River Bank Run 2019: the young runners!

river bank run 2019

Thoughts about my home town race, and the continuing surge of running youth

Here are my thoughts about my home town race, and the continuing surge of running youth. The future is looking bright, so let’s keep this trend going…

Didn’t run in the RBR for first time since 2016

The River Bank Run in Grand Rapids, Michigan has been my “home race,” and it’ll continue to be an important race to me no matter where I live. (Currently, Tennessee.) Even before I began running regularly, and participating in races, the River Bank Run made a big impression on me just because it was the big local race and received a lot of coverage and attention—sometimes in the form of aggravation because all the road closures pretty much shut the city down for the entire morning of the race.

I remember the race being called the Old Kent River Bank Run as I was a kid. Then the Fifth Third. Now it’s switched primary sponsors, and it’s the Amway River Bank Run. This year was the 42nd annual, so the race has pretty much been ongoing throughout my life.

Even though I wasn’t able to make this years RBR for the first time since I began running I followed it via the news. The race continues to receive a huge amount of old school local media converge, including a live broadcast of the race. Thank God for the Internet—I was still able to pay attention to the race.

Clara James-Heer

One thing I have loved about the RBR is the huge number of children I see running it. And not just the 5K. I’ve always run the 10K, and I marvel at how many children run that thing. There’s always a few ahead of me, and not only can I not seem to pass them but I struggle to keep up with ‘em!

Case in point: The star of this years’ RBR was definitely Clara James-Heer. This 12 year old was the defending champ of the women’s 5K. She still finished in the top five this year! How awesome is that that.

From coverage of last year’s 5K:

Clara James-Heer’s father failed to keep pace with his daughter during the 5K race in Saturday morning’s 41st Annual Fifth Third River Bank Run.
Craig James-Heer shouldn’t feel too bad, though. Most of the field couldn’t keep up with her, either.
James-Heer is only 11 years old, but that didn’t stop her from winning the Women’s 5K race. In fact, her time of 17 minutes, 52.86 seconds placed her 14th overall in the field.

M-Live, May 12, 2018

From this year’s:

James-Heer finished fifth in Saturday’s 5K female division race, and it came one week after she won her age group at an Elite Youth Triathlon Series East Coast Festival in Richmond, Va. She said her focus is on triathlons this spring, but she took a break to compete in Saturday morning’s race. James-Heer’s time of 18:43.49 placed her 29th overall in the field.
“I ran pretty good,” James-Heer said. “I got a little side ache, but it was a pretty good race for me. It was a lot slower than last year (17:52.86), and the competition was really tough, but I just ran as hard as I could, so I’m proud of it.”

M-Live, May 12, 2019

Healthy trends

It’s really great to see so many children running in these events. Of course some parents become a little alarmed to see children outrunning adults and they worry that children might be pushing too hard. But experts are applauding this trend of children running in these races, and they say it’s fine as long as it remains play as opposed to overly structured, rule-driven competition.

And it is a trend, and I hope it keeps growing. Amanda MacMillan wrote about it at Health.com a few years back: “There’s been a boom in children running races that were once strictly for adults. Kids as young as 5 and 6 are running with school groups, and tweens and teens are entering 5- and 10-kilometer races—and even mini-triathlons—with their parents, running clubs, and even on their own.”

MacMillan’s article goes on to repeat the advice given elsewhere, that it ought to be approached as play. Her article also adds extra advice, on adding miles as the child’s age progresses.

For sure, I see this trend in all sorts of races, no matter where I am. However, it seems especially evident and obvious in Grand Rapids, Michigan’s River Bank Run. I don’t have a study or numbers I can point to in order to back up my observation. I only have my own personal bias toward my home town race.

It’s too easy to be discouraged about the future. Going for a run, and seeing so many children running alongside adults (and enjoying it!) is a great way to get a healthy dose of optimism.


Photo by Ban Yido on Unsplash


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