Piper Wilson breathed only a little heavily as she completed the first lap around a neighborhood in May Township, just outside Marine on St. Croix. She was one of the front runners in a group of more than 20 third- through sixth-grade girls who gathered May 14 to run 2.5 miles.
They are members of the Marine Girls Running Club, and next week they hope to do a full 5K, or 3.1 miles, at the Stillwater Half Marathon and 5K, sponsored by The Gazette and HealthEast.
As for many of the girls, it will be Piper’s first 5K, but Piper said she’s not nervous.
“I’m actually really excited,” she said. “I just love running, and I’ll be running with some of my best friends.”
Piper joined because her mom wanted a running partner. Her mom will run the 5K with the club next week.
The running club was founded last spring by Jenn Krusinski of May Township, as a way to introduce girls to running and teach them life skills. When she lived in Illinois, she coached Girls on the Run, a national program that seeks to spark confidence and fun through running. Krusinski’s older daughters had participated, but Isabel, now in third grade, had not.
“I just wished that she had the opportunity to go through the same thing,” Krusinski said.
At first Krusinski considered starting a Girls on the Run program, but participation would cost money. She didn’t want to limit who could participate, so she started her own club, the Marine Girls Running Club. It’s free and coached by Krusinski and three other coaches, including other mothers and a ninth-grader from Stillwater Area High School.
“None of us are track coaches,” Krusinski said. “We’re not training your children to be track stars. It’s just to promote the love of running.”
But they are trying to build character and confidence.
The girls have been meeting Mondays and Wednesdays since late April, and have gradually increased the distance they run, with the goal of doing a 5K. Before each practice, the girls learn not only about proper running form, but also about confidence and courage and positive thinking.
Marine Elementary Principal Melissa Sonnek, who is a runner, has served as a guest speaker, and she plans to run the 5K with the girls next week. Although it’s not a school activity, Sonnek heartily endorses the program.
“Running is more than just a sport,” she said. “You learn a lot about yourself through it. … It’s also empowering our girls to be leaders.”
Fifth-grader Emma Bourne said one of the most difficult but important skills she’s learning through training is the power of positive thinking.
“You have to tell yourself you can do it,” she said.
But the girls don’t have to do it alone.
“They totally treat it like a team,” Krusinski said.
Piper agreed, saying that’s the best part about being in the club.
“Everyone’s keeping you motivated so you can go that extra mile,” she said.
If all goes well next week, the club expects to make the Stillwater Half Marathon and 5K the race it works toward every year.
For those still interested in registering for the event, online registration is open until midnight on Wednesday, May 21. Packet pickup and registration is available on Friday, May 23, 3-8 p.m., and the morning of the race, Saturday, May 24 starting at 6 a.m. at the Water Street Inn, 101 Water St. S., Stillwater.
The day of the race, runners will park downtown Stillwater and then be bused to their respective start lines. Both races end at Pioneer Park. The half starts at 8 a.m., and the 5K starts at 8:30 a.m.
Contact Jonathan Young at email@example.com