Today over 8,000 people ran the Oxford Half Marathon. There were also about 100 children from Oxfordshire primary schools taking part in the Oxford Half Marathon School Challenge.
This was my daughter’s fifth and last race before she goes up to secondary school. It was my son’s third. And it was the first time we’ve had to deal with the rain.
“The rain made it harder, so I pushed myself harder. I didn’t know I could do it but I did.”M, aged 7
What is the Oxford Half Marathon School Challenge?
The aim of the challenge is to inspire children to get active and start running, a life long benefit for both girls and boys. As the school has to register for the challenge, I think the challenge also inspires them to start running clubs.
Children run through 12.1 miles before the race day. Our school does it through their daily mile, but it can also be done outside of school with parent verification. Before the race, all children get an official race t-shirt and number. On the day, the children run the final mile from the official start line, on the traffic free course complete with music, commentator, marshals and of course supporters. And at the end of the race they get a medal and goody bag.
It’s really good. It gets schools and children interested in sports and activities.B, aged 10
How does it work
- School applies to participate (I don’t know how this bit works).
- Children register to take part through their school.
- Children run 12.1 miles before the event, in small chunks e.g. daily mile.
- Before the event each child gets a race t shirt and personal number (this is linked to their permission to have photos taken, so they can’t be swapped)
- Parents complete the back of the race number with health and emergency details
- On the day you meet your school, in a quiet area away from the race area
- The children, staff / running adults are taken to the secure area (recently this has been in the grounds of Trinity College). They have to be in the secure area well in advance of the Oxford Half Marathon starting and you can only get access if you have a race number — so no parents allowed (unless you’ve been encouraged to run with the school).
- The Half Marathon starts and all runners go past.
- The children are brought out to the start line to warm up.
- They follow the track for half a mile turn round and run back the same way.
- They complete the run by crossing through the start line, the reverse direction to the start.
- The children get their medal and goody bag, and are taken back into the secure area.
- The school collate all their children and belongings and bringing them back to the original meeting-point (to avoid a big crush and lots of confusion outside the college).
What the children like about it (in my children’s words)
- Run a distance you thought you’d never be able to do, but you can
- You’re always running with people who keep you running and don’t let you stop
- Roads are mostly flat so it is easier to run
- There are lots of people there to see the children
- People cheer you and say well done — it gives you confidence
- At the end people say well done and give you a goody bag
- You get experience of running in different weathers
Tips for parents
- It will be an early start as the children have to be in the secure area before the Half Marathon starts (we’ve usually met around 8am), so do as much preparation the night before and know where you’re going
- Check the weather forecast and plan an appropriate running outfit. The race number must be visible as it contains the emergency details and shows whether it is okay for the professional photographers to take pictures (not that I’ve ever seen the professional pictures). So you may end up with the t-shirt over a long sleeve top or waterproof
- Plan your journey into Oxford being aware that there may be changes to the roads and buses. For example there are lots of buses running for the Oxford Half Marathon, but they tend to go straight to the runners’ village, along St Giles
- There is no shelter or seating in the secure area so make sure your child has warm clothes as well as their running kit. Extra layers can be worn on top and removed before they run and put on afterwards. Trust me you do not want unhappy children before they even start.
- You will have over an hour between dropping off your child and when the School Challenge starts. As it is a Sunday the shops won’t be open, but lots of cafes will be. I recommend finding one away from the race start and Cornmarket Street as these tend to be very busy at that time.
- As the children are kept in the secure area until all the Half Marathon runners have starter, including all stragglers, there is no official start time for the School Challenge, but it is likely to be about half an hour after the start of the official race.
- There can be a lot of spectators waiting to watch the official race, but most of them move on before the School Challenge race so you should be able to close to the barriers and get a good view.
- Wherever you stand you will get two views of the children as they run out and back. At the start they are very close together so it can be difficult to spot specific children and adults, but they quickly spread out, so you may prefer not to be near the start
- The quickest runners are usually back around 6 minutes after starting
- You can expect to meet back up with the school in the meeting-point within about an hour of the School Challenge race starting
- Plan a treat for your child as a well done, our favourites are going to the Covered Market for either Ben’s Cookies or a Moo Moo milkshake.
I recommend signing up to the Oxford Half Marathon School Challenge if your school takes part. Yes it is an early start and there is lots of hanging around, but the confidence boost and encouragement the favourites to get running is well worth it.
“I like the Oxford Half Marathon because it makes people work together to show they’re a sporty school.”M, aged 7