In this program, it’s not necessary to be a girl to run like one

Participants take off from the start during the 2016 Girls On The Run 5K at Lake Padden. Run Like a Girl, the autumn fund-raiser to benefit Girls on the Run and Trailblazers is Saturday, Oct. 6.
Participants take off from the start during the 2016 Girls On The Run 5K at Lake Padden. Run Like a Girl, the autumn fund-raiser to benefit Girls on the Run and Trailblazers is Saturday, Oct. 6. For The Bellingham Herald file

In Bellingham, a lot of men have learned to love to “run like a girl” one joyful day each autumn.

During the school year, hundreds of grade-school boys are finding out that learning life skills while running is not just for girls.

Here are 10 things to know about the Whatcom Family YMCA’s Girls on the Run program and its more recently developed youth counterpart, Trailblazers, which is mostly boys but also can include girls.

In charge: Jen Gallant, a well-known local master’s runner and YMCA staffer, has worked with the Girls on the Run program for more than a decade and is heading into her fifth school year as coordinator of Trailblazers, after forming the group because she thought boys would benefit just as much as girls.

Sharon Stone is now the coordinator of Girls on the Run.

Run Like a Girl: This is the name of the autumn fund-raiser, which attracts adults of all ages and teens to benefit Girls on the Run and Trailblazers. These programs cost $125, but students are not turned away, thanks to scholarships created through Run Like a Girl.

Runners can choose to do either a half-marathon (13.1 miles) or a 10K run (6.2 miles).

This year the 11th annual event is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 6. The event also serves as a celebration of running for the run-crazed community of Bellingham and other local towns.

Not a race: “The event – that’s what we call it, not a race – is capped at 350 runners for the two events combined,” Gallant says. “Entrants choose either race, so we do not have the same number of runners in each race. We urge people to register well in advance.”

Entrance fees are $70 for the half-marathon and $60 for the 10K.

“We raised $25,000 last year in Run Like a Girl,” Gallant says.

Costumes welcome: Participants in Run Like a Girl are welcome to run in all sorts of costumes, including get-ups that match one of the 13 themes in the half-marathon.

Men are welcome to display their “inner girl” by wearing tutus, Wonder Woman costumes or any other feminine creation.

The awards: Finishers in both races receive hand-made necklaces designed by Sarah Brockman of the artistic Van Beek family. The Bellingham Fire Department brings out its antique fire engine and hands out awards at Fairhaven Park.

The course: Runners use Bellingham’s Interurban Trail from Fairhaven Park to the Clayton Beach parking lot and back. The half-marathon begins at 9 a.m. and the 10K starts at 10 a.m.

Girls on the Run: This school-year program, part of a 22-year-old national program of the same name, is designed to serve girls in third, fourth and fifth grades.

There are 10-week fall courses and 10-week spring courses, both twice each week and each capped by preparing girls to finish a 5K (3.1 miles) run.

The girls not only go on runs, but have conversations and activities with adult volunteers, consisting of many age-appropriate topics pertinent to developing confidence, critical thinking skills and a work ethic.

“Each workout has a theme,” Gallant says.

Finishing is the big thing: The girls’ season-capping 5K runs are not timed, unless parents or the girls themselves wish to do so.

“What we stress for the girls is just being able to finish a 5K run (a typical high school distance),” Gallant said.

A 5K run is quite a challenge for students so young.

Trailblazers: For 10 weeks each fall and spring, three YWCA vans pick up boys (and a few girls) around Whatcom County in second, third, fourth and fifth grades.

“We choose Trailblazers as the name because boys seem to like trail running so much,” Gallant said. “The girls in Trailblazers love trail running.”

The Trailblazers also pick community projects.

High school preparation: Girls on the Run, which has about 700 participants each school year, and Trailblazers, which attracts about 750 participants, are good preparation for serious high school running.