New Albany resident Katie Baker always has included her boys, Maddox, 8, Bentley, 7, and Braxton, 5, in her training for marathons.

Now the boys are working to complete their own marathon -- one that could hold up to the social-distancing standard amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The Baker family and other New Albany residents are participating in the New Albany Kids Marathon, a free virtual marathon in which participants accumulate 26.2 miles from April 1 through May 31.

The goal is to keep children active during socializing while avoiding risks associated with the virus. Instead of jogging with friends and classmates, they exercise in several ways with family members, with each exercise being an equivalent to a marathon mile.

The event is held by nonprofit Healthy New Albany in partnership with the city of New Albany, New Albany-Plain Local School District and Nationwide Children's Hospital, said Healthy New Albany founder Phil Heit.

Those interested may sign up anytime.

Participation is growing, Heit said. As of April 10, 527 youths had registered, he said. By April 16, 570 had signed up.

He said he had the idea for a virtual marathon over a year ago. But although they typically are done as a way to raise funds, this one is designed to help families who are growing weary of social distancing, he said.

"This would be an innovative approach to keeping kids physically active," he said.

Youths could download a journal from nakidsmarathon.com to log miles, Heit said. To improve family connectedness in addition to healthful practices, participants are allowed to log up to 3 miles per day, he said.

The downloadable log offers an activity conversion guide. A mile of credit could be 20 minutes of walking or running or 2,000 steps, 15 minutes of biking; 10 minutes of moving in a wheelchair or 25 minutes of swimming.

Completion is on an honor system, Heit said. After submitting a marathon completion form, families are mailed magnets and stickers, he said.

Amy Valasek, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics within Nationwide Children's Hospital's sports-medicine division, said the marathon provides an opportunity for families to encourage their children to exercise while much of the world is on hold.

"We believe as a hospital in supporting healthy activity and kids," Valasek said.

Although lives have changed dramatically with social and physical distancing, exercise recommendations remain the same, Valasek said.

National guidelines recommend 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day, seven days a week for ages 5 to 18, she said.

Youths participating in the virtual marathon should stick with their families as opposed to exercising with friends and try to go outside during less busy periods of the day, Valasek said.

Baker said she and her boys will log at least 3 miles a day; her husband, Scott, joins them on weekends. Although Maddox, Bentley and Braxton were accustomed to their mother's training calendar taped to the bathroom mirror, the boys now get to keep track of their own miles, Baker said.

"This is a huge deal for them," she said.

Maddox Baker said he and his brothers run with their mother every morning.

His brother, Bentley, said he likes spending "a whole lot of time" with her in the mornings.

Their brother, Braxton, said he likes running and riding his bike.

"Sometimes I do both. I start with my bike and leave it on the white fence, do a little run and come back and finish off by picking up my bike," he said. "That's a whole lot of exercise."

Maddox said he is looking forward to getting prizes when the virtual marathon concludes.

"That makes it fun," he said.

New Albany resident Kim Wintersteller also said she and husband Jason try to get outside regularly with their children, Emma, 13, and Drew, 11.

Being outside now helps bring some normalcy to their lives during the pandemic, Wintersteller said, and it's important for mental and physical health.

Exercise can be fun, too. One day the family walked to get milkshakes, Wintersteller said. Another day they went on a bike ride and hid painted rocks in their neighborhood.

The virtual marathon, she said, is just one more way to get the family outside in the neighborhood in a healthful way.

"We're very active anyway," she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah