A person’s love for running can begin as early as age three or four - just ask the parents and children involved in the U.S.A. Track and Field (USATF) Lickity-Split Youth Track and Field organization.
At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, the group met at the Perkiomen Trail off of Crusher Road in Marlborough where a handful of kids, ages 3 to 10, lined up for fun races between 200 meters and one mile in distance. Volunteer USATF coach Peter Merena of Pennsburg, whose own children participated in the events on Saturday, organizes weekly practices and several races a month in the hopes of getting school-aged kids acquainted with the sport itself.
"We’re trying to promote youth running," said Merena. "The most important thing is that the distances are age-based so that kids don’t get discouraged. We don’t stress winning, but instead just want the kids to have fun."
Young athletes who raced and cheered on their friends this past weekend included Liam and Gabriel Natarajan, Parker and Quinn Elliot, Sarah and Rachel Heines, Cody Groff, Connor Williams, Carly Velicer, Teagen Rae and Nathan Merena.
Currently, the group trains from 6:15 p.m.-7 p.m. on Thursdays at Marlborough Elementary. In the fall, Merena focuses on familiarizing his athletes with cross-country and its longer distances. Upcoming races include a Fun for Youth run on October 16 and a Halloween-themed race on October 30, both to be held at the new Macoby Run park on 11th Street in Pennsburg. These races are expected to start at 8:45 a.m., though official times will be announced in October.
Merena and parents of the Lickity-Split runners encourage other local families to become involved in the program as a way not only to promote positive exercise habits, but also to help kids build character and socialize with those whose interests coincide with their own.
"My daughter likes to have races with her friends, so we thought we’d check Lickity-Split out," said Rebecca Heinz, who now has two children in the program. "They both have a really good time."
Mike Elliot, another parent of two young runners, added "Kids come out as often as they can. We try to make every practice because my oldest just loves running."
The Lickity-Split group invites children ages 3-15 to come out, make friends, and get involved in friendly competition. Parents and other adults are welcome to run, and the program is looking for volunteer coaches. Training is free and, starting in October, the pre-registration race fee will be $8. Those interested can reach Peter Merena with inquiries at LSyouthtrackandfield@hotmail.com or at 215-679-2037.