Ericka Cooke, Girls on the Run Southeast Tennessee executive director, said the girls have been working toward the 5K for months.
“We are having a celebration 5K for the girls who have completed the program for the spring season,” Cooke said. “It is for our girls in honor of them, but it is open to the community. All runners are encouraged to come.”
There are currently six GOTR sites in the Cleveland/Bradley County area. Each site currently has one team. Multiple teams can be held at each site with up to 12 girls in each. A head coach is in charge of each site.
There are two GOTR seasons each year, according to the school year schedule. The first is from August to December. The second is from January to April.
A celebration 5K is organized at the end of each season. The local GOTR chapter has had two 5Ks.
“We have 12 weeks of sessions. We meet 24 times and we follow a curriculum, which is meant to promotes mental and physical strength in the girls,” Cooke said. “We do talk about eating healthy. We encourage them to find an exercise they like, which will hopefully be jogging.”
Each girl will be paired with an adult on the day of the 5K. Cooke said parents and family friends of the girls are encouraged to join. Girls without someone to run with are paired with a volunteer.
“This event is totally different than any other 5K in that it is not competitive,” Cooke said. “It is very easy to be caught up in the spirit of this program through this run.”
Each session begins with a warm-up. Stretching and activities are used to get the girls’ body ready for jogging. They are also presented the with session’s mental focus, as well.
“We talk about bullying, self-esteem and problems with self-image,” Cooke said. “We are not competitive whatsoever. We have very athletic girls and we have girls who do not feel very athletic. By the end of the season, they are all running without worrying about it.”
Running during the sessions gives the girls a time to reflect on the day’s lesson. Girls are given a chance to share their thoughts during cooldown. A cheer closes out each session.
Nerves fill the girls’ stomachs on the day of the 5K.
“Anyone who has ever run a 5K knows there is a lot of anxiety which comes with your first one,” Cooke said. “You wonder, ‘Can I do it? Will I be last?’ It is a cool thing to watch their faces as they finish.”
All GOTR participants receive a medal upon crossing the finish line. Cheering sections will be spread out across the course. Signs will be made to help encourage the runners.
Those interested in joining the 5K or one mile fun run can do so by registering at www.girlsontherunsetn.org. Pre-registration ends on Wednesday. Costs are $20 for the 5K and $10 for the one-mile fun run. Both prices are increased by $5 on the day of the 5K. Those who pre-register are guaranteed a t-shirt.
Cooke said this season’s 5K will go up and down Parker street. A table will be set up in front of Lee University’s Conn Center on Church Street at 1:30. The 5K will begin at 2:30.
“We are going to have a zumba warm-up, then we will have our 5K and fun run,” Cooke said. “Then we will have Five Points yoga do a yoga cool down for us.”
She said there will also be snow cones and Panera food available.
The event is a 1970s themed Groovy 5K. There will be prizes for best dressed and top male and female runners. Both runners will receive a Garmin GPS watch with a heart monitor. A third watch will be used as a door prize.
“It is a great family activity. Just to get the family out there,” Cooke said. “The spirit of the whole thing is just much different from other races, I think. It is a very positive atmosphere. We just try to build up the crowds and build up the girls.”
The program itself has a very specific mission.
“They are really starting to notice how the media portrays women and how they should look and how they should dress. They are starting to feel that peer pressure,” Cooke said. “I think it is a time we can start talking to them about these issues as they identify them in their lives.”
She said anyone interested in volunteering with Girls on the Run can do so by visiting the program’s website.
“We always need volunteers. We always need coaches. There is no previous coaching experience required,” Cooke said. “We give you all of the materials needed when you sign up with us. We would love to have anyone interested contact us.”