It’s no secret that as a society, we are more sedentary, weigh more, and are less fit than we used to be. And nowhere is this more apparent than in our youth. According to the Center for Disease Control, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970’s. Data from 2016 shows that one in five school-age children in this country is obese.
One of the best ways to fight and prevent obesity in kids is to get them moving. While plenty of structured teams and club sports exist, these organized teams usually cost money and require transportation, uniforms, and a schedule.
XTERRA is taking a different approach, maybe even an old-fashioned one. A few local race directors have taken on the mission of introducing kids to the dirt and showing them that fun, adventure, and healthy living are as close as their backyard. All that’s needed is a pair of sneakers.
At the XTERRA Big Elk Marathon this weekend, race director Jefferson Nicholson is including a 100-meter kids race for children ages two through seven and a longer 1200 meter race for children up to age 12.
“For the 100-meter race, the course snakes through a field and ends at the finish line, so the kids can experience that feeling of success,” said Nicholson. “For the older kids, the course goes into the woods a bit so they can have a true taste of singletrack.”
Nicholson organized the kids' races to correspond with the longer trail marathon and half-marathon and within eyesight of the finish line.
“We asked ourselves how we can get everyone involved and time the runs so no one is sitting around and the whole family is having fun. All races use the same last two and a half miles of course for easy spectating and as a way for families to share in the finish line experience together.”
Deb Thurlow, a local XTERRA athlete, RRCA running coach, and varsity coach of field hockey, lacrosse, and cross country, is in charge of directing the kids' races.
“I’m super stoked to help others find the joy and empowerment that comes with setting big goals and doing the work it takes to achieve them,” said Thurlow. “Getting kids out there gives them a taste of how fun it is to move and compete. We want to inspire them to incorporate nature and exercise into their lives.”
Parents love the laidback atmosphere of the kids' races at XTERRA events.
At the XTERRA Malibu Creek 22K, Tina Weissauer has been entering her children Gavin (12) and Vera (9) in the kids' races while she and her husband do the trail runs.
“I want my kids to run for fun,” said Weissauer. “I think you can get burned out really quickly if it’s not fun.”
Her older son Gavin doesn’t usually like competition despite being active in junior lifeguard, the surf team, and swimming.
“Sometimes he surprises me though,” said Weissauer. “He did the kids race at the XTERRA Topanga Turkey Trot, and in the middle of the race, he decided to see what he could do. He said, ‘I wasn’t going to let that other guy beat me because I know I’m faster.’”
Her daughter Vera is equally fearless and one of the fastest students in her third-grade class.
"Vera is really into running and wants to run in the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship someday," said Weissauer.
Weissauer appreciates that when kids races are low key, it gives children the opportunity to rise to the occasion without pressure to perform.
“I want it to be fun,” added Weissauer. “School is busy, they are on the bus early in the morning, they do homework after school, surf, and they have friends. But my children are still young and they don’t need the pressure of having to compete well on top of all of that. The low key vibe of the XTERRA runs lets them have fun, meet new people, and enjoy the experiences.”
Weissauer admits that she runs XTERRA races for the same reasons her kids do. Even though she is competing at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in Utah this September, she doesn’t ever forget that she runs because she loves it and it enhances her life.
“I’m training hard for my next race, but I still just do it for fun. My time on the trail is my happy time. That’s the way I live my life too. I don’t want the pressure. I want to be strong and enjoy nature and hit the trails. And that’s what I also want for my kids.”