Raising Runners: Teaching Kids How to Run

raiserunners-impKids know how to run right? You see them in the field at school chasing each other and they play soccer at the park.  Do you really need to teach kids how to run?

You actually do if they want to run as a sport rather than just for play.  For Track there are advantages to running properly and using your arms for momentum. For Relay, learning the steps to a successful baton handover and take off from a starting line can get them a step ahead.  These skills are taught and practiced and those that are good may actually finish faster than someone who is just speedy.

Distance running is no different. There are skills that kids don’t instinctively know. Kids know how to run and run fast but generally they run with short goals in mind like catching the other guy! To run a 1km, 5km or even longer distance, kids need to learn a few skills to avoid injury and cross that finish line with a smile.

Teaching Kids How To Run

The Right Age
How old should you be when you learn distance running? There are many events open for 3-5 year olds like SunRype Tri KiDS triathlons across Canada that have fun swims, short runs and training wheel bike courses, but when kids are 5 or 6, they may be ready for a 1km run.  Once they venture past the 1km fun runs, its time to teach them a few running skills.  I have 3 busy active kids and by age 8 all had done a few 5km runs and the ‘runner’ of my 3 girls, who is now 10 years old, says this summer she wants to run a 10km.

The Right Stuff
Kids need proper running shoes and socks for running to avoid shin splints, blisters and even knee or joint problems later on that can be caused by insufficient foot wear.  It is worth a visit to a running store to get moisture wicking, anti rubbing socks to avoid blisters and even a quick check of their gait to determine the best running shoes for their growing feet.

Have light layers for tops when running in warm temperatures and light jackets that can be tied around the waist for colder runs.  You may find yourself walking home and it can get chilly if you’ve been sweating and then you stop running.

Be The Pace Bunny
Most races have pace bunnies for good reason. An even pace wins the race! Kids have no idea how to pace themselves. It is full on or off. Teaching pace is very valuable being able to enjoy a distance run. A watch or app (my fav is Runkeeper) that measures distance and speed is handy and striving for a 7 minute km or more is average for kids.

Start slow and watch how your child is reacting, if they are short of breath, have a stitch in their side or complaining of leg pain, take a walking break for 1-2 minutes and then run again. As you run more often, you can increase the speed, but only if the kids are able to run and still enjoy it! Going too far and too fast is one way to turn kids off the sport!

Always pack water, even if its not hot or you are not going very far.  Water is valuable when you are active for more than just quenching your thirst.

Increasing Distance
Pick a route for the kids that will be fun – run to the park, to their friends house, to the ice cream shop or in some nearby trails. Try to avoid busy streets or distractions that will have you starting and stopping.  For my kids that run 5km races in the summer we go for 30 minute run/walks starting in the Spring – I focus on time run and not distance. Our goal is to keep moving for 30 minutes.  We run/walk 15 mins away from home and then turn around and run/walk back.  Always running the first 1-2km and then depending on their energy levels, we run until they need a walking break.  Walk for 1-2 minutes and then run again.

Each run will be different.  Some days you feel great, other days you don’t – same holds true for kids. Not everyday is a great running day for them.  As we get closer to race dates, those 30 minute run/walks get closer to the 5km mark so I know they will be ready.

As with anything, you need to get the kids out a couple times a week over a few months to be ready for 3-5km race.

Race Day Let ’em Go
You will be surprised what the power of a crowd can do to kids! My kids first 5km race they were 8 &10 years old and had never run more than 3km without stopping to walk. At the race they ran right past the 3km sign, stopped to take a photo at the 4km sign and then sprinted to the 5km finished line and BEAT me across! Not even kidding.

I have 3 runners now – my middle daughter could run 5km in 27 minutes when she was 8, my oldest daughter is consistent at 32 minutes and my youngest did her first 5km last year in 35 minutes.

As for me?  I start training for my half marathons in February and then have to add in speed training so I can keep up with my fastest kid!