Ease children into running for fun, sport
If you want to raise runners, your best bet is probably to run yourself.
It worked for Paul Humphrey of Deerfield, N.Y., whose five children all run.
“I think it’s just something they’ve grown up around. All their life, they’ve seen me do it. And in the summertime, a lot of the weekends are spent going to races … In no way shape or form did we ever force them and say, ‘You’ve got to run,’” Humphrey said.
Humphrey’s two older children, Emily, 16, and Bridget, 14, chose to run cross country and track at school. His younger kids – John, 11, Danny, 8, and Katie, 3 – are too young for school sports programs, but they do participate in kids’ runs. Humphrey holds Katie’s hand during little-kid runs, he said, admitting that she doesn’t run the whole way.
That’s the way to do it, said Christina Buschmann, the Clinton (N.Y.) Central School District’s director of health and physical education and fitness center director. Occasional fun runs are fine, Buschmann said, but pushing kids into regular running too early sets them up for boredom and injury.
Children don’t even get a mature running gait until they’re at least 5, she said. And preschoolers have short attention spans and may not be able to see very far ahead of themselves.
“I think sometimes we try to push kids too rapidly into structured play,” she said.
For kids through about age 8, running should mostly just be part of play, she said. During the tween years of ages 9 through 12, kids can ease into competitive running, but should continue to play other sports, Buschmann said. She warned of the risk of growth-related injuries, especially of the knees, in kids who are still growing. Preteens can probably work up to 3-to-5-mile runs a few times a week, she said.
By 13 or 14, kids hit their peak height velocity and their bones grow rapidly, she said. Heavy training that entails running several miles at a fast pace poses a risk of stress fractures. Kids this age may be able to run 15K, but should run in programs with coaches and facilities geared to safe practices for children this age.
“We don’t want to turn our kids off from running,” she said. “We want it to be fun. We want it to be enjoyable and it doesn’t always have to be competitive,” she said.
“Don’t push them,” warned Linda Turner, training program coordinator for the Utica (N.Y.) Roadrunners running club. “Make sure they’re doing the same thing you would. Proper warm up and stretch. Proper shoes. (Make sure) that it’s in a safe area. Not too much too fast. They would basically follow the same rules that any adult starting in a running program would.”
She encouraged parents to let kids run if they want to. But children should always run at their own pace and, for younger kids, not competitively.
Healthy Living, Observer-Dispatch (Utica, N.Y.)