Kayla Weidert just wanted a friend to run the half-marathon with her in the Prairie Fire Marathon race series.
What the Campus High social studies teacher ended up with is more than 80 teachers and administrators in the Haysville school district who have pledged to run with her on Sunday in either the half-marathon or the 5-kilometer race.
What began as a just-for-fun experience has turned into an inspiring one for Weidert that she thinks can grow even larger in the future. For now, the plan is to split up teachers from the nine schools in the district into four teams and turn it into a friendly competition.
“This has all been so surprising because I’ve always been of the mindset that people are either all-in for running or can’t stand it,” Weidert said. “But once you talk to them in person and tell them about the benefits, it was really easy.
“If you work at Campus High School, you probably walk one mile a day. The race is just 3.1 miles. That’s just three one-mile repeats. It’s an easy, fun way to get in shape.”
What Weidert was doing became so popular that the buzz reached all the way to USD 261 superintendent Dr. John Burke, who is an avid runner. He was taken by the idea and told Weidert he would do whatever he could for support.
Along with Russell Herman, the high school cross country coach, Weidert has devised a points system that will reward the teams for participation on Sunday. Runners will score two points for their team for completing the 5-kilometer and five for the half-marathon, while the top times in each race will earn an additional five points.
Burke offered to sweeten the incentive, as he pledged gift cards to a restaurant in Haysville as the prize for the winning team.
“It fits so well into our wellness plan and it gets everybody excited about getting outside and moving,” Burke said. “We’re all really looking forward to it. When you see those bright yellow shirts, you’ll know it’s Haysville.”
Weidert made the yellow shirts for every participant. They are emblazoned with the district’s mission statement: “A relentless pursuit of excellence.”
What Weidert has done has reached further than just Haysville. Bob Hanson, the race director of the Prairie Fire Marathon race series, heard what was going on and also immediately pledged his support.
Hanson will be providing a tent for all of the Haysville runners on Sunday and thinks Weidert’s plan could take off after other area school districts hear about it.
“I want this to motivate some of the other schools and let them see what we can do for them and I think it could be a great competition,” Hanson said. “They could be really great role models for these young people. But it’s got to take someone with that drive to organize it like Kayla has done. You’ve got to give her the credit for making this happen.”
Weidert deflected the credit for how big her idea has become, but there’s no denying that without her leg work it would not be possible. A former Wichita State athlete and current cross country and track assistant coach, Weidert says she has been motivated to see how many teachers are planning on using Sunday as a starting point for running.
“You don’t have to run an All-American time to call yourself a runner,” Weidert said. “There are people from all walks of life, all different shapes and sizes that are wanting to get into shape. It’s so awesome to see how many people are willing to do this.”
When: Half marathon 7:30 a.m. Sunday, 5K at 7:50 a.m.
Where: races start and finish at 455 S. Wichita St.
Runners to watch
The defending champion is back after beginning his competitive racing career last year as a 29-year-old with a handful of notable victories across the country. The Junction City resident, originally from Uganda, has used his strong debut season to springboard into becoming the premier male distance runner in Kansas. Kosgei qualified for the USA Cross Country Championships earlier this year and finished 36th, and has won several local events already this year.
After finishing runner-up in the spring half-marathon in 2013 and winning the fall 5-kilometer race in 2014, Rusanowsky enters Sunday’s half-marathon as the favorite in the female division. She has won several races at shorter distances on the local circuit, but the 35-year-old Wichita native will be looking to take down her first marquee half-marathon title on Sunday.
Steven, a 53-year-old Wichita native, has run in more than 100 marathons, all since 2004, when she returned to the Wichita running scene after a 13-year absence. Steven ran in the 5-kilometer race last spring, winning her age group by more than a minute and finishing third overall in the female division.
After finishing runner-up in his age division in last fall’s half-marathon, Bing, a 63-year-old Wichita native, figures to once again be in the mix for one of the top spots among the male age-graded masters winners. Bing has carved out a reputation as one of Wichita’s finest triathletes and owns the second-fastest half-marathon time in Kansas history for the 60-to-64 age group at 1:29:03.