Typically my outdoor spring running season is spent in solitary fashion, setting goals and enjoying sunny skies and warmer temperatures as I gradually increase my running mileage towards the first spring race of the season. However, this year I decided to shake up my normal springtime routine by spending some time with my new running girlfriends at Lakeview Elementary School in Neenah as a coach in the Girls on the Run program.
Girls on the Run is an international program which started in 1996. There are over 200 councils throughout the United States and Canada and seven here in Wisconsin. The program consists of 20 to 24 lessons that help the girls understand their values, how to work together as a team, and learn how they can positively contribute to their community. The end of the season culminates in the girls’ first big 5K race. Our council in this area includes Winnebago, Outagamie, and Calumet counties. The council was new last fall with their first team of 14 girls. This spring there were 7 sites of teams (about 100 girls) and this coming fall there will be 14 sites. Girls on the Run is broken into two groups: Girls on the Run which is grades 3 to 5 and Girls on Track which is grades 6 to 8.
My team at Lakeview Elementary consisted of eight energetic girls between grades 3-5. Even though most of the girls did not know each other at the beginning of the season, by the end of the season they learned how to communicate well, support each other, and work together as a team toward a common goal. It was fun to watch them progress throughout the season, not only in running but in their overall confidence and learning how to become a cohesive team.
The poor weather earlier this year made this spring season challenging. We had to be creative with our indoor workouts to keep the girls motivated while running around a little gym for more than 10 minutes while the snow was taking its time melting (and falling yet again). After running either indoors in a small space or braving the cold outdoors, the temperature jumped up to 80 degrees with high humidity for our practice 5K day. However, true to Wisconsin weather form, on the day of the actual 5K race the temperature dropped back down to the 40s and we had to run through strong gusty winds, rain and hail. Despite the uncooperative weather during the 5K race, all the girls not only finished, but many thought it was much easier than they were expecting.
Our final task of the season was completing a community service project that the girls chose and organized themselves, collecting food and supplies for the local animal shelter. The Girls on the Run mission statement is “We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” From my experience as a coach, the program definitely lives up to its mission statement. Many parents came up to me on the last day to thank me for coaching and telling me how much their girl(s) got out of the program. It was very rewarding to watch the girls blossom from the beginning of the season to the end, not only in their running ability and healthy lifestyle choices, but also in their self-confidence and ability to form new and strengthen old friendships along the way.