January 2017 - RUNNING WITH KIDS
Passing on the Joy of Running
By Shelly Binsfeld
Set aside your usual view of children’s running and foster a theory of freedom. Children intuitively train their bodies through the phases of early growth. From rolling to walking to running from you, they challenge their bodies to develop stronger muscles and greater stamina. The child who falls asleep half way through his or her dinner has eaten just enough to let the need for sleep take over. This is intuitive and natural. They know when to rest and when to play.
As a mother of four children, I witness this phenomenon every day. Whether it is a sprint along the sidewalk or a pause at the bench, my children continue to train their bodies. Coaching education has supported my theory of freedom with the knowledge that running strength originates with speed development during the growing years. When children are given the freedom to sprint and rest, they hone their velocity which later becomes critical in running success.
The theory of freedom promotes healthy running experiences and abilities.
Here are the strategies that have presented themselves through my course of mothering and coaching:
Let your child run throughout the day – When there are safe sidewalks, trails or fields, let your child surge ahead of you: exploring the environment and how the body moves.
Don’t force children to run at an even pace for long periods of time – I am jealous of children’s intuition of when to start and stop running. While in the mode of running, they will slow to a walk as the body signals a need for rest. Once the pain has gone and the thrill of movement and discovery calls, they will dash off. There are times in our adult training that this technique is advantageous. Let children benefit from interval training and encourage them to listen to their bodies.
They will follow you – If you enjoy running, your children will want to enjoy it, too, if you encourage their curiosities. Let them bike alongside of you and talk to them about their interests, growing your relationship. Before they are tired, stop by your house or car, and encourage them to leave their bike for a super short run with you. I mean a really short run. Whet their appetite. Go back to your house before they are worn out. It is all about enjoying the movement of running.
Perseverance is a developed mature characteristic that comes with experience – Often parents will point out that their children don’t know how to pace themselves (i.e. slowing down so they can go for a long distance). It is important to remember that they are children; they have not yet developed the characteristics of patience and perseverance. When they mature, so will their running. Their sprinting is not wrong. It is good speed development, which is best built during childhood.
Patience as a parent will pay off in the long run – My oldest son did not run his first 5K race until he was 11 years old. After signing him up for the usual kid race, he asked why I had not signed him up for the 5K. “My friends have run a 5K. I can do it, too,” Sam proclaimed. After years of my patience, Sam chose the challenge of racing 3.1 miles. He ran the race by himself and was proud of his own accomplishment. At 14, he continues to enjoy runs throughout the week and has a healthy relationship with running. Most importantly, he can use running to maintain his physical and mental health into his adult years. Let your child choose their challenges.
“You can’t make me!” – If you have a child that won’t run and he or she just looks at you and shouts, “No, I don’t like it!” then just start with walking. Build up your child’s fitness with inquisitive walks. After a few weeks of walks, try a walk-run routine. A walk-run routine for you, not for your child: be the example. Start with five minutes of your usual inquisitive walking, and then tell him or her that it is your time to start running. Only run for 30 seconds, and then walk for one minute. Return back to your child during the walk breaks and continue your conversation. Your child will get curious about what you are doing and want to join in. The key is not to suggest or expect for him or her to join you but to accept his or her choice. Add in, “You are welcome to join my walk-run routine. I like to spend time with you.”
When your child is done running, be done – Don’t push your child into pain or boredom. Children are not mentally strong enough to endure long bouts of exercise. Let them be kids, playful, joyful, inquisitive kids.
Here are two activities to integrate running into your family’s life:
TREE TO TREE – In a group of two or more, find a field, forest or playground. Select a starting location – tree or another landmark – and gather as a group. The first runner runs to a different tree of his or her choice and calls out, “Go,” and the group races to that tree. Once everyone is joined back up at the new location, a different runner sets off to find the next tree. This continues until everyone has been a tree selector and usually lasts several rounds. It is important that the tree selector has the freedom to select any tree he or she wants, even if it is only ten feet away. Most will shoot for the farthest tree trying to outdo the others. What is great about this game is that the race to the tree varies depending on who is racing and the distance that is run. Variety promotes enjoyment.
RELAYS – Kids love relays, especially if there is some type of baton to pass off between teammates. You only need two people to do a relay, so loosen up and count yourself as one. Create a course that goes over, under or around obstacles. Keep mixing it up between rounds of races.
Shelly Binsfeld (email@example.com) of Clifton Park is a competitive runner, wife, and mother of four children. Her running joy is to guide others through their training as a USATF coach and Pilates instructor.