Penquis Valley Middle School contingent to run in Sunday’s Girls on the Run–Maine 5K

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MILO — On Sunday morning a group of seven Penquis Valley Middle School girls and four coaches, together comprising what they believe is the only “Heart and Sole” team in Piscataquis County, will be traveling to the Pineland YMCA in New Gloucester to join their peers from across the state in taking part in the Girls on the Run–Maine 5K. The girls are not running for competition but instead to learn values such as confidence, character, care, connections and competence as they have trained together to run the 3.1 miles.

“This is the first year we have had this program,” Heart and Sole coach and Penquis Valley Middle School grade 7-8 English/language arts teacher Brenda Kain said on Nov. 2 after the participants had their first full five kilometer training run. She said participation was open to all girls in grades 6-8, and training began mid-September with the runners getting together after school on Tuesday and Thursdays.

“It is all about self-esteem building, confidence building, overcoming middle school girls confidence issues,” Kain said, saying the Penquis Girls on the Run–Maine 5K participants also learn about conflict resolution among the lessons gained from working toward a goal of being able to cover a 5K. “We address obstacles, what gets in the way and how we need support.”

Kain said in mid-September the girls did not all know one another but now they have become friends outside of their twice weekly practices. The coach said some of the sessions involved the girls running an eighth of a mile at a time and taking part in activities related to the mission of Girls on the Run, such as answering questions leading to discussions with how to deal with being at a party with alcohol. The talks have also dealt with school and social issues, relationships, nutrition and taking care of one’s body.

“They all set lap goals, how many they are going to do and they record what they did,” Kain said. “We are hoping this will be something they really enjoy doing and it becomes a lifelong activity.”

She said the Girls on the Run–Maine 5K will be a celebration what the Penquis Valley runners and other girls across the state have worked toward. “It will be very, very exciting,” Kain said.

On the afternoon of Nov. 2 the Penquis Valley Heart and Sole girls and coaches braved occasional light rain to run five kilometers. The course included the dirt road starting behind the school building and heading down and back on Penquis Drive, and in addition to the four coaches running elementary music teacher Jack Eastman led the way on a bicycle equipped with lights. A finish line chute was set up as the girls ran the last few dozen feet of the 3.1 miles between two strings of small flags as high school students — a half dozen-plus assisted their younger peers along the route — clapped them in.

Sixth-grader Layla Chai and grade 7 student Megan Whitten crossed the finish line together, and soon after headed inside to enjoy hot chocolate in the main lobby.

The two said they had previously gotten up to running two miles at a time, and the addition of 1.1 miles was not as difficult as they thought ahead of time.

“It’s easier with friends, you get to learn and talk with them,” Whitten said.

“We will do things like running downhill and when someone’s running up hill you high five to cheer them up,” Chai said.

Whitten and Chai are both looking forward to the Nov. 12 Girls on the Run–Maine 5K. “There’s going to be girls from all over Maine,” Chai said.

Post-race each girl received a medal and a certificate for completing the 5K on their home course. Penquis Valley Heart and Sole head coach and high school English/language arts teacher Anna Loome asked each girl what was their favorite part of the day’s 5K.

Responses included “hot chocolate,” “when Ms. Loome started running with me,” “running with a buddy,” and “when I actually pushed myself today, after running it I’m really happy that I did.”

“I think my favorite thing thing was seeing your smiles when you crossed the finish line because it showed you could actually do this,” Kain told the young runners.

“Your take home challenge is tell people how you feel and how it went,” Loome said at the conclusion of the afternoon.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
GIRLS ON THE RUN — Penquis Valley Middle School seventh-grader Megan Whitten, left, and sixth-grader Layla Chai near the finish line during a practice 5K on Nov. 2 on the Milo campus. Whitten, Chai and five other middle school students and four coaches will be traveling to New Gloucester on Sunday morning as the pupils take part in the Girls on the Run–Maine 5K. The contingent from Penquis Valley will join girls from across the state who have trained to run the 3.1 miles and learned various life lessons along the way.

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