Who Says You Shouldn't Run From Your Problems?

Not Vasque. In fact, the footwear brand is encouraging preteen girls to lace up their sneaks and leave petty gossip and self-esteem issues in the dust.

By Kristen Pope July 19, 2016

It’s barely 8 a.m., but the music is already pumping and 20 or so preteen girls are gathering for a Zumba warm-up. After a couple rounds of the fun dance workout, they spend a few minutes decorating their “happy hair,” spraying it pink or green or other fun colors. Clad in Girls on the Run t-shirts, the girls split into small teams and add distinctive flair to their attire—donning everything from tutus to matching headbands—before they take their positions at the starting line with their adult mentors or “race buddies.”

At 9:15 a.m., the start gun fires. Some girls stroll with their grandmothers while others run as fast as they can to the finish of the 5k course. “We don’t put a lot of emphasis on time, we just put an emphasis on completion,” says Joanne Pohl, the Girls on the Run leader in Bluff County, Minnesota. The run usually ends by 11 a.m., when everyone gathers together for an awards ceremony.

“We don’t put a lot of emphasis on time, we just put an emphasis on completion.” —Joanne Pohl, the Girls on the Run leader in Bluff County, Minnesota.

This is just one chapter of the international Girls on the Run network that includes 200 councils across the U.S. and Canada that aim to teach self-esteem, goal setting and physical fitness through structured, organized 11-week running programs. Outdoor Industry Association member brand Vasque—a footwear brand within the Red Wing Shoe Company that is based in Bluff County—nominated Girls on the Run Bluff County to receive a portion of the funds raised at the 2015 Outsiders Ball.

The Outdoor Foundation’s Outsiders Ball takes place on August 2nd, 2016, in Salt Lake City, night 0 of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. The purpose? To galvanize the industry around the most critical cause of getting youth outside and active. To date, the ball has funded more than 300 projects like this one, helping nearly 40,000 youth connect with the outdoors. To learn more about or get involved with the 2016 Outsiders Ball, contact Ryan Lauer.

In 2015, Girls on the Run International served its millionth participant.

“It has a real party atmosphere,” says Joanne Pohl of the 5k event. “We encourage as many spectators as possible.”

The fun run is the culmination of months’ worth of effort. “The 5k is a capstone, what the girls have been working toward for the entire program,” says Pohl. “We make it a real celebration.”

MN Mag PicMost of the girls have never participated in a running event, and many have never done a competitive sport. “They will say they never thought they would be able to participate in a 5k run,” says Pohl. “They really surprise themselves when they learn that just by setting small, incremental goals, they’re really able to, over time, achieve great things. That’s the philosophy of Girls on the Run, to help girls understand they can have big dreams and, by a process of preparation and goal-setting, they can achieve [them].”

But Girls on the Run is more than just a single morning’s event. The program focuses on character development for girls in grades three through seven. Over an 11-week season, the girls attend two 90-minute afterschool sessions per week where, in addition to prepping for the 5k, they focus on a variety of social and emotional topics including team-building and self-esteem.

“These are important developmental topics and not the kind of material they learn or even discuss in school,” Pohl says.

A typical after-school session begins with roll call and a healthy snack, typically fresh fruit or vegetables—including foods such as kiwi and cauliflower that may be unfamiliar. Then the group delves into the day’s main lesson. To learn a lesson about gossiping, for example, the girls take turns squeezing toothpaste out of a tube and then attempting to put it back in. The point: Once you put negative messages out there, it’s impossible to roll them back. Next, the girls do a fun workout, such as a relay or scavenger hunt followed by stretching and strengthening exercises and a short training run. After all those activities, it’s time to return to the day’s main lesson topic with another activity, such as “The Telephone Game,” to illustrate how quickly and easily rumors can spread and escalate.

The program has a positive effect on girls who participate. Vasque Marketing Manager Julie Quinn has a special connection to the program: Her daughter participated in it.

“It’s very beneficial to girls for their self-esteem and to introduce some of them for the first time to running as a form of self-soothing or self-regulation,” Quinn says. “It’s a great program. Part of Vasque’s mission is to support our community. That was a real opportunity to give back to them.”

Q&A with Joanne Pohl, Girls on the Run of Bluff Country

OIA: Why is this such an important program? 

JP: The program offers important health and lifestyle information to young girls who aren’t necessarily exposed to that kind of a curriculum. It’s critical for these young girls to have that kind of a knowledge base to prepare them for real and important lifestyle decisions they’ll face in adolescence.

OIA: What impact does this program have on participating youth?

JP: We always receive evaluation statements both from the girls themselves and their parents. Generally speaking, the evaluations and reviews are always highly positive. The parents talk about transformative changes in their daughters’ attitudes about fitness and about health. The girls themselves report they have a more positive attitude around fitness. We generally work with girls who are not otherwise athletic and who aren’t involved in organized sports. They learn that being physically fit and physically active can really be fun.


The Outdoor Foundation’s Outsiders Ball takes place on August 2nd, 2016, in Salt Lake City, night 0 of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. The purpose? To galvanize the industry around the most critical cause of getting youth outside and active. To date, the ball has funded more than 300 projects like this one, helping nearly 40,000 youth connect with the outdoors. To learn more about or get involved with the 2016 Outsiders Ball, contact Ryan Lauer.