“Let’s get teens running!” That’s the message that running coach and long-time race competitor Derek Larner wants to send to youngsters and parents alike.
And on Dec. 6, with Larner’s help, a group of teens will be doing just that in the CUC High School Challenge as part of the Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon relay division.
With the rise in sedentary lifestyles and consumption of processed foods, youngsters need to find a way to combat their unhealthy lifestyle choices, Larner says.
He wants them to know that running is not only a healthy activity, but is extremely rewarding.
“The major benefit of running is that it forms the base fitness for most other sports because it requires stamina, speed, endurance, power, flexibility and strength,” said Larner.
“Running develops a strong mental toughness and requires personal discipline, motivation and dedication.”
He started coaching youngsters in 2010 after watching the CUC Athletics Championships and observing that there was only one kid, a 10-year-old, in the middle distance categories of 1,500 meters and 3,000m.
“No other kids had entered, only three adults. This was the major athletics track meet in Grand Cayman and to have only one distance runner didn’t seem right to me,” Larner said.
He offered to take over the youth distance running program soon after and developed it into what is now a group of young runners calling themselves the Middle Distance Runners (MDRs).
Though running is a solo sport, Larner stresses that the competition and training engages them in healthy and character building competition.
“In my opinion, competition in running is a good thing for young athletes and is an important part of their development,” he said.
“Come out and watch the MDRs support each other in the marathon relay and urge their teammates to run at their best.
“This is a fantastic way of getting the youngsters to bond as a team and learn how a little extra support can encourage a teammate to perform better than without it.”
There is a raft of talented youngsters now winning and finishing in the top places in local runs. Athletes like Dominic Dyer, Will Edwards, Tahj Lewis, Tiffany Cole, Kiara McLaughlin, Delano Callender, Victor Magalhaes and Alex Logvinov are the best of the emerging champs.
Larner said that competition is exactly what young runners competing in the CUC High School Challenge should expect – not only against each other but also the adult relay teams.
Larner is a member of the British Bulldogs team who have finished in the top two relay spots every year since 2010.
He says that the MDRs have definitely given him and his teammates tough competition.
“The MDR A-Team won the overall relay last year and have a great chance of doing so again. They have youth on their side while we have experience.”
He added that running in the marathon relay and being a member of an MDR team is something all the serious youngsters aspire to, and keeps them hungry and motivated.
For teens, running the six-mile distance can be intimidating, but with the right training, Larner said it does not have to be that daunting.
“Anyone who has not trained properly should be intimidated by the distance,” Larner said.
“The MDRs run this distance regularly and should not find the distance a problem. I would not allow any young runner to enter if I believed they could not make it. The main thing they have to learn is what pace to run it in.”
Though there is a lot of talent in Cayman, Larner said one of the many difficulties he faces when training the youngsters is a lack of off-road terrain to train.
“The main challenge is that we have very few off-road courses and there are virtually no hills to train on,” he said. “Running on roads has its risks and we are always conscious of traffic and try to anticipate what drivers on the roads are likely to do.
“We would rather have off-roads but there are no routes from where we meet during the week.”
Larner runs on the roads just about every day and, like most regular runners, he sees “many idiots behind the wheels and it isn’t funny.”
He added, “When you have a bunch of young runners in your wake, it certainly keeps you alert.”
He likes their attitude and the fact that they do their best and he hopes that there will be more aspiring champs taking part in middle distance races like the Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon Relay portion.
“As a distance running coach, I would like to see many more high school teams involved in distance running, and for most of us, running a race is an activity first experienced at school,” Larner said.
“To take running to another level, kids should participate in competitive races and where better to start your distance running but in the marathon relay?”
He also believes that races like the marathon give youngsters the unique opportunity to compete, not only with their peers, but against older, more experienced runners.
“There may be dozens of other fun runs in Cayman, but very few as well organized or as exciting as competing on marathon day. Also, where else would they earn such an amazing medal?”
Registration for the 2015 marathon races and the Kids Fun Run is open online at www.CaymanIslandsMarathon.com.