Girls on the Run participants prepare for more than just a 5 kilometer run

Heather Runge runs with a group of girls from Rabbit Creek Elementary (Photo from Shaina Seidner)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - With an end-of-season five-kilometer run scheduled for Saturday, participants of Girls on the Run are facing a test of grit and endurance, but coaches say that the girls are ready for the challenge.

“One of them who is a better runner than her mom was pretty concerned she was gonna have to wait on her mom,” said Paula Fish, a coach and parent at Bowman Elementary School.

But she says, it’s not about speed. Many of the girls at her school weren’t runners - or didn’t even consider themselves athletes - but they’ve found ways to motivate themselves.

“Having those moments of saying, 'Oh, I said I would run five laps and I did them,' or 'I did even more,' that little spark in their eyes is incredible,” said Fish.

The program includes a lot more than the five-kilometer race at the end of the season. Over 10 weeks in the fall, girls meet up twice a week to go over themed training sessions that double as life lessons.

Coach Holly Rinehart and participants of Girls on the Run pose for a photo as part of the Rabbit Creek Elementary program. (Photo from Shaina Seidner)

“Each practice focuses on a different theme, so one might be confidence, one might be role models, it could be friendships,” says Shaina Seidner, the program coordinator and a former coach.

Throughout a 90-minute session, girls will participate in different activities - usually running, but not always - and complete a curriculum designed to develop social and emotional skills.

Fish said that she’s seen important conversations take place among the girls, who are in third through sixth grades.

“It was neat to see the girls sharing their stories but also giving each other advice on how to handle difficult situations with friends,” said Fish.

For Fish, it’s been personal. She has a daughter in fourth grade who is participating in the program, and she’s seen her face struggles along with teammates.

“I am watching my daughter develop and this is a time when they're starting early stages of puberty, and all of those things, and I think the peer pressure becomes more evident,” said Fish.

Seidner said that the age group was specifically chosen based on scientific research that suggests that many girls entering their teenage years start to struggle with self-confidence issues that often lead to them to quit sports.

Fish said that sometimes it can be difficult to overhear conversations about bullying.

“A lot of them just discussed how hard it is to really feel like you can trust your friends to be truthful and so that's a little sad to be this young and already not trust your friends. That is kind of like an example of feeling the age where you're starting to feel insecure about the things around you,” she said.

Coach Carri Todd helps students at Rabbit Creek Elementary through lessons as part of the Girls on the Run curriculum. (Photo from Shaina Seidner)

But the difficult conversations can be the most rewarding.

“The program is having the girls discuss how to be better friends and how to be surrounded by friends that make us feel good about ourselves versus those that just bring us down and how to make those choices and so that's been really nice to see, and extremely necessary,” she said.

Fish said that despite the recent bad weather, which forced a cancellation of Thursday’s final practice, girls are excited.

“I think they're also excited to show their parents what they've been working on,” she said.

The celebration will kick off at 9:30 a.m. at the Sullivan Arena.

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