Child’s Play: Running and Training with Kids

Running with your child is a wonderful thing.  She is moving, you are moving. You are instilling healthy habits.  And I am willing to bet you are having a whole lot of fun while doing it.

My boys starting a 5K with lots of mini-minty smiles

I have been running with my two boys for years, and people are often surprised at how much they run and how fast they run.  At first, I too was surprised that they not only wanted to run, but they also really seemed to enjoy it.  But I shouldn’t have been.   If you can give your kids some guidance and motivation, they just may love running and being active as much as you do.  That, my friends, is an amazingly rewarding thing for everyone involved.

Today I share with you my top insights on running and training with kids.

Be a Role Model (aka Share Your Running With Them).  This is the number one way to pique your child’s interest in running.  It is also the easiest way to motivate kids to run.  It is as simple as this:  if your child sees you getting out there to run, he’ll want to try it too.   If he sees how much you love to run, he’ll want to do it even more.  When he sees you have a great race, he’ll want to celebrate your achievement with you.  When he watches your heartbreak after a tough race, well, he’ll get that too.  Our kids want to be part of the important things in life.   Running is one of them for me and I share it with my boys.  Consequently, they have asked me to run or race with them since they were toddlers.

Say Yes.  When they beg you to run, say yes!  This one is not as easy as it sounds.  If you are training for a marathon (or any other distance), you probably have your own schedule and your own pace that you want to run.  You are probably also shifting a million things in your life to find time to get your own runs in.  So, you probably don’t want to go run a half mile at a 12 minute pace, taking multiple walk breaks along the way.  But it is worth it.  So do it.   They won’t ask you to do it every day or even every week (until they are a little older).  But when they do ask, say yes and run with them.  You’ll be so glad you did and they won’t forget it.  Seriously.  My third grader has brought home in school essays he’s written on his runs with me.  Awesome.  But to illustrate my point, the picture below is from about 6 weeks ago.  My son, Jake (same one who wrote the essays), wanted to get up at 5:45 am and run before school.  It was a rest day for me and I wanted to sleep in.  So at first, I said no.  Then I came to my senses: what am I thinking?!  My boy actually wants to get up at 5:45 to RUN?!!  Of course I will!  We had a fabulous 2 mile run that morning.

Jake and I ready for a nice little run before school

Teach them to Pace Themselves.  Kids want to go out at full bore at first, and then they are quickly reduced to walking.  They all do this.  Teach them early on to pace themselves and to relax.  It will take a few runs, but they will get it.  Once they do, it is pretty awesome because you can run longer and chat along the way.

Make it Positive.  This is the big one, ya’ll.  We ALL know how tough running can be – physically and mentally.  This is especially true when we are starting.  Remember how hard it was when you started running?  Well, it is the same for kids.  Sure, they can probably dash off for a quarter mile without blinking.  But after that, well, it gets boring and it hurts and it sucks.  If your child gets a negative thought in her head, it can quickly spiral out of control.  That side stitch?  If you don’t nix it STAT, it could make an otherwise enjoyable run/race a nightmare.   For my kids, I have always told them that being positive and just running are key.  So, when a negative thought pops in, we always talk about how we need to blow up the negative thoughts and replace them with good thoughts.  This works like a charm.  I need to give these reminders often – especially if it has been a while since he’s run.  But it works.

 Don’t Push Them.  If you want your child to enjoy running, you need to let them ease into it at their own pace.  A couple months ago, I was running with my son and he kept wanting to stop and walk.  I won’t lie: it was ridiculously frustrating.  He can easily string together a few miles without a hitch these days.  My immediate instinct was to push him.  But I didn’t.  The day was just a tough day for him and I let it ride.  He knew I didn’t like stopping and he got self-conscious and told me how I should go on because he didn’t want to ruin my run.  It made me think of a super fast running friend I have.  He told me once that he ran a lot with his father as a kid and he HATED it because his dad pushed him so hard.  I don’t want that.  So I told James, “No worries buddy.  I am just happy to be running with you.”  My attitude and reaction to him made a huge difference and we ended our run strong.  Motivate your child, but don’t push him.

Have Fun!  Be goofy and have fun when you run.  This is your time to talk, solve the world’s problems together and simply have a good time.  You can also mix it up a bit.  For example, every year my family does the local mud run.  What kid isn’t going to love this?

Tackling the Mud Pit!

Set Goals.  This one is also important.  Even if they are tiny goals – let’s see if we can make it all the way to the tree without stopping – goals are good.  Why?  Because it feels great when we meet our goals and it makes us want to do more.  This is the same for kids.  If they are taking pride in what they are doing, it is going to be very satisfying.

Let them Race.  Not only say yes to running, but if they want to race with you, let them!  There are so many kids dashes these days, it is easy to find anything from 100 meters to a mile that your kids can run.  When my kids were 3, I’d let them to the short dashes.  By the time they were 5, we were doing an annual mile race.  My 10 year old son has run the Capital Mile every year for the last 5 years and will be training for it again this year (he’ll probably crush my mile PR this year by the way too).  It is okay if they haven’t trained, either.  Naturally you don’t want to let a 5 year old try to run a 5K if she never runs, but let her jump into a short race.  When she gets older, let her do the 5K.  Kids are used to doing a ton of different sports where they run a lot (soccer is a great example), so she can probably do it just fine.  She’ll be thrilled with herself when she is done.  My kids probably each ran 20 5Ks before they ever actually wanted to train.

Jake at age 5 running the Capital Mile

Celebrate their Accomplishments.  Yeah – it rocks that he got out there and I am certainly going to let him know it.

That’s really all it takes.  So get your kids up and moving with you.  You’ll be so glad you did.

My Rockstars
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Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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  1. If you squint your eyes and read this post in a slightly different light it teaches all of us grown-ups how to keep running fun! I LOVE this post and I love that your boys love running as much as you do!!! Go J & J!

    1. Thanks!! You are right – I think we as adults can take a few tips from this too. I know running with my kids has helped me dial down the (relative) competitiveness and embrace the fun of it a little more. Of course, I also love watching my sons embrace the competitiveness in running too though.

  2. This is SO awesome. When I was running with the slower crowd I’d see kids running all the time! I used to think it was so cool that their parents were teaching them good athletic habits early on. I wish I had learned I could run when I was a kid! Your boys are lucky to have an athletic and encouraging mom!

    1. Thanks! It really is a fun one-on-one activity to share too. Just as it is fun running with our girlfriends, it is pretty cool to run and chat with your kids!

  3. This is so great! I don’t have kids yet, but when I do, I want them to embrace an active lifestyle. I didn’t grow up that way at all and have had to work very hard as an adult to overcome my sedentary childhood and learn how to be healthy. I want my kids to have a great healthy foundation too. Thanks for the post!

    1. Me too! I was not very athletic as a kid and wasn’t really encouraged into athletics. I became and “adult-onset runner” and it really changed my life. So I definitely want to share that with my kids.

  4. Great article! I have a few children clients that love to run or go for hikes. It’s always so exciting to see the smile on their face after our sessions in nature. My hope is to get their families involved with them a little more as it truly is great bonding time!