More than 800 students participated in the Kids Fun Run last year, a success by all accounts.
Organizers said participation in the Mill Race Marathon and its associated shorter events also exceeded all expectations, with more than 4,000 people crossing the finish line.
But one age group was — and still is — running behind.
Only 38 high school students have signed up to run in the SIHO 5K run/walk, which makes up just 2 percent of total entrants.
Local fitness leaders have some theories on why teenagers don’t participate in the Mill Race Marathon events.
Tara Hagan, Healthy Communities coordinator and Healthy Lifestyles assistant, said kids just get busier during those years — friends, extracurricular activities and homework are the priority.
Jen Shaver, the community health and fitness director for Foundation For Youth, said it could be a social shift.
She referred to a new Always commercial, where a young girl and an older woman are both asked to run “like a girl.” The younger one jogs quickly and with determination, while the older one flails her arms and appears weak.
“Kids are willing to try anything,” Shaver said. “But something happens a little later that makes them more cautious.”
It could be social demands, she said, or it could be that no one has asked them if they want to run.
While programs in the elementary schools encourage students to get out and running, such Girls on the Run and Trailblazers, competitive sports take over at the middle and high school level.
That leaves a group of students who may want to be active, but they are not ready to try out for the school basketball or soccer team, Shaver said.
So Randy Stafford, president of the Columbus Running Club and a central organizer of the Mill Race Marathon, is pairing up with race sponsor Quality Mill Supplies to get teens registered and prepared to run the SIHO 5K.
Students 18 or younger can register for the SIHO 5K run/walk for $10 — greater than than 50 percent discount on the $25 general 5K registration — thanks to financial support from Healthy Communities and Quality Mills.
But that’s just the first step.
Dave Appel and Evan Gilbert, executives at Quality Mill who are leading Mill Race Marathon efforts there, are working to begin an after-school 5K training program at Columbus middle and high schools.
They’re currently coordinating with Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, the Columbus Running Club and Healthy Communities, and they hope to have weekly sessions starting the first week of school, which begins Aug. 4.
The program will run for eight weeks, the typical duration of a 5K training program.
Appel and Gilbert are both Columbus East High School graduates, and Appel is a lifelong runner and coach.
“We believe that being a sponsor of this event can be much more than just getting our name on a T-shirt and that creating something that benefits the community at large will have a much greater impact,” Gilbert said.
They are seeking volunteers to lead the weekly sessions at the schools.
“Goal setting is such an important part of life, and we felt this opportunity for kids to challenge themselves through running and recognize their potential would have a lasting impression,” Gilbert said.