Hanoi to Sydney!

NOVEMBER 2014: It’s 9am in Preston Park Velodrome and there’s a distinct sense of calm-before-the-storm! The course mark-out was started a couple of hours earlier, thousands of bottles of water stacked at the finish line, tea tent erected, inflatable arch inflated, sound system plugged in, radios tested… A plethora of volunteers from City College are at the ready, strategically located around the course.

At 9.25am, a bus pulls up by the entrance. 40 excited children from St Bartholomew’s Primary School disembark. There is peace and quiet in the park no longer. Excited chatter around who would most likely win raises the decibels to levels unfamiliar with the local neighbourhood.

They’re guided to the start line and taken through an enthusiastic warm-up routine. There’s a brief refrain from the earlier noise as heart rates are raised in preparation for the 1km race which ensues.

Music is blasted through the velodrome. A 10-second countdown begins. Adrenaline is up. The fog horn is sounded. And they’re off.

This is first of 52 separate races. And there are 45 more in Hove Park tomorrow… and another 53 in Worthing’s Homefield Park next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, three more buses have arrived with 120 children from Fairlight Primary School, who are now making their way to the start.

The first race of the day is now well under way. They’ve all set off like rockets, but the strain is soon realised and the pace slowed. Shouts of encouragement are yelled from the side lines by equally excited parents. And a few minutes later, we have the day’s first finisher.

Some of his mates are still out on the course, some jogging, some walking. It doesn’t matter! The whole point of the event is to get kids exercising. And that’s exactly what they’re doing. And they’re loving it!

Before the last runners are over the finish line, race number two commences. And so it goes on…

Those in the first race are now rounded up for a group photo before being taken through a cool-down routine. And, before they know it, they’re back on their bus and returning for an otherwise normal day at school. In all probability, their now heightened attention levels back in the classroom will allow their sharpened minds to more be more receptive to absorbing information and learning.

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The concept of Run the World is quite simply for all the children involved to run a combined number of kilometres which equates to circumnavigating the globe. At least, that’s the ultimate objective. In October 2014, we witnessed the fourth year of this annual event and they’ve just completed a 7582km journey from Hanoi to Sydney!

The challenge was set and is organised by Grounded Events, organisers of the Brighton Marathon. Perhaps in another decade or two, some of these kids will take on the 26.2-mile challenge of the marathon? But there’s no rush; what matters right now is that they’re exercising! And for some of them, life before Run the World was somewhat sedentary, embroiled in computer games and social media, a potentially hazardous concoction if that be the staple diet of their preadolescent pastime. The course had been set for a life of inactivity and associated health issues.

But, hopefully, Run the World has brought about an awareness of the dangers of sitting still all day long and triggered an interest in sport & exercise.

I asked Holly Freeman, Run the World’s Project Manager, what originally inspired the event.

The initiative was borne from a passion to encourage more children to be active.  In this day and age where child obesity is on the rise, we really wanted to provide an opportunity for the school children of Brighton, Hove and now Worthing to get outside and take part in sport but to also enjoy it. We wanted this to be an event to benefit thousands of children across the city.

As a company, we are only a small team and we very much believe in creating opportunities which encourage people to lead healthier lifestyles. We are a friendly, approachable company which strives to benefit the community. By staging Run the World we are able to create an opportunity for all children, whatever their background or abilities. The runs are not timed. The event is part of a team effort to reach the target number of kilometres in order to run the world! We provide transport and the event is free to take part. Both primary and junior schools are invited to register.

Has it made a genuine difference as regards getting kids to be more active? How can you measure the success of the event?

The success for me is illustrated on the day when we see how excited the children are. Each and every one of the children taking part has a smile on their face the whole way round the 1 kilometre course.  If they go away having enjoyed the event then they are more likely to want to sign up to the after-school sports clubs or take up sport in some form. The success is also measured in terms of how many schools we can encourage to take part and then being able to cater for them; the event is a logistical challenge trying to transport so many children!

What feedback have you received from parents and teachers? I see that many of the schools have come back year-on-year for more of the same, so they must recognise the benefits?

Yes, the same schools come back each year and more schools sign up!  The event has grown from the beginning in 2011 where 4,238 children from 23 schools took part. Run the World 2014 has just come to an end and we saw 7,582 children from 42 schools cover the 1 kilometre distance.

We receive lots of positive feedback from the teachers, mainly telling us how well-organised the event is and how the children are keen to get involved with school running clubs afterwards.

And what happens after full distance has been completed, when they’ve made it around the world? Will that be the end of the road for Run the World?

Absolutely not, we will go round the World again, but perhaps take a slightly different route.  So long as the event benefits youngsters and promotes health and exercise, then we will keep running round the world over and over again!

Holly, I know you’re also very much involved with the Brighton Marathon Mini Mile, which takes place the day before the marathon itself. I guess there are a lot of similarities between the two events? Do you find that many of the children participating in Run the World go on to take part in the Mini Mile?

Yes, Run the World does give a taster into what a mass participation running event is like and acts as a stepping stone up to the Mile distance.  The Mini Mile is staged on the Brighton Marathon Weekend and is a great event for the children to target.

Holly, thanks for your time, and congratulations on your part in encouraging local kids to get more active!

No problem at all. I love to shout about the event as it is just fantastic!

Before I go I have to give a quick shout out to the event sponsors, Southern Water and Brighton and Hove public health and our volunteers, without whom this event would not happen.

The volunteers who help us stage the event each year, their dedication, effort and energy is truly fantastic.  THANK YOU!

By Mike Bannister

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