Like most families, the Munson-Warnkens of Burlington find getting out of the house in the morning to be a bit of a scramble. Between wake up, breakfast and getting dressed, it's a mad dash to get everyone ready and out the door on time.
And then, most mornings, Wayne Warnken and his boys actually do dash: They run to school together. Wayne, Mark, 8, Fisher, 5, and baby Luca (in a stroller) jog from their home on North Willard Street to the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes — about three-quarters of a mile away.
I join them on a recent, chilly morning, intrigued by the concept of family running — especially to school. After a companionable breakfast with mom, Megan, the inevitable five-minute countdown to leave time commences. We look for lost gloves, consider which hat to wear, find homework, get the shoes on, etc. Then, suddenly, the boys bolt out of the house, and we're off. Whew!
All along the way, Wayne talks to Mark and Fisher — he cautions them about being careful at driveways and crossings, makes encouraging remarks about their running, and asks questions about last night's reading. Fisher and I discuss the sad parts of Island of the Blue Dolphins while we dodge recycling bins. At times Mark races ahead; at others Fisher takes the lead. All of them — Luca and Wayne included — enjoy the run.
Before I know it, we arrive at the playground and wander into the middle of a dodge-ball game. The boys hug their dad, and the school day begins.
Warnken, a longtime runner, began running with Mark about a year and a half ago at the Turkey Trot, a Green Mountain Athletic Association that includes a short race for kids. After that, the family started participating in Catamount Outdoor Family Center's weekly trail run and various youth races. Warnken says he often takes the kids on "functional runs," too, hoofing it to the YMCA or the library rather than driving. He enjoys the time spent with them sharing a healthy activity.
"I view my kids as my training partners," Warnken says. Like any good partner, he encourages the kids, challenges them, and allows them do their own thing, too.
Warnken lets the boys set the pace and decide when they want to run, and when they don't. That, he admits, can be challenging for a parent and for a runner.
It's important, though, points out Joy Dubin Grossman, youth director of RunVermont. It's hard to find standards that specify the appropriate age for children to begin race running. Dubin Grossman says the best indication is whether kids enjoy the activity. When is it too early or too much? When they're not having fun, she says.
As they did last year, Mark and Wayne are preparing for this spring's Vermont City Marathon when they'll run on the Outright Vermont relay team. Wayne says it's a good way to introduce Mark to Outright's mission of building supportive environments for queer and questioning youth. And participating in a big race offers a powerful level of excitement; Wayne remembers vividly the emotion he felt taking off at the start of the marathon last year, holding Mark's hand as they set out.
Whether it's the daily mad dash or the big race's pace and power, the journey together is what's good for this family.
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