What Makes Us Different?


It Is More Than a Running Program!

Girls on the Run includes running — or walking, skipping and anything in between — but we are SO much more than a running program!

Girls on the Run is the first of an entirely new type of recreation program that combines physical training for a non-competitive 3.1 mile running event with warm-ups, team-building activities, discussions and workouts age-appropriate to 3rd-8th grade girls. It is is a physical activity-based positive youth development program – or PA-PYD – designed to develop and enhance girls’ social, psychological, and physical competencies to successfully navigate life experiences. These competencies are most often referred to as life skills. Some skills include how to get along in a group, how to assert oneself in a healthy manner, how to stop a gossip chain and how to combat the negative and unattainable images young girls see in the media. A PA-PYD program has the content, structure, training, and motivating elements that promote healthy lifestyles and prevent unhealthy and risky behaviors.

“Many of my experiences with Girls on the Run were very helpful in the problems I faced in life and also helped me be… ME. I had many problems and I think without girls on the run, I would still be going through them now. Like, when we all did the emotions lesson. That helped me get over the death of my grandma 5 months ago. Also, the lesson on bullying helped me get through a bullying situation at school.” -Heaven, age 10

Nationally Developed Curriculum

The Girls on the Run Curriculum has been carefully developed through years of research, evidence, and experience.

The 24-lesson Girls on the Run curriculum combines training for a 5K (3.1 miles) running event with lessons that inspire girls to become independent thinkers, enhance their problem solving skills and make healthy decisions.

The curriculum focuses on three main themes: understanding ourselves, valuing relationships and teamwork and understanding how we connect with and shape the world at large. These themes are based on research regarding the challenges and issues facing adolescent girls. They are designed to build the resiliency and life skills girls need to face those challenges head-on.

Over the course of the program, girls will develop and improve competence, feel confidence in who they are, develop strength of character, respond to others and oneself with care and compassion, create positive connections with peers and adults, and make a meaningful contribution to community and society.


“I coach to help shape future girls/women who love themselves truly – mind, body, soul.” -Coach LaQuana

Proven Results

Research2 shows that the Girls on the Run curricula result in improved attitudes and behaviors to a statistically significant degree.

If a girl participates in Girls on the Run:

  • She has higher self-esteem.
  • She has improved eating attitudes.
  • She has an improved body image.
  • She has a positive peer group and positive role models for her future.
  • She has an increase in commitment to physical activity.
  • She has a decrease in negative attitudes relative to physical activity.

Visit the Evaluations Page on our website to find out more about the past and current academic evaluations undertaken by Dr. Rita DeBate, Ph.D., MPH, CHES, assistant professor in the department of Health Behavior at UNC-Charlotte.

Research is on-going, and findings are used to update the curricula regularly.

“I was so impressed with the lessons learned and even witnessed her use them in real life.  It also has sparked a desire to run in her. I have never been a runner/excerciser in my life and I trained with her in the Fall because she asked me to be her running buddy.  A program that can motivate our family to be healthy together is well worth it.” -GOTR parent

Why Girls Only?

A program just for girls addresses topics particularly relevant to elementary and middle-school aged girls in a safe and supportive environment.

Girls typically have to deal with different issues than boys:

  • Among girls, an emphasis on popularity and slimness along with increased television viewing are linked to low self-esteem.3
  • Girls as young as five form negative self-images based on their weight.3
  • Almost two-thirds of girls in 5th-12th grades are dissatisfied with their body shape, which is a predictor of depression.3
  • Feelings of anxiousness about how others view one’s body are higher in adolescent girls than boys.1
  • Cultural definitions of girls still exist which dictate that girls should be inactive and unskilled at physical activity and sports.1
  • The objectification of girls and young women, including female athletes, continues to influence girls’ self-esteem, body image, and valuation of physical activity.1

Fortunately, research1 also shows that:

  • Adolescent females on sports teams have higher self-esteem than non-participating females and girls typically associate body image with self-esteem.
  • Certain aspects of sport participation such as social, fitness, and group dynamics are particularly valued by girls.

For girls, physical activity is essential! Not only does physical activity promote health, but it also facilitates the development of social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, physical, and moral competencies, as well as resiliency, self-efficacy, identity and civic engagement. We are committed to changing the gender stereotypes that still persist and influence the extent to which girls participate in or shun physical activity.

“I love to see how the girls grow in their friendships with one another.  They truly support one another and encourage each other.  The curriculum builds them up and encourages them to open up and talk and share their feelings.  It’s amazing to watch these girls grow in their running.  Their faces when they run their first mile, two or three is priceless they are so proud of themselves and each other.” -Coach Heather

Why This Age Group?

GOTR is best suited for prevention purposes for girls between the ages of 8 and 13 years old.

This is a time when children are still receptive to what adults have to say, yet they are beginning to feel the pull of peer pressure. Studies show that around the time of 5th grade, girls tend to go to a place that we call “The Girl Box.” The Girl Box is a place where girls feel as if they are valued more for their appearance, their friends and what kind of clothes they wear – as opposed to the strength of their character. It is the perfect time to address important personal and relationship issues to a girl – like learning how to manage her emotions, the dangers of gossiping, how and when to speak up for herself and more. This is the ideal age for girls to develop the skills for handling these issues so that each girl STAYS OUT OF THE BOX.

“The lessons they taught the girls each week brought about many discussions that may otherwise not have happened. It allowed these girls to think about things and open up to talk with adults about their thoughts and/or problems.” -GOTR parent

Coach Training and Support

Girls on the Run has an uncommon dedication to quality volunteer training and support.

We want each coach and girl to have a wonderful experience! Each coach is thoroughly trained on curriculum delivery, behavior management, and safety prior to the start of the season. This support continues throughout the season as GOTR staff remain an available resource for problem-solving and conflict management. At GOTR the safety and comfort of each participant comes first.

GOTR-Columbia is involved in ongoing evaluation to continuously improve our volunteer support and overall program quality. This includes participating in formal research and evaluation led by Dr. Aidyn Iachini, an Assistant Professor at the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina.

“This is one of the best experiences I have had working with kids. I was very hesitant to coach (mostly because I never saw myself as a “runner”). I am so glad I did and will continue to coach as long as I can. This organization is amazing, from the efficiency and communication of the GOTR staff, to the curriculum taught in practices, this is a great thing for girls.” -GOTR Coach


1 The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. Developing Physically Active Girls, 2007.
2 DeBate, R.D., et al., Changes in psychosocial factors and physical activity frequency among 3rd to 8th grade girls who participated in a developmentally focused youth sport program: A preliminary study. Journal of School Health, 2009. 79(10): p. 474-484.
3 Tiggemann, M. (2001). The impact of adolescent girls’ life concerns and leisure activities on body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and self-esteem. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 162(2), 133-142.