Our Approach

Girls on the Run® councils across the United States and Canada serve girls in their local communities under the umbrella of our parent organization, Girls on the Run International. Our 24-lesson curriculum is designed for 3rd – 8th grade girls and combines training for a 5k run with lessons that inspire them to recognize and honor their individual strengths and talents and to celebrate their inner selves. The culminating event of the 12-week season is the opportunity for the girls to participate in a non-competitive 5K running event. For most of the girls, this is the first time that they have ever attempted a physical goal of this magnitude and completion of the 5k provides an incredible feeling of strength and a real sense of accomplishment.

The curriculum is designed to aid and support girls in their emotional, physical, social and intellectual development.


Girls on the Run promotes physical, emotional, social and intellectual development in 3rd through 8th grade girls. The girls complete the 12-week program with a stronger sense of identity, greater self-confidence, a healthier body image and a better knowledge of what it means to be a member of a team and a community.

Curriculum Structure

Each of the twenty four Girls on the Run sessions adheres to a formal structure that combines physical activities with experiential learning activities.

Every session begins with a getting-on-board and warm-up activity that brings the girls’ focus to the lesson topic. The warm-up is followed by a stretching routine that allows for question and answer time and deeper discussions around the topic. A work-out game follows, where the girls participate in a variety of running activities that incorporate individual or team goals. This is followed by a wrap-up that includes cool-down stretching and final discussion. Each session closes with positive words from the team coach regarding individual and group behaviors.

Sample Lesson

Academic Evaluation:

Girls on the Run International has evaluated program efficacy since 2002 when Rita Debate, Ph.D., MPH, CHES, developed a formal evaluation tool entitled “Girls on the Run: An Assessment of Self-Esteem, Body Image and Eating Attitudes.” Several preliminary descriptive and quasi-experimental studies have been conducted since that time – specific information and findings are included below.

Phase I: Pilot Study
A pilot assessment of Girls on the Run was implemented in 2002 using a one group pre-post-test design.[1]Girls on the Run program participants from 28 program sites (n=322) in 5 geographic areas representing a range of metropolitan areas and SES were assessed. A self-report survey including the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale[2], the child/adolescent version of the Silhouette Ratings Scale[3], and an adapted version of the Children’s Eating Attitudes Test (ChEAT)[4] was used to assess self-esteem, body size satisfaction, and eating attitudes and behaviors.  Pre- to post-test improvements were significant (p<.05) for self-esteem, eating attitudes and behaviors, and body size satisfaction.

Phase II: Preliminary Study.
Building upon the pilot study, a more expansive study was implemented in2005 using a convenience sample of 20 councils representing four geographic areas using a non-experimental, single-group pre-post- intervention design of Girls on the Run and Girls on Track (n=1034).[5, 6] Participants completed a self-report survey including the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale[2] to assess global self-esteem, the child/adolescent version of the Schematic Figural Scale[3] to assess body image, one question from the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey[7] to assess vigorous physical activity frequency, and an adapted version of the Commitment to Physical Activity Scale (CPAS).[8] Statistically significant pre-post improvements (p>.01) occurred for self-esteem, body size satisfaction, and vigorous physical activity frequency within the last week.[9] An increase in overall commitment to PA also occurred as well as a decrease in negative attitudes towards PA. Both before and after the intervention, vigorous PA frequency was significantly correlated to PA commitment (p<0.01).[8]

When stratified by number of times participating in the program, first time participants saw significant (p<.01) gains in self-esteem, body size satisfaction, commitment to physical activity, and PA frequency. Similarly, second time participants had significant increases in self-esteem, body size satisfaction, and PA frequency. Girls who participated in the program three or more times did not show any significant changes from pre- to post-intervention.[9] When stratified by age (≤10 years old; >11 years) both groups had statistically significant pre- to post-intervention differences (p<.01) in self-esteem, body size satisfaction, and PA frequency. Older girls also had increased commitment to PA.[9] Results indicated two key findings. First, participation in the Girls on the Run and Girls on Track programs observed increases in commitment to be physically active; this is particularly important because commitment is an important determinant of long-term physical activity maintenance.[10-12]Second, findings indicated age-related differences in physical activity commitment scores. More specifically, pre-intervention commitment scores were lower among older girls compared to those ≤10 years of age. However, physical activity commitment scores significantly increased from pre- to post- intervention in 11-15 year old girls. These results are valuable as physical activity declines in girls occur as early as late elementary school. Results from this study were presented at the annual meetings for the American Public Health Association, Eating Disorders Research Society, Society for Behavioral Medicine, and the American Academy of Health Behavior.

Phase III:
Quasi-experimental study. A longitudinal quasi-experimental study was implemented in 2009 to evaluate Girls on the Run intervention effects among 877 participants categorized into one of three groups (never, newly, and previously exposed to the intervention). A 64-item self-report survey measured participant psychological and physical assets at three time-points. Nested random effects ANOVA models were used to compare demographic factors and psychological and physical assets between exposure groups and to compare longitudinal differences in these developmental assets. After adjustment for multiple comparisons, previous program participants had significantly higher physical activity commitment (p<.01) and physical activity levels (p<.05) at pre-intervention than never exposed. From pre- to post-intervention body image improved in never and newly exposed participants, which persisted through follow-up in the comparison group. Physical activity increased from pre-intervention to follow-up among never and newly exposed participants (all p<.05).

Phase IV:
Longitudinal study. Drs. Maureen Weiss and Rita DeBate are in the process of developing a rigorous and longitudinal study design to determine the effectiveness of Girls on the Run having a significant positive effect on positive youth development outcomes, including physical (activity frequency, intensity, duration), psychological (e.g., body image, self-esteem, intrinsic motivation), and social assets (e.g., positive adult and peer relationships, resistance to peer pressure to engage in risky behaviors) and health promoting behaviors and outcomes.

DeBate, R.D. and S.H. Thompson, Girls on the Run: Improvements in self-esteem, body size satisfaction and eating attitudes/behaviors. Eating and Weight Disorders, 2005. 10: p. 25-32.

Wylie, R., Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSE). Measures of self-concept.1989, University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln. p. 24-35.

Collins, M., Body figure perceptions and preferences among preadolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 1991. 10: p. 199-208.

Maloney, M., J. McGuire, and S. Daniels, Reliability testing of a children’s version  of the Eating Attitudes Test. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1988. 27: p. 541-543.

DeBate, R.D., Y. Zhang, and S.H. Thompson, Changes in commitment to PA among 8-to11-year-old girls participating in a curriculum-based running program. American Journal of Health Education, 2007.38(5): p. 277-284.

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.