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Dispatch: Little Runners

For nine weeks this spring, a group of extremely enthusiastic children met twice a week to run.

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“Dispatch” is an online column from Triathlete Editor-at-Large Holly Bennett that features pro updates, industry news, happenings afield and otherwise random reports related to multi-sport. Look for “Dispatch” every Thursday on Triathlete.com.

For nine weeks this spring, a group of extremely enthusiastic runners met every Monday and Wednesday afternoon in Lyons, Colorado (north of Boulder) to hone their skills. While the runners learned the very basics of biomechanics to improve their posture, form and stride, they would occasionally break from the pack to sip from a juice box or snuggle with a supportive parent. That’s because these runners were all children, mostly kindergarten and first-graders, participating in the Lyons Community School Running Club elective after-school program.

Eric Bahnsen, a Special Education Paraeducator at Lyons Elementary School (the host venue for the club’s practices), himself a long-distance runner, started the club to share the joys and benefits of running with the kids. In his quest he recruited several parent volunteers to assist with the program, including pro triathlete Chris Legh, whose seven-year-old daughter Jamieson attends first grade at Lyons Elementary. Legh’s long-time sponsor contacts were quick to come aboard with pay-it-forward style support for the fledgling athletes. The children received watches from Keith Meyer (Timex), custom hats from Alan Romick (Headsweats), hand-held hydration flasks courtesy of Vinu Malik and Vic Leon De La Barra (Fuel Belt), string backpacks from Tim McCulley (Newton) and water bottles and towels from Gatorade. Legh also served as a club coach, entertaining the children with animated stories from his own career as he led them through a series of running-based games and drills.

With a wealth of elite athletes residing in the Boulder area, it was no surprise to see numerous uber-fit parents at club practices, supporting their offspring with a fun-first approach to athletics. Even one grandmother, a retired ultra-runner named Penny Hobert, encouraged her two grandchildren to join. “I had to nudge them a little to get started, but now they absolutely love it!” said Hobert, whose still-fit physique illustrates the impact of her exercise philosophy: Just get out and move.

Christa Keppler, Principal at Lyons Elementary, beamed when recounting the children’s enthusiasm for the program. “It’s such a great base for a future in running or any other sport,” said Keppler. “The kids love it. I had a few kids coming to me today [the Monday following Mother’s Day] saying they ran the Title 9 10k with their moms over the weekend.”

Indeed, the young Lyons runners are a devoted bunch. On the day I visited the club’s practice I witnessed one youngster with soft casts on both forearms. Apparently he had sprained both wrists while roughhousing at a sleepover – yet that did not deter him from enjoying his afternoon runs. An Ironman in the making, perhaps?

I asked Jamieson Legh what she enjoyed most about the running club. “You get to run!” she exclaimed, as she sprinted off for another lap around the schoolyard.