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Fitness off to a fast start in city’s Great Train Race



Some talented tykes took to racing immediately, their legs still pumping as they crossed the finish line.

Other reluctant runners had to be coaxed through Sunday’s Great Train Race. And a few terrified toddlers screamed

from start to finish during the Caboose Run for children ages 5 and under.

From the fierce runners to the fussy walkers, the youth races are meant to instill a love of fitness, said Jim Thull, one of the event’s three directors.

It worked for his daughter, who is now 25 and doesn’t want her name published because of her job in law enforcement.

As a child, she always looked forward to the Great Train Race, and she ran her first marathon at 15. She’s since run more than 20 marathons and has also completed longer endurance races.

Running is a great sport to introduce to children because it requires only sneakers, said Peggy Scott, a physical education teacher at Ferry Farm Elementary School in Stafford County.

“It’s a lifetime activity, that they can always do,” Scott said.

Ferry Farm educators encouraged about 120 students to compete in the Great Train Race on Sunday. Nearly every heat that included elementary school-aged children featured several sporting the school’s trademark tie-dyed red, white and blue T-shirts.

Administrators, teachers and guidance counselors came out to cheer on the Ferry Farm students, lining part of the race course, waving pom–poms and ringing cowbells.

The school’s runners included fifth-grader Ellen Pataky and her older sister, Brooke. Both discovered a passion for running while participating in Ferry Farm’s running club, which now has about 130 members.

In two weeks, the sisters will compete in the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon.

Mom, Colleen, was shocked when the girls first asked to run a 13.1-mile race, but they have worked hard training for the event.

And their love for racing has rubbed off on their parents. Recently, the family competed in a 10K in Richmond; Colleen and her husband, John, walked the course while the girls ran.

“Ferry Farm sparked their love of exercise and eating right and being healthy,” Colleen said. “And it brushes off on us as parents, too.”

There’s no way of knowing how many other runners got their start during the Great Train Race in the past 19 years. The race began in 1995.

Sunday marked the 20th time the race has taken place, and organizers wanted to do something special. So they created the George Dashington fun run, an untimed race that was led by George and Martha Washington. Participants each got a tricorn hat with some curly gray hair.

Mother Nature handed the race organizers another change, when flooding last week detoured the race’s usual course.

Thursday, the finish line was under about 10 feet of water, Thull said. So he emailed Karen Hedelt, director of economic development and tourism for the city of Fredericksburg.

Race organizers and city officials came up with a game plan to move the race a few blocks into the residential part of the city, Thull said.

“It came together, and everyone was very responsive and agreed on an option,” Thull said.

The runners had few complaints about the change in course—except for the few toddlers who screamed at the starting line.

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973