Open to kids in pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade, the event is scheduled to start Sept. 9 and run through Oct. 7 at Marlton Middle School.
What started as a community outreach program in West Chester, Pa., in 2009 has grown to 140 sites in more than 25 states, including Marlton.
It’s the Healthy Kids Running Series, and the next event in Marlton is scheduled to start Sept. 9 and run through Oct. 7 on the land behind Marlton Middle School.
As described on the Healthy Kids website, the events are meant to provide kids from pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade with a “positive, educational, and fun experience in the world of running.”
To fight rising obesity rates, the program is meant to “motivate kids to be healthy and active and provide a fun environment to improve their self-esteem.”
Once again coordinating this next outing for Marlton is long-time Marlton resident Geoff Rabinowitz, who serves as managing partner at New Balance of Greater Philadelphia with stores in Cherry Hill, Mt. Laurel and King of Prussia, Pa.
Rabinowitz said Marlton was one of the earliest adopters of the event about 10 seasons ago, as Healthy Kids officials reached out to New Balance stores earlier in the event’s nationwide expansion.
“They asked me if I was interested … and it’s a lot of work but it’s rewarding,” Rabinowitz said.
According to Rabinowitz, the Marlton series grew from about 20 kids at the first event to about 170 kids currently, with much of that growth coming from word-of-mouth referrals.
For a typical series, races take place on Sundays for five consecutive weeks. Kids run in age-appropriate events, with a 50-yard dash for ages 2 to 3, a 75-yard dash for ages 4 to 5, the quarter-mile event for kids in kindergarten and first grade, a half-mile for kids in second and third grade and separate one-mile runs for kids in fourth and fifth grade and again for kids in seventh and eighth grade.
For the Marlton events, Rabinowitz said about half of the participants are from the pre-kindergarten ages, with about another 30 percent from kindergarten and first grade and the other 20 percent comprised of fourth to eighth grade kids.
Through competing in each week of the series, kids can earn points, and at the end of the series, the boys and girls with the most points in their age division receive a trophy.
In addition, all participants also get a medal and gift bag.
Rabinowitz said the most rewarding part of each event for him is seeing kids who would otherwise not have the opportunity to be involved in a running program get involved locally.
“Sometimes kids on the first week that they come out can barely finish a race, but by week five it’s like the happiest season they’ve had in their life,” Rabinowitz said. “It’s such an accomplishment for the kids.
To learn more about Marlton’s future events, visit www.healthykidsrunningseries.org/race_locations/marlton-nj/. Locals can also volunteer for the Marlton event by visiting www.healthykidsrunningseries.org/get-involved/.
Registration is open to parents and kids all over South Jersey for a $35 registration fee that covers the entire five-week series.
“The whole reason for the event is to get kids up and out of their chairs, to stop playing video games and to stop watching their phones, and we just want to get them into a healthy lifestyle,” Rabinowitz said. “I also think it helps kids socially, and I think it gives them a sense of accomplishment.”
Fall dates for Marlton’s next series include Sept. 9, Sept. 16, Sept. 23, Sept. 30 and Oct. 7 from 5 to 6 p.m. at Marlton Middle School.