During the past few years, we've been taking the kids with us as my lovely wife has done her trail running series around Southern Ontario. These are her goal races and they're on the calendar as soon as they're announced. It's a family obligation that we're out in support and it'll take a very special bike race to get me off the hook from attending. We've been watching, taking pictures, and enjoying the scenery in the various conservation areas where these are held.
The great thing about these races, put on by 5Peaks, is that they have a kids race just prior to the regular event. Usually only about 100m or so, sometimes 200m, it's attended by everyone from toddlers to grade-schoolers. They get a bib, and toe the same start line as their parents. They get some swag at the end of the race which usually ends up getting confiscated after some inappropriate use.
It's always fun to watch. No matter what, the horn will go off, there'll be a made scramble, many cheers, and 1 kid bursting into tears at the surprise of it all. They'll get carried by Mom through the course. She's a runner anyway.
Once the first race was done, our kids have been looking forward to these mini events for quite some time. Well, mainly. They never ended up not doing one, but the enthusiasm sometimes waned, especially when it was cold or wet.
At the end of last year, both kids moved up to doing the adult race. We did the last race of the year as a trial to see how they would fare.
The question, at least the obvious one anyway, is, when is the right time to start your kids running?
The answer, in my opinion, is as soon as they can. People don't simply wake up one day ready. Running starts on the playground around the swings, during a game of tag, and around the house while screaming.
We often get "interested" comments, when we mention our kids' running exploits. But they're not the only ones out there, it's just that we've socially conditioned everyone to percieve activity as an abnormal state.
So here are my top 10 tips on running with kids
1 - Start early, regularly, and slowly. - "Going for a run" sucks. The first thing you should not be doing is dragging your kids along on your recovery run. Just make sure they have an opportunity to run around as much as possible. The worst thing I've heard a parent yell to a kid was "Don't Run" during a sunny day in a grassy field.
2 - Run. - Kids, it appears, look up to their parents. At the very least they need to see running as a normal thing, even if they don't seem all that interested in wearing lycra.
3 - Make the unknown known. - The kids don't take kindly to uncharted territory. If they get familiar with an activity long before doing it, there's less for them to fear.
4 - Expect rejection. - We know our kids love running and racing, but even still, when asked if they want to go for a ride, sign up for a race, or go to track practice, we'll often get a resounding NO! "I am never riding again!" is a relatively common statement. Let them be, and ask again later when a better mood strikes, and the situation is a bit different. Nagging won't work.
5 - The less bribes the better. - Running and racing can be about cookies and ribbons at the finish line, but it's best if that's secondary to the experience. Experience is sustainable and can be remembered by looking at race pictures like the one at the top of this post.
6- Walk. Our kids don't seem to have the ability to really regulate their effort. They'll run till they are exhausted and it'll be difficult to get them moving again. Even if you're moving at a snails paice, enforce walk breaks until they figure out how to ease off the throttle.
7 - Mid run melt downs. - They should be expected, and they're not the end of the world but I'm terrible at these. In our last race, this past weekend, I was running along behind kid #2, looking at flowers, and having a chat with the chatter box. All of a sudden it was all tears and "This is boring", "I'm never doing an adult race again". We're at the farthest point from the start, and I'm fearful I'll be labeled BadDad, by everyone who starts to pass us. I get super frustrated, but try and take the pressure off by saying OK, to pretty much everything, and saying "lets go back". By the time we got to the end he was happy to sprint me to the line saying, "see how short that was dad?"
8 - Last is ok. Setting expectations that any result is a good result is important. So is slipping, falling, crashing, and getting wet. But don't wait until after your kid comes last in his first bike race. Explain that early. I like showing the kids videos both of people who finish well down the order. Youtube is full of inspiring videos.
9 - Falling. - Similar to previous, explain about picking oneself back up. Videos are the best for this. Everyone likes a come from behind story.
10 - Being competitive. - Fun is first and foremost, but it's ok to try and pass people and gain a few placings. Nothing will inspire a kid to keep at it, and maybe even go on a "training" run with his Mom, if there's a medal hanging on the wall and the memory of doing his best.
11 - Bonus Tip, Congratulations. - Explain to your kids the importance of helping and congratulating their fellow runners or riders. A collegial atmosphere, and new friendships are the best things ever. At the end of his last bike race, kid #1 was dispondent, refusing to talk. He hit a tree and then got spooked by all the older riders lapping him. As soon as Max, an older kid on the team, came up to talk to him and ask him how it went, his mood changed instantly and he was asking when the next race was.