Early on the morning of Feb. 16, 2014, 81 middle school- and high school-aged students stood quietly as a group on the northwest grounds of the Texas State Capitol. They were just a small contingent of the thousands waiting to tackle the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon, but clear from their collective demeanor was respect for the process that carried them to the starting line, and the task that lay ahead. Family and supporters numbering in the hundreds joined them, their matching runners’ shirts proclaiming membership in a special group. To hear Lenora Goessling describe that scene six months later is to understand what makes that group—Marathon High—such an important program for all involved.
Goessling is the director of Marathon High, a new Austin program aimed at helping students learn to deny limitations and achieve potential through running, and her passion for and belief in the program is clear. She talks of the students, who brim with confidence as they find themselves while building toward an awesome goal, and the coaches, who begin as part-time employees but (more often than not) become mentors to their young charges. Coaches are known to buy new running shoes, pick students up for summer long runs, get involved in offseason track workouts, and usher students to physical therapist appointments to treat aches or pains. Families of the participants slowly warm to the idea of distance running as a way of life and then regularly begin to do what they can at home to facilitate their sons’ and daughters’ success in this crusade. All of these and more keep Goessling excited about work each day.
Marathon High is Ruth England’s brainchild. One of the owners of Rogue Running, England wanted to bring the transformative powers of training for and completing a full or half marathon to Austin’s youth. She was also looking to combat the epidemic of disease and obesity that face today’s youth, and so Marathon High began in 2012 with the modest goal of helping five students finish the distance. That first year exceeded expectations when 28 crossed the finish line. The program began by focusing efforts primarily on Title 1 schools; last year, membership in the program expanded to seven schools, and in the 2014-2015 session, ten schools will be targeted. Instead of recruiting potential schools, Marathon High was able to choose three of the new schools that approached them, and Goessling expects that this coming year, they will need to move to an application process due to increased demand.
The Marathon High program begins each September and includes two weekday workouts led by a coach hired by Marathon High who is assigned to the school; in October, a Saturday long run is added to the schedule. On those Saturday morning long runs, every student is invited to Rogue headquarters to run as a group on the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake. The youngsters get to bask in the positive influence of Rogue runners who make fitness a lifestyle and immerse themselves in the running culture so prevalent any given morning around the lake.
Students at member schools are invited to sign up free of charge; included at no cost in the program are coaching, running shoes, runner shirts throughout the season, race fees, and any other associated costs. Marathon High is funded entirely by grants, sponsorships, and donations, and with so many schools interested in participating, that budget is quickly becoming the only limiter on expansion.
Marathon High is built on a curriculum of four core pillars: establishing healthy eating and exercise habits, with an emphasis upon making the most of any situation; developing the intangibles that lead to academic success; fostering social responsibility; and using strong community members to develop optimism, internally and externally. Workouts include weekly lessons based upon these pillars. Motivational speakers, nutrition classes, and activity days broaden awareness of the surrounding community, as Goessling and her Marathon High staff aim to produce young men and women capable of colossal achievements as well as help them become better human beings. In order to connect further with participants, weekly workouts also follow a format that encourages student/coach interaction. Beginning this school year, students will be able to track weekly workout goals, long term goals, race plans, race results, and reflections at the end of each practice in a student running log, just one more innovation in Marathon High’s constant quest to further engage, shape confidence, and make students’ running experience something of meaning for the rest of their lives.
One of Goessling’s favorite Marathon High stories involves a sixth grader from Dobie Middle School. The student’s parents were concerned about her safety during the group’s early morning long runs, and so they drove the course alongside her each weekend, encouraging her throughout the increasing mileage. Inspired by their daughter’s persistence (and urged on just a little by the coaches and staff), they began to accompany her on foot. Finally, Mom and Dad decided that they, too, would tackle the half marathon. And so in February, the three of them crossed the finish line as a family, with tears in their eyes, and all hugs and joy. All have continued to run, and Mom is now a regular member of Rogue Running.
It is just this sort of result that England had in mind when Marathon High began, and it is with these goals in mind that all involved with the program strive to push limits—their own and those around them—building better adults and members of the Austin community all along the way.
Marathon High is always in need of volunteers to help monitor and guide kids around the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail, especially in December and January.
If you would like to help, please email Lenora Goessling at email@example.com or call 425-478-9071.