Kids Marathon, no one can get on the route, which is monitored by the Ottawa Police and volunteers, and kids can’t leave the recovery area unless they are with their parent in Confederation Park.

“In the post-race photos of kids with their medals up, they look like champions,” says Lewis. “As parents we are all wondering what to do about the time that kids spend on their devices. So, we’re darn happy to see them happy, motivated, and active.”

Ranger says the positive atmosphere and encouragement from the race day crowd carries kids to the finish line.

“Last year, Olivier thought he won,” says Ranger. “He was dead last. But he showed that medal to everybody he could and he high-fived every police officer along the route.”

Crossing a finish line, even at a young age, is a feeling no one ever forgets. “That feeling of accomplishment is what the program is all about,” says Georges.

“Any kid can do it, no problem,” she says. “They can run it, walk it, or make their way across in their wheelchair — it’s an amazing experience for all..”

It only takes three things to get your kids started:

  1. Register them for the Ottawa Kids Marathon
  2. Download a copy of the kilometre tracking sheet
  3. Start tracking! Give them the encouragement and reminders they need to cross the finish line!

If you have any questions about the Kids Run Ottawa Program, please contact kids@runottawa.ca.