It’s a running mother’s dream (at least it’s mine) for your children to share your passion for running and to have it be “your special thing” as they grow. So how do we set them up for the highest chance of success?
Running long distances takes a ton of effort, time and dedication; especially when adding having kids to the juggling act. This for me means a lot of 2:00am or 3:00am alarm clocks to get my peak distance runs in and still be back in time for the bulk of the day with Vera (she is 4 years old). She definitely notices how important running is to me, and gets excited with me about my races. She asks me how far I’m running during the week, and “ohh’s and ahhs” at my long runs on the weekend. She’s my biggest little cheerleader and runs across the finish lines of my races with me. Children automatically look up to their parents and want to do the things we enjoy, with us. If your child sees a burning passion for running in you, they will feel a little of that burning themselves just by watching you. If they see how proud and excited you get about your runs, they will feel the same way.
Start them young, like before they can even walk. Vera usually joined me on 2-4 runs a week when she was small enough to fit in a stroller (and accepted being strapped in for that long). I had a double stroller we found at a Goodwill, so I had Vera in one side and our old blind toy poodle in the other. It was really nice bonding time, she got to see the world roll by and explore with me, and I got the added training benefit of pushing the extra weight around! Granted, those runs couldn’t be on Asheville’s beautiful single track, but the pros still outweighed the cons.
Once they’re older, start doing “free form runs.” I would take Vera out to the local trail system and we would set out with no particular distance, time, or pace in mind. If she wanted to walk, we walked. If she wanted to smell the flowers, examine the rock, or play in the creek; we did it. It was all about making running fun so she loved it and wanted to do it again and again.
Once the runs become more uniform and they enjoy going longer without distractions, find small races to train for and run together. Most cities have some sort of 5k race series that is cheap, easy and super laid back. There are usually also a plethora of free or donation based 5ks around as well if you don’t mind traveling a little bit. Last summer we found a charity 5k that was donation based in one of the nearby state forests. Vera was so excited to run her first real race with me, and (unexpectedly) ran the entire thing at a pace that wasn’t that much slower than I go on my long runs. We plan to run a few more this upcoming summer!
Find a kids only race for them to feel like this is their own solo accomplishment. In Ithaca we have the Tough Turtle Jr. It’s a children’s only obstacle course race that runs through the Ithaca Children’s Garden. I signed her up this year and she cannot contain her excitement. She has even been making me count how many push-ups she can do almost every night so she can be ready and strong. And yes, she can do more push-ups than me at the moment.
It is all about planting a seed and watering it with fun and understanding. Don’t let yourself get carried away. If your kiddo isn’t enjoying it, understand that it just may not be their thing (or their thing at the moment), and that’s okay. The fastest way to squash the potential for your child to love running in the future is to force them to do it now when they don’t want to. Make sure your child knows that it’s okay to tell you if they don’t want to run, and that you will not be upset with them if that is the case. You then have to follow through with that promise not to be upset with them, no matter how disappointed you are.
Keep setting an example of planning your goals and crushing them with enthusiasm and passion; all while keeping your kid as involved as you can along the way. Even if your child doesn’t turn out to be a runner, there are so many life lessons for them to learn watching you blaze the trails.