Kids marathon puts running and reading on summer to-do lists

Parents dreading their kids’ summer boredom and those “awww mom” moments can thank veteran marathoner Bill Schneider for creating an incentive to get youngsters reading and running.

Now in its fifth year, the I Run Kids Marathon motivates children in grades one through eight to log 26.2 miles and 26 books, or 26 hours of reading, from the end of school to a final mile on Aug. 24. Schneider started the program through St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Muskego and expanded it to include 275 kids from the Lake Country and surrounding communities.

“We want you to get off your butt, and away from your video games and get some exercise,” said Schneider, a scheduler for Edstrom, based in Waterford. “And learning doesn’t end because school is out.”

The simple incentive of prizes and fun with friends helps parents keep their kids motivated, especially reluctant runners and reluctant readers.

Gwen Scherf’s house in Muskego has I Run Kids Marathon log books on the kitchen counter and a daily schedule on a white board stationed by the garage door.

“The biggest thing is to promote consistency and ensure they continue to be active,” said Scherf, mother of Ashley, 13, and Emily, 11. “The chart gives them a visual of their progress and how they are being consistent with the program.”

Reading and running are now on their daily chores list, the primary reason that Emily grudgingly cracks a book on summer days.

In the Mars home, the same list of goals pushes Molly, 10, and her mother, Brandi, out the door to walk or run in the evening.

“We had to play catch-up at the end of last summer, and she has it in her mind that we have to start running and walking sooner, not procrastinating,” Brandi Mars said.

Schneider, who recently ran Schneider, who recently ran his 48th marathon and reading logs, gathers prizes from local businesses, and organizes the one-mile race that caps the marathon on the Wisconsin Lutheran College Raabe Stadium Track.

“It’s me giving back to running,” Schneider said. “Running has been a big part of my life since sixth grade, when I won my first award.

“All the years I’ve run in high school and college, my coaches were great and they gave a lot. They taught me more than just running, but life lessons.”

Those life lessons might resonate with Emily Scherf when she’s older. For now, she reads and runs for the chocolate milk at the finish of the mile run. It’s a celebration with friends that gives both the kids and the parents a reward for their summer work. 

“It’s just so exciting,” said Brandi Mars. “You see kids of all different fitness levels, the kids who can finish it so fast, and the kids who are running and walking and running and walking, and everybody is cheering for them.

“You run through that finish, and they put that medal around your neck, and it’s just like you finished a full marathon.”

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