Children are natural runners. As soon as they learn to walk they try to master balance in order to run places. Not only are they runners, they are fast runners. Have you ever tried to catch a child who is running away from you?
I got my daughter into running as soon as she was able to walk. I signed her up for a Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend event when she was 18 months old. It was incredible. Let me tell you a bit about these races:
WDW is truly a magical place. I’ve ran several of their races, and they are incredible every time. All races are super well organized, as are the Expos. But their kids’ races are something else. The ESPN complex inside WDW is where both the Expo and the Kids races are held. My daughter was in the 1-3 y.o. group, and they ran 100 mts. She was thrilled. I thought that, because she had never seen Mickey Mouse in person before, she would be scared as Mickey was waiting for the kids and hi-fiving them at the finish line. But she was super excited, she hi-fived him, crossed the finish line, and then ran back for a second hi-five. All the kids get really nice medals, so that is always a plus.
After this race, she has run 4 others: another 100 mt, 2x 50 mt, and a half-mile this past Sunday. She’ll be running a 1 mile long race in January, when she will be 3 1/2 y.o.
How do we ‘train’?
For natural runners, children this young do not need ‘training’ per se. I believe this could only get them demotivated. This is my advise for mommies who would love to have active kids and get them involved in running:
- Start Early. The earlier they start joining you on races and runs, the more natural and normal it will seem for them to run.
A baby who has joined you in his/her stroller early on will have more of a chance of acquiring this discipline than one who has been left at home. The same goes for a toddler that you have taken to the park in a jogging stroller and who was then allowed to play and run around. Even more so for a child who you have taken to a 5 or 10k in the stroller and has cheered you on for the whole distance -or who has repeatedly asked when it would be over-… Even more so if you have a surprise kids’ races right after yours!
NOTE: If you plan on running with your infant/toddler, make sure your stroller is made for jogging.
2. Make it a game. There are two ways in which my daughter ‘trains’ (it is not training at all, but it helps us log in some running)
One is in our yard. There is a tree on the far corner, so we both race to it, around it, and come back. We do that about 4 times. It is not long nor time consuming, but she loves it and she gets
to practice a bit of speed.
Two is at a nearby park. We usually go on my bike. The playground is located in the middle of the park and there is a 1/4 mile loop around it. So I let her play for a while (warm-up),
and then I ask her to join me to run a loop, which she happily agrees to. This does not mean she’ll be running the straight loop. She’s THREE, and a GIRL, so picking up sticks and flowers along the way is the norm. After that loop she goes down one of the slides and I ask her to race me. So, we do a second loop. Then, playground again for about 5 minutes and sometimes she’ll agree to a third loop, which we usually walk. Other times she just rather keep on playing. But we did log a few running minutes, which was great.
3. Focus on the prize. Kids LOVE prizes and new things.
So, telling them they’ll be getting a new t-shirt and a medal out of a race might do the trick! My girl feels on top of the world after a race. I think she’s starting to understand that it is actually an accomplishment… Plus, we DO make a big deal about it.
4. Lead by example. Now, after all has been said, I think this would be my most important advice. If you’re getting your child(ren) to run, you have to show them that you’re willing to go the distance too. Children learn from actions, and their biggest heroes are their parents or guardians. Whatever goes on in your household, they’ll think is what is normal and what should be done. If a child has parents who wake up late, do not exercise, and who are always in front of the TV or PC, these parent won’t be able to get these kids running. Ever. Unless they are being chased by something bigger than they are.
Unless your child is a rare case, you must show him/her that getting out there and running is fun and that it is part of a healthy lifestyle. Go out there early and run, run races, run at the playground with them. Plus, running like a child could be one of the most fun you will have running.
NOTE: I use RUN because it is what I love and do. If you thing is walking, dancing, swimming, playing tennis, etc, I’m sure all of this applies as well.