Some kids seem to run before they learn to walk, but when can kids start running longer distances? I’m not talking ‘chasing a ball’ running or ‘playing soccer’ running, I mean ‘race bib, starting time and crossing a finish line’ running.
At what age can kids safely run a 5km or even a 10km race?
Important To Consider
Anytime kids set out to run a longer distance, the emphasis should be placed on fun and participation and not breaking any speed records.
When kids are training for distance, they need an adult to run with them or at least bike along side for encouragement, motivation, water breaks and to ensure they run injury free.
Everything in moderation is still key, and for kids, this includes physical activity of any kind.
Active For Life suggests “children ages 4–8 like to run fast and science has discovered that’s actually what’s best for them: at that age, their bodies and brains are developing power and speed,” so starting with 3km fun runs or shorter 1km distances are great for kids under 8.
Ideally kids between ages 8-10 should start with a few 5km events before trying to run father.
If they love it and THEY are the motivation behind wanting to run more than the 1-3km fun runs, what do you need to know to teach them endurance, help them train, avoid injury and cross that finish line with a smile?
Learn the Basics
Show kids how far 5km or 10km is and ensure they understand it is about endurance and not speed. Teach them about pace, about proper hydration, about dressing for the heat or cold, about proper nutrition before and after a long run and about the importance of training. If they are still motivated to run then start slow.
Set a Schedule
There is a lot of great advice here for teaching kids to run a 5km and when they are ready to train for a longer distance, you will need to add a few weeks to the training schedule. Ideally you want the kids to walk/run a distance of 3-5km twice a week during the week and then make time on the weekends to increase that distance by .5km each week.
It will take getting out for a run at least twice a week and at least 8-10 weeks of consistent runs in order to increase their endurance to be able to run a 10km race comfortably.
Sometimes committing to running a specific time rather than distance is easier. In that case run 25-30 minutes twice a week and increase to longer runs on the weekends by adding 5 minutes to your run until you reach 1 hour.
Set a Pace
Aim for 7 minutes a kilometer of running or a mix of running and walking. Some kids will start off faster but try to hold them to a pace between 6-7 minutes/km so they can go the distance.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Take a smart phone with an app like Run Keeper to track your pace and distance or use a stop watch. This means an adult is with them either running, riding a bike or train at the track where you can walk and kids can run. It is important when kids are young that you are there with them. They will need encouragement, water breaks, pace setters and cheerleaders.
Set a Route
Find a route they are comfortable with; maybe through a quiet subdivision to the park or to a track or a trail if there is one nearby. Map out a 5km route that you can easily add on .5km or 5 minutes extra each week. Running a familiar route each week will give kids markers they can use to track their own progress and give them check points so they know how much distance has been covered in how much time.
Make sure there is time in your families schedule to get out for at least 2 runs a week – preferably 2 runs during the week and a longer run on weekends.
Being hydrated before running is just as important as drinking up after a run. Try to get in 2-3 glasses of water up to an hour before running and then sipping up to a cup of water every 20 minutes while running, especially on those hot days. “But don’t drink too much,” says Runner’s World, “If you feel or hear sloshing in your stomach, its telling you it’s full, and you don’t need to drink for a while.”
If running more than an hour, refuel with a sports drink to replace lost electrolytes. I found small waist pouch style water bottles for my kids at MEC as we plan on running through the summer this year.
After the run refuel and make sure they have something to eat that has both carbohydrates and protein like toast and peanut butter.
Eating a big meal before a run is a recipe for tummy trouble, “our body is simply not designed to do both digestion and exercise at the same time,” says Runners World magazine. Ensure no large meals at least 2 hours before a run but a snack of a banana and juice, small bowl of cereal or yogurt and berries will give you energy pre run.
Post run it is important to eat within 30 minutes to restore the energy stores hat have been depleted from running longer distances. The carbohydrates, calcium, protein and sugars in chocolate milk are great as is a yogurt, whole grains, real fruit juice and nuts.
Each of my daughters ran their first 5km race when they were 8 years old and all crossed the finish line with their own personal motivation to do it again and do it faster. But they didn’t do it without help from me and at least 6 weeks of preparation and practice runs for 5km.
Running distance takes skills that many kids need to learn to have success and cross the finish line with a smile.
When my middle daughter was 10 she trained for and completed her first 10km race in 1hr 3minutes. We trained together for over 2 months and got out for 2 short runs during the week and a long run on the weekends to work up to 10km.
Not every run is fun, some days the longer distance can be hard. One day at the 7km mark there were tears, but I teach my kids that not every day is a good run day, we can always try again another day and we can always slow down and walk. My daughter was determined to run a 10km race when she was 10. And she did. The personal pride she still feels today achieving that goal totally made those tears on that one tough run day worth it for her.
This summer, all 3 of my daughters have the same determination and we are currently training for our first family 10km race this September. I only hope I can keep up with them!
Are you raising runners?