By Amanda Foust
Carmel High School has become a state powerhouse when it comes to running, and it could be because its students are getting a head start.
Pup Running Inc. is a program for Carmel Clay Schools fourth- and fifth-grade students designed to generate an early enthusiasm for the sport.
Mark Crull developed the club in 2008, which has grown to become one of the largest youth running programs in the state.
“My entire cross-country career started with Pup Running – a spark that triggered a chain reaction that culminated into one of the biggest impacts on my life today,” said senior Sarah Liu, who has run cross country in high school.
CHS senior Ben Veatch and junior Sarah Leinheiser – who were crowned state individual cross country champions in 2015 – both participated in Pup Running before racing to the top of their sport.
More recent members of the program say they love the competition, getting in shape and feeling strong.
“It changed my feelings about running by having me run more,” said Max Meisner, a fourth grader at Cherry Tree Elementary. “Now I love running. I’m still running a lot.”
A team effort
Crull, executive pastor at Northview Church, started the program after noticing there were few options for elementary-age children to pursue competitive running. Now his congregation is behind the effort, as it provides volunteers for meets and serves as a host site for the cross-country course in the fall.
“It is a part of their ministry and community outreach,” said Jeff Mohler, CHS cross country coach and Pup Running board member.
Mohler ran for Carmel High School from 1987 to 1989 and was a member of the ’87, ’88, and ’89 cross country state championship teams. Since then, he has become a licensed track and field official for the IHSAA and USA Track & Field and coach for the CHS cross-country and track teams. He said he was excited to work on the board for Pup Running as a way of giving back to the sport that helped him define himself.
“I was a kid who wasn’t tall enough for basketball, big enough for football and couldn’t hit a curveball,” Mohler said, “Running helped me find out who I was.”
Carmel schools have also played a large role in the success of Pup Running.
“I have seen our kids enjoy the opportunity to spend time outside of the classroom having fun, being healthy, and starting new relationships,” said Kathy Olssen, College Wood Elementary principal and Pup Running executive board member.
All 11 schools have a team coached by a parent. The schools help recruit coaches, train runners, form the teams and host after-school practices.
“Pup Running registers the individual runners, organizes the meets, and recruits event volunteers,” Mohler said.
The program has grown from 385 members in its inaugural spring season to 692 members during last fall’s cross-country season. Eighty percent of current high school runners were members of Pups, but the organization works with all types of talent.
“We are here for every kid,” Mohler said.
A positive atmosphere
In addition to building physical strength, Pup Running Inc. strives to provide a positive social and emotional experience and bring individual strengths of the runners to the surface.
“It’s an exciting way for fourth and fifth graders to have a healthy lifestyle, age-appropriate practice and minimal pressure to perform,” Olssen said.
Coaches inspire individual runners to compete against themselves by setting new personal best times and trying to be better than the day before. Coaches try to create an atmosphere of encouragement and connection.
“I think the best part of Pup Running was the atmosphere,” said Corrine Miller, a CHS sophomore who runs cross-country and track. “Everyone cheered for last place as hard as for first place.”
Open registration for the 2016 season runs through April 1. No late registration will be accepted. Participation is open to all Carmel Clay School fifth- and sixth-grade students with a cost of $8 to participate. For more information, visit www.puprunning.org.
2016 Pup Running schedule
All events are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.
April 28 at Carmel Middle School
May 5 at Carmel Middle School
May 12 at Carmel High School
Cross country schedule
Sept. 13 at Northview Church
Sept. 20 at Northview Church
Sept. 27 at Northview Church