This Sunday marks the annual Philadelphia Marathon. If you think you spot some really young runners this weekend, you’re right. Students Run Philly Style pairs inner-city teens with adult running mentors. “This is the seventh year of this program,” said Heather McDanel, the program’s director. “It’s proven to me time and time again how powerful it is in the lives of young people in Philadelphia.”
She said some people might think it’s a little crazy for a teenager to run 26.2 miles. Not to mention, spend all year training for it. “Therein lies the point,” said McDanel. “To do something that very few people can do.” It’s a huge confidence booster, she said. Of the 650 kids in the program this year, 77 will run the full marathon.”To be honest, running is only a small part of this,” said McDanel. “It’s really about giving young people the tools to see that they have the strength within to become everything that they can be.” Seventeen-year-old Markia Johnson, a senior at Science Leadership Academy, joined Kids Run Philly Style when she was only 12, but not by choice.”My mom told me ‘Markia, you’re getting chubby. So, let’s just try it out.’ I was horrified at the idea of getting up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday to go run like five miles. Then they just start getting higher and higher… I was disgusted,” said Johnson. But she did it. She made friends, improved her grades and, at the tender age of 15, she signed up for her first marathon. “You get a hoodie that says ‘marathon finisher’ if you finish the marathon. And I saw it. And I loved it. I wanted it. I offered to buy it, but they told me ‘no,'” said Johnson. “So I had to run for it.” Later, a breathless Johnson ran down 22nd Street on one of her final days of training.
“In my mind it’s like, if I walk, I’ll only get there slower. So, just take short breaks, and get to the end–the end is big for me,” she said. Her goal this year is to beat five hours. And to get her third hoodie to take with her to college next fall.