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Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008 04:45 am

Going the distance

Iles students strive to run the length of the Great Wall of China

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Iles runners with their hard-earned straws.

It’s 8:05 a.m. Evan Northrup tosses his backpack aside and runs onto a makeshift track cordoned off by small orange cones. ’Round and ’round he goes, stopping briefly after each lap to collect a straw from Iles Elementary physical-education teacher Copache Tyler. Soon other kids join Northrup on the track, each with the same mission: to collect as many straws as possible before the final bell rings at 8:25 a.m. This is a morning ritual for members of the Iles Running Club, a special group of first- through fifth-graders who have decided that they want to start each day by walking, jogging, or running around the “Famous Iles Lap.” Ten straws equal one mile, and this year they’re striving to run the length of the Great Wall of China — approximately 4,000 miles. Northrup and his best friend, Julian Litvak — both fourth-graders — are club regulars. “We like running,” Litvak says. “We do it because it’s healthy and it gets your blood pumping.”
“He’s really into it,” he adds, pointing to Northrup. “He runs a mile every day.”
In fact, Northrup has been unofficially designated the club president. He’s been actively involved since the third grade and often finishes a two-mile run in the 20-minute timeframe. Sue Landgrebe, another of Iles’ physical-education teachers and the running club’s founder, says she came up with the idea of letting the kids run after seeing too many of them getting restless in the mornings. “The kids were inside, and they really couldn’t move,” Landgrebe says. “One of the boys was ready to tear out, and when I asked if he needed to run he said yes.”
The first year, the kids joined the Walk Across Illinois initiative. Then last year, Landgrebe says, the running club’s activities coincided with the interests of after-school students who were studying the 2,168-mile long Appalachian Trail. The runners reached the 1,800-mile mark by year’s end, but this school year they’ll far surpass that — they’d already tallied more than 1,200 miles by the end of December. They run whether it’s warm or cold, even though the number of participating kids dwindles during the winter months. On good days, Landgrebe says, it’s not unusual to see 25 to 30 kids out running laps. Children of any age may participate, as long as they’re wearing gym shoes. The entire school has gotten into the project, with some classrooms charting how far their students are running. Landgrebe has also come up with additional incentive: Every time a runner achieves a mile, the student is given a special charm to put on his or her shoe and the student’s name is announced at the end of the month. Not only are teachers getting involved, Landgrebe says, but parents have commended the staff for giving their kids something to do before school starts. “It really is kids who want to be able to move, who want to start their morning with that kind of activity,” Landgrebe says. “It expends some energy, gets the blood flowing, and gets their brains ready to learn.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com
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