There are plenty of reasons kids get into running: exposure to your training, watching the Olympics (hey, dream big!), idolizing an older sibling, etc. And there are plenty of reasons kids should run, especially in our current culture of skyrocketing screen-and-sofa time with little to no physical activity.
But before your child starts any kind of structured running, make sure it’s cleared by the pediatrician. Kids don’t generally develop a mature running gait until around age 5, so for the sake of injury prevention, wait at least until kindergarten. And upgrade those Disney sneaks to the pint-sized version of your adult trainers; growing feet need cushioning, stability and a quality fit.
To keep little ones psyched about the sport and make it something they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives, running should be:
Fun. If your kid files running in the same mental category as unloading the dishwasher or taking out the trash, it’s probably not going to develop into a long-lasting love. It should never feel like a drag or a punishment, and it should (mostly) be self-led. Don’t cattle-prod your child out the door. Offer tons of encouragement. Come up with exciting incentives, like handing out a bracelet for each lap around the track. Make it a game or a relay. Let your child pretend he’s the Flash or Lightning McQueen.
Simple. Kids don’t need complicated training plans with Tempo Tuesdays and Fartlek Fridays and Long Run Sundays. If they’re getting out and running/walking for 30 to 60 minutes several times a week, they’re doing awesome.
Safe. Keep an eye not only on your child’s actual activity, but on recovery as well. Loads of sleep, adequate hydration and good, nutritious foods are especially important. And try to relegate the running to parks, tracks, trails and fields – even your backyard – to avoid both cars and excessive pounding on hard surfaces. If anything hurts, stay away from over-the-counter pain medications. Ice, rest, and see a doctor if it’s a persistent ache.
Low volume, low intensity. When it comes to kids’ running, it’s all about participation and having a good time. Speed should be a non-issue, and walking should be encouraged. A half-hour to an hour three to four times a week, even as part of playing games, is the perfect amount of exercise to keep your child engaged, active and healthy while avoiding burnout.
Let’s face it, kids are naturally competitive. From games of tag at recess to Mario Kart marathons on the weekends to “who can eat the most chicken nuggets” at lunchtime, they’ll challenge each other to almost anything. And with today’s jam-packed schedules, some running parents might feel guilty about the time their training takes away from their families, especially when it involves leaving the kids behind to travel to races.
So what’s the solution? Get them involved! Running and racing offer an outlet for active youngsters while encouraging them to pursue healthy, positive goals. There are a number of ways to include your kids in your running life:
Fun runs: Tons of races – from local 5Ks to big-name marathons – now offer a family-friendly component, whether it takes place the day before the big event or on the same morning. These can range from toddler-style 50-yard dashes to one-mile runs for older children. Kids get bibs and finisher’s medals (what kid doesn’t love a medal?), and you get to share the thrill of your big day with your little one. Timed or untimed, the emphasis isn’t on winning but on fun, fitness and health, as well as an awesome sense of accomplishment.
Google races in your area to see if any feature additional non-competitive events that encourage youth and family participation.
Serious runs: Kids are natural runners with boundless amounts of energy (those little punks), and it’s feasible that they can cover the 5k or 10k distance with relative ease (the jury is still out on whether or not young legs should be tackling the half-marathon or marathon). If your child runs regularly, either with you or while practicing for other sports, and shows an interest in running, why not sign the two of you up for a local event? There’s an 18 and under age group for a reason, after all.
Keep in mind, though, that the goal should be on having a blast doing something healthy while also staying totally safe. Make sure your child knows it’s okay to walk or not to finish, and be willing to scale back or drop out with them if need be. It also couldn’t hurt to check with your pediatrician before the race.
Stroller runs: Some races discourage or outright prohibit the use of strollers on the course for safety reasons, while others offer special start times for stroller runners or encourage them to line up in the back of the pack to avoid getting caught up in the immediate first-mile congestion. If your little one wants to be involved in your running but isn’t ready to tackle a race on foot, stroller-friendly races can be a great option. Don’t expect to PR pushing 40+ pounds and handing out fruit snacks every hundred yards, but do expect to get in a fun, fantastic workout that your kiddo can enjoy, too.
When it comes to running with kids, the most important thing is to allow them to go at their own pace – literally and figuratively. Encouraging a burgeoning interest in the sport is awesome; just make sure they never feel pressured. Running should always be something they want to do, never something they have to do*.
*Except for running the mile in gym class. Sorry kids, that’s a rite of passage.
Fun Running Facts
From the surprising to the speedy to the sort-of-gross, here are some interesting facts about our favorite sport:
Human feet can produce a pint of sweat a day.
When we run, our heart creates enough pressure to squirt blood up to 30 feet.
Fastest land animal: Cheetah (70 mph)
Slowest land animal: Garden snail (.03 mph)
Average Men's Marathon Finishing Times (USA): 4:26
Average Women's Marathon Finishing Times (USA): 4:52
Fastest marathon wearing a suit and tie? Not Justin Timberlake: Adam Campbell, with a time of 2:35.
Celebrity marathon runners include Oprah, Sean “P-Diddy” Combs, Will Ferrell, Katie Holmes, Ed Norton, Ryan Reynolds, Alanis Morissette and Al Roker.
Oldest Marathoner: Fauja Singh, age 101, in 2012
Youngest Marathoner: Budhia Singh, completed 48 marathons before the age of 5
Runners who wear red clothing are more likely to win races than athletes dressed in any other color.
Over one billion pairs of running shoes are sold each year…
But South African runner Zola Bud won two IAAF cross-country titles while running barefoot.
An average man has enough stored energy to run non-stop at 15 mph for three consecutive days.
The first Olympic Marathon, held in 1896 in Athens, Greece, was 24.8 miles. Slackers!