Running for Family Fitness and Fun

Vicki Schneider, Fargo, started running in high school as a way to stay in shape for soccer. By the time she was a senior, her friends—all avid runners themselves—talked her into joining the track team. She was hooked. “I did pretty well at the half-mile and two-mile races and have been running distance ever since,” she says.

Several years and five kids later, Schneider still pounds the pavement on a regular basis. And as soon as her kids were each old enough, she started running kids’ runs and 5Ks with them. “When we started running with our kids, it was to get them outside and moving,” says Schneider.

Now, her kids run on their own or with any combination of people from their blended family. Sometimes they hit the streets with Vicki and her husband, Bryan Jacobson, or they head out with their dad, Dave Kirkpatrick, and his girlfriend, Sarah Bundy. It’s truly a family affair and the kids say they couldn’t be happier with the combination of exercise and together time.

“I got started running a while ago when my mom and dad ran with me around the block,” says 11-year-old Mackenzie Kirkpatrick. “Then I ran a half mile and after it was over I loved the feeling so I kept running. I also kept running because I love running with my family.”

With a slew of road races coming up this spring, including the events of the Fargo Marathon, now is the ideal time to lace up your sneakers and start putting one foot in front of the other. Chances are, once your kids see you do it, they’ll want to go for a run, too.

Local runners and coaches chimed in to tell us why they love their sport so much. We think it’s the perfect motivation for you and your kids!


Vicki Schneider and daughter Mackenzie love the effort it takes to run, and the feeling that comes with beating your goals.

Why Kids Love It

It’s fun
Mark Knutson, director of the Fargo Marathon and the man widely credited with bringing forth Fargo’s running renaissance, says it’s easy to see why kids love running.

“It’s very hard for some kids who say they want to go out for basketball or hockey and there are a limited number of spots on the team,” he explains. “It’s fairly discouraging for the kids who want to be in something but aren’t gifted enough for that particular sport.”

But almost every kid can run. “It’s a simple thing,” Knutson says. “Even a second grader can get out and go for a run with his or her mom and dad.”

It’s active
Schneider’s son, Tanner Kirkpatrick, who is 13, says he likes running because “I feel like I’m doing something.” That’s a common theme among his brothers and sisters, too.

“As the kids get older, they have started running more on their own or with friends,” says Schneider.

Her former husband, Kirkpatrick, says he’s been impressed that his children have found a way to combine their friendships with fitness. “As their friend groups become increasingly important, we also encourage them to invite those friends along to participate as another way of keeping it enjoyable for them,” says Kirkpatrick.

It takes effort
Carving time out of a family’s busy schedule to go for a run isn’t easy, but it is important.

James Parker, a certified personal trainer who owns Fargo-based fitness-training company Muffins to Marathons: Fit 4 Life, says running time should be scheduled into your daily schedule just like homework time or TV time. “Not every day will go as planned but more often than not, you will find success,” he advises.

Helping kids establish their running routine, or allowing your child to pursue running as a sport, will help them find that success and build their confidence, adds the Fargo Marathon’s Knutson. “You tell a child they just ran a mile and they’re like, ‘That’s great!’” he states.

It’s worked for Schneider’s daughter, Mackenzie, who is proud of the fact that she runs road races. “I like when I finish the race or when I beat my goal. I love running because it takes effort,” says Mackenzie.

Why Parents Love It

It keeps you fit
Thirty-six-year-old Shawn Griego of Moorhead used to be that guy who made fun of runners. “On Facebook, I’d always joke about it. Making a crack here or there when someone posted something about running,” he says.

Then he got some shocking news from his doctor. His cholesterol was out of control. His blood pressure was sky-high. He was overweight and constantly fatigued. If anyone needed to go for a run, it was Griego. So that’s what he did. “A group of people at work were doing a health thing and they talked me into joining,” he says. “Within three months of starting to run, I cleared up all my health problems.”

Parker’s story is similar to Griego’s. In February 2008, he woke up, looked in the mirror, and didn’t recognize the person looking back at him. “I was overweight, out of shape, and unhappy with myself,” Parker writes on his website. He says he needed to make a change, not only for himself, but for his family. Parker joined a gym and less than a year later had dropped 75 pounds.

Since then, he’s amassed a variety of fitness certifications and completed 23—yes, 23—marathons.

Whole Family

Vijay Gaba and his family participate in nearly every local and regional run throughout the year.

It provides family time
It’s pretty rare when everyone interviewed for an article agrees on the same thing, but that is exactly the case with this motivating factor: Running brings your family together in a unique and healthy way.

When Vijay Gaba moved to Fargo in 2004 with his wife and two daughters, none of them were involved in any sport. They had tried team sports like soccer, or partner sports like tennis, but had never been able to keep up their participation because of their hectic family life.

Then Gaba emailed Knutson about the possibility of joining a running club. Within a few years, the entire Gaba clan had turned into runners. His wife, Anu, has completed five half-marathons and countless 5Ks and 10Ks. Gaba’s oldest daughter, 16-year-old Harshita, ran her first half-marathon when she was just 12. “She is now faster than me and I am proud of her,” says Gaba. And 11-year-old Nishita finished her first 5K when she was only 6 years old.

The family participates in nearly every local and regional run throughout the year—even in the dead of winter—and Gaba says the sport has brought them closer than he ever imagined. “I treasure these occasions because it brings us all together and goes a long way in contributing to the total time we spend together as a family,” he says. “If not for those races, my children and I would have been doing our own individual pursuits: catching up on emails, being with friends, office work, homework, and the like.”

Griego, whose two pre-teen daughters picked up the sport after they saw their father doing it, echoes Gaba’s thoughts. “I kind of like the fact that I have something in common with my kids other than the hustle and bustle of electronics,” he says. “It’s just running shoes and the road. It’s free. It just takes energy and motivation.”

It’s (relatively) inexpensive
Every sport costs money. But in comparison with moola-munching biggies like hockey, football, and baseball, running is a penny-pincher’s dream.

“Hockey is time and money and camp and travel,” says Knutson. “Only about ten percent of the population can do that.” For running, the only thing you need is sneakers. A modest pair will run you about $50. Once you’re serious about the sport, you may want to invest in a pair suited to your needs.

The smartest way to do this is to visit a retailer, like Beyond Running or Fargo Running Company, that specializes in running shoes. They can measure your biomechanics, foot shape, and weight, and will consider the type of running you’re planning to do (races, trail, etc.). Both stores have experienced staff who will do a gait analysis and use other techniques to determine the type of footwear best for you and your running needs. The correct footwear will not only make running more comfortable and enjoyable for you, it could also prevent injury.

Another expense for the competitive runner, which can add up over time, is registration fees. Typically, 5K registration costs about $25 to $35 per race. Early registration for the Fargo Marathon is $70. Latecomers will have to shell out $95.

Why Kids and Parents Love to Race

It’s competitive
(without being discouraging)
Once you’ve been running for a while, you may find yourself kicking up your pace or entering your first race. The sport undoubtedly drums up a competitive drive—whether with yourself or others.

Muffins to Marathons’ Parker has been running competitively for years and still finds new barriers to bust through. “The toughest part is pushing yourself to run faster and farther than you were able to run the week before or two weeks before,” says Parker. “It is always a challenge to improve; however, when you do see that improvement it is well worth the struggles.”

Dave Kirkpatrick enjoys the healthy competition running has fostered in his family, especially among his sons, Tanner and 12-year-old Cole, who both admit they love the rush of passing people in a race. “I think there are a couple of boys who are looking to try to beat me in a race this coming year,” says Kirkpatrick. “I think it will be fun to see if and when they can pull it off.”

Knutson believes that, as a community, we have a responsibility to promote healthy, active lifestyles for our youngsters. One of the ways he contributes to this is by coordinating a youth run at the Fargo Marathon, but he stresses it’s all in the name of fun. “We don’t time it. We don’t do places,” he says. “Everybody crosses the line and gets a medal. I think it’s important simply to get kids to a place where they think that they can do this.”

Dave Kirkpatrick and his family couldn’t be happier with the combination of exercise and together time.

It encourages goal-setting
When Vijay Gaba first picked up running, he was in his late forties and unsure if he had the stamina and strength to do it. But he set small goals for himself, like joining a running club and participating in a short race, and as he achieved them, his confidence grew.

“I have run the Fargo marathon every year and have also run the marathon in other cities such as New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis,” says Gaba. His next goal is qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

One of the things Dave Kirkpatrick likes about the sport is that it allows each person in his extended family to set individual goals, regardless of age. “It allows each of us to pursue our individual goals, whether that is to run a particular time, go so far without walking, or simply have fun being out and doing it, while still being there to support each other in pursuit of those goals,” he says. His parents have even participated with him and Sarah and his kids in the walking division in local 5Ks.

Griego has also found that mementos like race bibs and participation ribbons or medals are good motivators for his daughters, 12-year-old Bailee and 9-year-old Alexis.

It’s fun
Last, but certainly not least, is running’s fun factor. Yes, it takes work. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes dedication. But the immediate and lifelong rewards you’ll get from pounding the pavement with your family are innumerable.

“If it’s something that challenges them and they can continue to enjoy it with friends and family for years to come, all the better,” says Schneider. With that, she laces up her sneakers and heads out the door.

Patricia Carlson is a freelance writer and media coach from Dilworth, MN. View more of her work at

Filed Under: Do It TogetherWellness

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