Running is an activity that humans were born to do. Soon after children master walking, it seems that they go from casually toddling around a room to practically sprinting through it, as though running were their only way of getting from point A to point B. Children are naturally great runners — have you ever watched a child’s form mid-run?! — and the look of joy on children’s faces as they run themselves all over the playground or even the living room is just one of pure, unadulterated, and unbridled joy.
At some point, your children may decide that they want to continue running or begin running more regularly, and they may even ask to go on runs with you or for you to sign them up for local races. As parents, it can be hard to know what is too hard for our kids and what is reasonable, and running is no exception. Ask any runners you see, and chances are high that they or someone they know have all had some type of running-related injury over the years. Combining that with our children’s rapid growth and development, sometimes our natural instincts might be to tell our kids that they shouldn’t try to run competitively at a young age (or that they shouldn’t run at all).
If your children are interested in running more regularly or longer distances, take heed. I’ll talk about some ways to help your children safely increase their endurance and their capacity for tolerating longer distances, but before I get into my personal tips, I implore you to talk first with your pediatrician or a medical professional. Just like it is critical for adults to gain the clearance from their medical practitioners before they begin regular physical exercise, so, too, should you — as a parent — get the all-clear from your children’s doctor before they begin running regularly. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Assuming you have your pediatrician’s blessing for your children to run, here are some tips to help your kids develop their endurance as they get started with running:
Gain endurance by alternating running and walking.
Children are inclined to run as hard and fast as they can all the time — more on that in a minute — but if your kids are interested in running longer distances, it will behoove them to develop their cardiovascular and mitochondrial capabilities. Teaching your children how to run-walk will allow them to do both. For kids, keep it fun; instruct them to run for a little bit, such as a minute or two, and then take a walking break. Alternating between running and walking will allow your kids to get their heart rates up (and then lower it) while simultaneously working different muscle groups. Championed long-distance runners, including very fast marathoners, use run-walk strategies, so if your kids try to claim that walking is only for slow-pokes, you can assure them that it most definitely is not! Over time, as your kids condition their bodies to be able to handle more distance, they may find that they don’t need to walk as often or take as long walk breaks as they did initially.
Slow your kids down!
Like I mentioned, kids have a tendency to want to run as fast and furiously as they possibly can, basically running themselves into the ground. That outlook will work well if your kids want to become very fast sprinters, but if your children want to be able to cover long distances, it’ll behoove them to figure out pacing: something that many adult runners struggle with. Encourage your children to run easily and comfortably more often than not, and if they have any doubt if they are running too hard a pace, ask them if they can easily hold a conversation or sing mid-run. If they can’t, then they’re probably running harder and faster than they ought to be.
Go easy on the mileage.
Many pediatricians will advise parents to not allow their kids to run great distances simply because of running’s hard effects on bodies — and especially on bodies that are still going through a lot of growth and development. Keep the distance low for children, and as they get stronger, very, very slowly increase their mileage if they’re ready for it (and if they’re interested in trying more). There’s really no reason for small children to be running 100 kilometer weeks! Err on the side of caution, and as always, if you have any doubt, share your concerns with your pediatrician.
Get strong with your kids on trails.
Regularly running on roads can be rough on any runner’s body, and particularly for your kids, they may find it monotonous and tedious after a while. Consider taking your kids to a nearby park or trail system to run, exposing them to varying types of terrain (and possibly even elevation ascents and descents), for some runs. Letting your kids run and walk up and down hills can be really fun for them (and for you!), and it can still be a great way to help your children develop their cardiovascular fitness. Typically speaking, people run much more slowly on trails than they do on roads, yet at the same time, trails are usually gentler on the body than roads are. As an added bonus, trails often make for particularly gorgeous running environs, and both your children and you may be so captivated by the natural beauty around you that you all don’t even notice how much you’re running or walking.
Children are natural-born runners, and if they’re interested in doing more, and as long as your pediatrician is on board with your plans, it’s totally possible to foster your kids’ love of running even moreso — and safely. Many kids grow up with experiences that make them equate running with punishment, unfortunately, but you can show them how much fun running can be and all the places it can take them. Err on the side of caution when in doubt, and definitely keep your pediatrician in the loop with any concerns you may have. The world is one great big playground when you’re a runner, and it’s deeply gratifying to see it through the eyes of your (runner) children.
An entrepreneur and a husband, Dan hails from Copenhagen, Denmark. He loves to join ultra-marathon races and travel to popular running destinations together with his wife. During regular days, he manages his websites, Runnerclick, Nicershoes, Monica’s Health Magazine and GearWeAre. Dan has also been featured in several popular running blogs across the world.
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