N.J. Marathon puts emphasis on youth fitness

Staff Writer

 A runner reaches the finish line at the 2013 New Jersey Marathon. The 2015 marathon, which will take place April 26, incorporates the goal of promoting youth fitness. A runner reaches the finish line at the 2013 New Jersey Marathon. The 2015 marathon, which will take place April 26, incorporates the goal of promoting youth fitness. As the popularity of the New Jersey Marathon grows, race officials hope to get more youngsters involved.

Race Director Joe Gigas said growing the Kids Move program has been a priority in anticipation of the 19th annual marathon, which is expected to bring 10,000 runners to the area on April 26.

“I created the Kids Move program a couple of years ago, and we’ve really expanded that program the last couple of years,” he said.

“Basically, we go to school districts [along the] course, and we set up a program.”

The 26.2-mile race and three days of related events kick off on April 24, with packet pickup and a Health and Fitness Expo held at Monmouth Park in Oceanport.

The expo continues on April 25 with the ShapingNJ 5K, which takes place in nearby Long Branch; the Barnabas Health Family Festival at the Great Lawn in Long Branch; and three children’s races.

The weekend culminates with the marathon, half-marathon, half-marathon relay and wheelchair race on April 26.

The 26.2-mile full marathon begins at Monmouth Park in Oceanport with a course that goes through Monmouth Beach, Long Branch, Deal, Loch Arbour, Allenhurst, Asbury Park and Ocean Grove.

After making a loop in Ocean Grove, runners head north and conclude the race on the Promenade in Long Branch.

According to Gigas, the Kids Move program is an eight- to 10-week program for students in first through fifth grade.

The program requires students, depending on age, to complete from 12 to 25 miles of movement during the course of the eightto 10-week training schedule.

The final 1.2 miles that students will complete will take place during the children’s race on April 25.

Gigas explained that the program is not strictly about running. “We firmly believe that kids need to get away from their cellphones and their laptops and TVs and their video games — and move,” he said. “Moving can be riding a bike, it could be playing sports, it could be running, it could be jump roping.”

Each student involved in the program must record his or her progress at the end of each week.

This program is currently funded by New Jersey Road Runners Youth Foundation and offered to students in Long Branch, Oceanport and Monmouth Beach public schools.

Gigas said 2,500 students are expected to take part in the children’s race.

“This is growing very rapidly,” he said. “We are trying to go around to all the communities that host our race, but other teachers are hearing about it and asking to be a part of it.

“Eventually we will get all our eight [communities], and we will open it up to all districts around the state.”

Gigas said while the focus of the weekend will always be the marathon, a program like Kids Move is important to emphasize.

“Sometimes these things get lost in the hype of the marathon, but these things change lives too,” he said.

This will be the third marathon since superstorm Sandy, and Gigas said he still has not been able to duplicate the course he envisioned when he took over as race director in 2011.

According to Gigas, two of the eight communities in the course are still impacted by the storm.

The marathon formerly was run in part along the Long Branch boardwalk, which was destroyed by the storm. Until the new boardwalk is constructed, that portion of the race is run along Ocean Avenue. Construction on a new boardwalk is expected to begin in June.

The course loops around the Ocean Grove boardwalk, which was also damaged by the storm.

The roughly 10,000 runners who participate in the New Jersey Marathon and Half-Marathon take the event very seriously.

“We had a training run here yesterday, and we had people doing a 20-miler and a 10-miler. And I think if you look out the window, you are probably going to see people running now,” Gigas said.

“The excitement of the marathon is palpable right now — not just on the Shore, but all over the state.”

For race details and training tips, visit www.thenewjerseymarathon.com.