Young Athletes Ready & Set to Run in the 5K

Photo | Pam Schipper On a hot evening in late July, Ready, Set, Run athletes and coach warm up in Bohrer Park.

Photo | Pam Schipper
On a hot evening in late July, Ready, Set, Run athletes and coach warm up in Bohrer Park.

Every Tuesday and Thursday evening since June 18, a dedicated group of young athletes has been training with Coach Dustin Campion to run in the Aug. 31 Kentlands/Lakelands 5K. The City of Gaithersburg’s Ready, Set, Run program, launched in 2014 by the Department of Parks, Recreation & Culture, meets at Bohrer Park. This year, 18 athletes ages 6 to 14 are enrolled, including Campion’s 10-year-old son.

Campion started with the program in 2018 when last year’s coach had an injury that required surgery. “It was at the very end of the program that I took over,” he said. “I met the kids at the race.” He continued with Parks & Rec into the fall and winter. “I do some running anyway, so after the 5K, they had me coach the cross-country program,” he said modestly.

Campion is an ultra-marathoner who came in 7th place in the May 18 and 19 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile run, which he ran in just under 24 hours, and—more recently—he took on the Catoctin 50K Trail Run in 105-degree heat, which he completed in around seven hours.

Ready, Set, Run Assistant Coach Alexey Tomon, who just graduated from Gaithersburg High School and is a cross-country runner, said, “I look up to him as a runner because he runs tons of miles … and his mile time is fantastic.”

Campion uses all of his experience to prepare his runners to meet their goals. In addition to his own experience as a runner—he would email his cross-country athletes with information on what he would wear in the rain and cold, as well as his take on the best running shoes—he has logged years coaching his son’s football and lacrosse teams.

But despite having “a ton of on-the-field experience,” he wanted “to make sure that what I’m showing kids is the right thing.”

So, this year he became a certified running coach and is currently studying health and exercise science at Frederick Community College while working as a personal trainer at the Frederick YMCA. He remembers not wanting to run as a kid, so he knew he had to make the Ready, Set, Run 5K training program fun. Beyond the built-in excitement of running through a park with flocks of Canadian geese, his young athletes collect a rubber band each time they run a loop. At the end of the evening, kids turn in their rubber bands and Campion logs their miles. “Kids like collecting things,” he said. “It gives them a
little bit of an incentive.”

The program is not competitive, and Campion urges the athletes to do their best. On the first day, he told the kids, “You guys can walk, run, skip, jog, crawl, whatever you want to do. … You can come back and you can sit, we keep water here, … whatever you want to do.”

He designed the 12 weeks as a periodization program, meaning that athletes slowly progress their time up and build endurance each week, with a cutback week midway through for a brief respite and renewal, and a final two-week taper when athletes work on intensity over endurance. Campion tracks progress on a spreadsheet, and he is proud of his athletes’ steady improvement.

“I don’t really push anybody for effort,” Campion said. “They all push themselves and they do a phenomenal job of it.”

Campion said that all of his athletes should be able to complete the 5K in 50 minutes or less. “I hope I’m giving the kids the best training,” he said. “I like the program here so much.”