HAMPDEN, Maine — More than 1,000 girls across the state of Maine, from Saco to Presque Isle, are learning about friendship, how to combat bullying, and more, all while training for a 5K race.

It's happening through a program called "Girls on the Run." It's a national program that has gained significant traction in Maine over the past few years. 

Its mission is to inspire girls to be happy, healthy, and confident, and it accomplishes that through a curriculum which incorporates running.

One team of girls (3rd through 5th grade) at Weatherbee Elementary School describes the atmosphere of Girls on the Run as warm and inviting.

Alleigh Stansauk says, "It's a nice environment for girls to run."

Lucy Withee agrees, saying, "Usually everyone is really happy and cheering each other on. It's just kind of fun, no one is really racing."

Before the girls get running, they sit down together for 30 minutes of classroom activity. The classroom curriculum focuses on friendship, anti-bullying, and positive thinking. 

"I learn new things like not to gossip and stand up to bullies and make new friends," says Withee.

These girls have knowledge and an outlook many of us probably wish we had in our middle school days.

Maddie Hellum says, "It has helped me with some problems with friendships and other people's friendships because they come to me for advice."

Program leader at Weatherbee Elementary School Tricia Richardson says, "How to be a good friend and how to take care of yourself mentally, physically and emotionally-- that is the real message of girls on the run!"

Tricia Richardson, who teaches the gifted and talented programs in RSU22, brought the girls on the run program to Weatherbee Elementary School 5 years ago. She is intensely passionate about her work.

"I just can't say enough about the importance of this program for young girls to give them the confidence they need to navigate through their middle and high school years and their whole lives."

The girls on the run program has grown so much across the state in the past few years that it has expanded its 5K race to two locations for the first time. 

There was a race at St. Josephs College in Standish on Sunday, June 2. There will be another race Sunday, June 9 at Husson University in Bangor. The girls of Weatherbee Elementary will run at Husson.