I’ve been asked so many times how I got my kids into running.
It’s like asking where their red hair came from (my wife and I are both redheads). If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’ll know that most parts of my life involve running to some capacity. My kids come to work with me at my running store, they help me put on races, and they come and crew for me at my races. They were raised with running as part of their daily routine and seeing their father go out to run sun, rain, snow, or ice. My wife and I are both runners, so it’s literally in their blood. Obviously, most of you don’t have this home environment, but want your kids to share your love for running. So, what can you do? The following are items I’ve done that have helped encourage and even nourish a healthy love for running in my kids.
First and foremost, you need to present opportunities for them to run. I would suggest starting with just going for a hike with your kids. Make it short and simple but include a cool destination or location. We love to go through a river (multiple times) or by a waterfall or historic site. Build the distance up and maybe include a route with beautiful scenery or views. Then start working in short runs. Maybe challenge them to beat you up a climb or down a descent. Up to the age of 10, I don’t suggest you allow them to run mileage for the week more than their age (ie 10 years old no more than 10 miles per week). The key is to run with them. Make this something you do together as a family! If you have young ones, that can’t keep up with the older ones, but can ride a bike, allow them to do so. Make courses appropriate for their ability level. Challenge them every once and a while but make the risk of failure minuscule.
Let them come to one of your races and watch. Talk to them afterward about how it went, how it felt, what were your challenges and how did you overcome them. Let them recognize that Mommy or Daddy doesn’t always win, and that’s ok. We race to challenge ourselves and find out what we can do on that given day. Ask them how they would feel about trying a race. If they’re into it, find a children’s event or a one-mile fun run. Here’s the hard part, let them run this on their own. Be on the sideline and cheer as they do for you in your race. Be there at the finish and give them a hug. Let them know how proud you are of them. Enjoy the moment and on the way home talk about how the race made them feel. Ask them how they felt, how hard it was, what they would do differently (if anything), and see if they want to do another. If so, look for a new style of race (adventure, obstacle course, cross country, trail, color run, inflatable, etc.).
As they get into the sport, encourage the participation by buying “real running shoes.” Check with your local run specialty shop and see if they have children’s running shoes. If so, take them to get fitted. Make this their “running” only shoes. As they get older, get them running clothes. My oldest child received the most basic GPS watch for Christmas. That may be a bit too far, but he wants to be like Dad, so what can I say. He’s not on Strava…yet.
Other items that have engaged my children and brought them not only closer to our sport, but to me has been crewing for me in ultras. They love being out there for Dad. Getting my gear ready and helping me at Aid Stations. They love camping in the car overnight and waiting for me to drag into the mile 85 aid station and revitalize me at 2 AM. How often do they get to say they were up at 2 AM and their Dad had been running since 6 AM the day before? Then let them experience something epic.
My son, now 12, has been running for a few years. We’ve wanted to summit Mount Mitchell (the tallest peak on the East Coast) for two years by running up the Mount Mitchell trail from Black Mountain Campground (6-miles with 3000+’ of elevation gain). This past summer, we did it! I bought him his own hydration pack and trail running shoes. Equipped him with soft flask water bottles and food, and we did the run! We, of course, took a wrong turn and ended up running 8-9 miles with 4000’ of vertical gain, but the memories and pride we shared in the accomplishment will undoubtedly never be forgotten!
It’s simple, love your kids, and in the process, share your love for running while doing it with them!