Erick Stark 8-year-old plans to run the Bayshore Half Marathon this weekend

Eric Stark’s races begin with a pizza dinner and the Stark family pre-run motto: “We are going to do our best and have fun.”

The Kingsley 8-year-old’s been running — and placing — in fun runs, 5ks and 10ks since he was 3. But his biggest challenge yet comes Saturday — the Bayshore Half-Marathon. The 13.1-mile race kicks off at 7:30 a.m. just south of Bowers Harbor Park, And Eric is ready.

“For training, I’ve ran eight miles and 10 miles so far, and then shorter runs,” said the third-grader, who splits his time between running, schoolwork and practice with his baseball team in the Kingsley Recreational League.

His most recent race, in which he placed second for his age group, was the Interlochen Run for the Arts 5k, and last year he ran the Bayshore 10k. Eric’s age groups tend to be small — he says he competes against “mostly older people” — but that doesn’t mean he’s not competitive.

“He’s a pretty fast 8-year-old,” said Dad Chris Stark. “His times in 5ks usually place him in the top 20 racers.” Chris, a member of the Traverse City Track Club’s racing team and board of directors, started running competitively about seven years ago. Since then he’s run five marathons, including two 26.2-mile jaunts in the Boston Marathon.

“It helps keep me physically fit and helps set an example for my children — which I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job at,” Chris said. “And it helps with my mental health — it helps clear my mind and ease some stress of the day.”

He often runs races at his son’s side, and will for Saturday’s half. Lately, though, Eric’s made it through several 5ks and 10ks on his own. It’s a natural next step — Eric started with 1-mile races as a toddler. He ran his first 5k at 5 years old.

“He was one of those kids who didn’t bother walking — he started running right away,” Chris said. “We figured we should channel that.”

The pair carve out time to train a few times a week, joined by longer runs on the weekends. Both run, too, with the Track Club, It’s a family matter.

“My wife is a pretty avid runner and my 6-year-old daughter has been doing 5ks as well — she’s definitely getting the itch to join us,” Chris said.

posted Friday May 24th