As a cross country coach who practices with my team everyday during the school week, I have no choice except to bring my young children along on our runs. Consequently what people see on the trails where we do most of our running is about 10-15 middle and high school runners, me pushing a double baby jogger with #9 (Sam) inside, #8 (6 year-old C.C.) in and out of the jogger, and #7 (8 year-old John) running alongside. Needless to say, we turn a few heads. As is often the case with our busy life, by the time I get to practice, pull the jogger out of the van and take a real inventory of what has come along, I realize a few key things are missing…things like shoes, for instance. When I first started coaching, this would have been cause for more kids to be in my jogger than running alongside it. However, now what usually happens is that my young kids run without shoes…and most of the time still keep up with the rest of us.
The fact is that I don’t have to ask my kids if they remembered their shoes. It really doesn’t matter. They will run with the shoes, or without them. Another thing I’ve noticed while coaching and running with my own children is that they rarely complain. This isn’t because they are perfect kids…there is a lot they do complain about. However, they don’t complain because they actually like to run. And if for some reason, they don’t want to run, they hop into the jogger (sometimes they have to take turns getting a ride). Our youngest hasn’t shown a liking to running yet (he’s only 3), but the others all have. What I find intriguing is that, when allowed to run with us or to choose to sit in the jogger, they usually choose to run…and they are actually good at it. This really shouldn’t surprise me. Not because I believe they have a ton of talent at such a young age, but because when something is naturally enjoyed (we don’t push them) and they see others having fun with it too, kids thrive. They run at their own pace and because we have a range of runners on our team, there is always someone for them to hang with. I often bring my two young nieces along as well (Ellie 8 and Katie 10 years old). I feel like the Pied Piper!
My husband and I have discovered that running is really a very natural thing for young children to do. And with a lot of information out now about barefoot running, we are curious to see how they develop their “running form”, sometimes without the constraints of shoes. We aren’t making them run barefoot -they often do actually run with shoes on their feet – but they also understand that shoes do not make the runner…feet and legs do. I am not making predictions about them as future runners, and we are very careful about how much they run (if they run 2-4 miles one day, we try to keep them at only one mile or two the next), but telling them they can’t run usually meets with more resistance than telling them they can.
Runner’s World ran an article this week about kids and running. The article gives some input on when kids should start running and how much they should run. I recommend reading the short article because it offers sound guidelines. While I agree with the suggestions given, I would add (from my own experience watching my kids) that telling children how much to run or how far can sometimes limit them. Rather than tell my kids to run one or two miles…we just go. I realize my situation might be unique in that we have the opportunity to run everyday (in the fall months) with my cross country team. However, I think that kids (even more than adults sometimes) know their own limits. If we introduce running to them at an early age, and they see it as an enjoyable past time, they will probably set their own limits…and they will most likely surprise us! It is certainly food for thought. Let us know if you have experience running with your children…