Whether you’ve decided to make running a part of your family’s lifestyle or you’re still considering it, this series of posts offers some tips and pointers on getting your kids excited about lacing up the running shoes and hitting the trail. Remember, these tips are not just for kids. Being the “reluctant runner” that I was, I needed a few of these strategies to get started as well.*
1. Model the behaviour you want your kids to follow. If you already run, let them watch your races and get involved in cheering. Immerse them in the sport. If you’re not a runner yet, consider taking up the sport with them. It’s good family fun. I think part of the reason we started running was the steady stream of runners who pass our house every day. There came a point where we just couldn’t ignore them anymore – you start to feel really lazy just watching them. Likewise, if you expect your children to get off their butts and start moving, consider practicing what you preach, and make it part of your own lifestyle. When they see you running, they’re more likely to want to follow.
2. Start off slowly. If you run, but your child doesn’t, take her for a short, slow run. Talk to her as you run, and gauge how she is breathing. At a moderate pace, she should be able to talk, but not sing a song. At a vigorous pace, she should be able to say a few words between breaths. The folks at ParticipACTION recommend that even young children should get both moderate and vigorous activity on a regular basis (six times per week). If your child is gasping for breath, dial back the pace. If she’s successfully singing her latest One Direction fave, increase the intensity. Gradually increase distance and speed as your little runner improves. Running with Gabrielle is a treat. She chats incessantly the whole way. On walks and runs with her, we have built and re-built her Dream Tree Fort a hundred times.
Of course it’s conceivable that your child is already a bit more advanced than Mum or Dad in the fitness department. It may take some time before you can keep up with your child. If that is the case, allow your child to run a safe distance ahead of you, then run back to meet you. They are able to get a bit more distance in while you build your endurance. Older children may be able to run ahead with a friend or sibling.
3. Train in intervals. If you are, or your child is, new to running or physical activity in general, and running a whole kilometer seems daunting, break it up using run and walk intervals. In our humble opinion, run/walk intervals are the best thing that ever happened to running. Both John Stanton of the Running Room, and Jeff Galloway, coach to over 200,000 runners and walkers, endorse the run/walk method of running.
Beginners can start with whatever is comfortable. Depending on your fitness level, you may want to begin with walking. Once you and your child are comfortable with walking, try running for 30 seconds out of every five minutes. (A watch with an interval timer makes this easier to track.) After a week, increase that to one minute of running and four minutes of walking. Continue this progression until you are running four out of five minutes. Gradually increase your run intervals until you can run for ten minutes and walk for one minute. That one minute walk break provides enormous benefits. It allows you to alternate between the running and walking muscles, resulting in increased endurance, improved times, and fewer injuries than just straight running. It has enabled many middle-aged runners with no exercise background to complete marathons.
Run 10, walk 1 is the “typical” interval, but Lisa and her running partner, Barb, are currently running 7/1’s, and Dave, Barb’s hubby, recently completed his first full marathon using 5/1 intervals. Mark and his running partner, Kurt, well they just plain run. We call them the Energizer Bunnies. We’re all different. The key is to find the interval that works for you.
Stay tuned for more Top Ten Tips on getting your child running…
*If you and/or your child are new to exercise, or haven’t exercised in a while, discuss your plans to start running with your family doc.