How to Start Your Child Running

WORDS
Sarah K. McDonald
ILLUSTRATION
Mary Dunn
PUBLISHED
September 2012 in
DallasChild, FortWorthChild, NorthTexasChild
UPDATED
August 29, 2012
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While other kids her age were playing video games and sleeping in late this summer, Sydney Shoemaker was competing in her first triathlon. The 9-year-old North Texan swam 100 meters, biked 2.5 miles and ran a half-mile in 24:27 at the Benbrook YMCA Kids Tri.
 
But this wasn’t Sydney’s first time around the track. In fact, in first grade she joined her school’s running club. Sydney is among a growing number of kids turning to running. In recent years, more kids’ fun runs and 5Ks have popped up at adult races – and they’re popular. For example, in 2010, 791 kids younger than 14 participated in the Red Balloon Run & Ride, a group of races that benefits Children’s Medical Center. In 2011, that number grew to 1,497.
 
So with this uptick, what should parents know about running to ensure their kids set off on the right foot?
 
Ready, Set, Go!

Before your child laces up his or her shoes for the first time, address any questions or concerns with a pediatrician, says Dr. Shane Miller, pediatric sports medicine specialist in the Sports Medicine Center at Children’s and assistant professor of orthopedics and pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. He adds, though, that most healthy children don't need a specific visit to the doctor before starting a fitness program.
 
Next, set realistic goals and start off slowly. A 4- or 5-year-old can run a 1K with no more training than running at school recess or kicking a soccer ball around the field for 45 minutes on a Saturday morning, says Matt Celone, assistant coach for the Flower Mound Track Club. Usually, children ages 8 to 10 have the physical and mental maturity to attempt a 5K run, but it depends on the child. “My 6-year-old daughter recently completed her first mile run in 9:15,” Celone says. “Asking for a further distance will turn a fun run into a bad experience for her. My 10-year-old daughter, on the other hand, showed earlier signs of maturity and was running with me at the age of 5; she completed her first 5K at the age of 6.”
 
Kids, much like adults, need a motivator to start running. Celone recommends setting a goal race and planning a training program that fits into the timeline. Many beginning programs start with alternating between running a few minutes and walking a few minutes, working up to longer times, greater distances and ultimately faster paces. Miller suggests a gradual increase in training intensity and duration. “A rule of thumb is one should not increase by more than 10 percent per week,” he says.
                                   
Nutrition Is Key

The casual or recreational runner doesn’t need to increase his caloric intake, Miller says. Runners who average more than 20 miles a week (typically middle and high schoolers) may need to eat more to maintain their growth and development, he says.
 
The kids on the Flower Mound Track Club know Celone’s nutrition rules well: No milk products within three to four hours of running, no carbonated or caffeinated drinks before a run or workout, all sports drinks should be diluted by at least half and eat meals at least two hours before running. Most important, though, Celone says to trade the candy and junk food for fruit, bagels or bars such as Clif Kid Z Bars. Your kids just might surprise you and totally reject junk foods after a while. “I used to love McDonald’s when I was a kid, but it disgusts me now,” Sydney says.
 
Hydration is also very important. “We have to be cautious with heat illness and dehydration as [kids’] surface-area-to-volume ratio is less than adults, and they are not as good at regulating their own temperature,” Miller says.
 
Cautions for the Road

Running injuries in kids are typically overuse injuries involving the growth plates in their knees and ankles because of repetitive motions and the muscle tendon pulling repeatedly on the growth plate, Miller says. Special consideration should be given to children with chronic illness. “We also commonly see asthma exacerbations in those who have asthma,” he says.
 
Celone says that younger athletes suffer from scrapes on the arms and legs more than anything because they trip on a poorly tied shoelace or get their legs tangled up with those of another runner.
 
Allowing children to set the pace and gradually building up will give them the best chance of staying free of injuries, Miller says.
 
The Mental Race

Being a parent is often about riding that fine line between pushing too hard and encouraging. How can you tell when your kid is just being whiny or when she really needs to sit out? When running is no longer fun – whether they’re tired or not – they need a break, Celone says. “Running requires individual passion unmatched by any other sport. There are no timeouts or substitutions when running a race,” he says. “Therefore, if the athlete is mentally ready for the race, their physical conditioning will mean little.”
 
This is something Sydney’s parents – Dan, an Ironman competitor, and Lisa, a triathlete – put into practice. At least one of them is with Sydney during running club after school, and they cycle, run, swim and even compete as a family. “Lisa and I are both extremely competitive,” Dan says. “We don’t cut [Sydney] much slack, but we know when she’s tired. Sydney has the personality where she just needs some coaching and motivation.”
           
Lisa says that while some of Sydney’s drive can be traced back to her and Dan, at the end of the day, it’s the motivation within that keeps her going. And Sydney, who does her share of motivating kids during races, seems to have found the perfect way to stay focused and motivated. “One time, Daddy said, ‘Smiling makes you go faster,’” Sydney says, “so I write ‘smile’ on the inside of my arm.”
SIDEBAR

A Kid's Training Guide to Running


Matt Celone, assistant track coach for the Flower Mound Track Club, a summer program sponsored by Flower Mound’s Community Activity Center, says that the age-old question (pun intended) of “When should a child start running distances?” doesn’t have a straight-forward answer. It really depends upon the child’s fitness, ability and maturity levels. Need some loose guidelines? Celone offers some general training tips for children of various ages:
 
Ages 4, 5 and 6
Distance: Any racing distance from 50m to 1k is reasonable. The workout plan for these distances isn’t mileage-based, but rather time. I would recommend running twice a week for 3 minutes non-stop and working up to 8- 10 minutes. Our younger runners need lots of breaks, and we encourage them to take rests when needed so not to burn out or grown to hate running. This Plan assumes they are starting from zero.
 
Week 1
Monday: Fun Day. Tuesday: Run 3 minutes, break 3 minutes, Run 3 minutes (Repeat circuit for a total of 6 to 9 minutes of running). Wednesday: Fun Day. Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout. Friday: Fun Day. Saturday: Walk for 15- 20 minutes. Sunday: Fun Day
Week 2
Monday: Fun Day. Tuesday: Run 4 minutes, break 3 minutes, Run 4 minutes (Repeat circuit for a total of 8 to12 minutes of running). Wednesday: Fun Day. Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout. Friday: Fun Day. Saturday: Walk for 18 to 22 minutes. Sunday: Fun Day
Week 3
Monday: Fun Day. Tuesday: Run 5 minutes, break 4 minutes, Run 5 minutes (Repeat circuit for a total of 10 to 15 minutes of running). Wednesday: Fun Day. Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout. Friday: Fun Day. Saturday: Walk for 20 to 24 minutes. Sunday: Fun Day
Week 4
Monday: Fun Day. Tuesday: Run 6 minutes, break 4 minutes, Run 6 minutes (Repeat circuit for a total of 12 to 18 minutes of running). Wednesday: Fun Day. Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout. Friday: Fun Day. Saturday: Walk for 22 to 26 minutes. Sunday: Fun Day
Week 5
Monday: Fun Day. Tuesday: Run 8 minutes, break 5 minutes, Run 8 minutes (Repeat circuit for a total of 12 to 20 minutes of running). Wednesday: Fun Day. Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout. Friday: Fun Day. Saturday: Walk for 24 to 28 minutes. Sunday: Fun Day
 
Ages 7, 8 and 9
Distance: Any racing distance from 50m to 5k is reasonable. This age group is where we start to really see separation between the competitive runners from the casual runners.  Most notably, the competitive runners are going to naturally pick up longer-distance races and post faster times than their peers and, many at times, their seniors. One of the young men I train ran a 21:06 in a local 5k at age 8 when the average of his peer group was a 31:45. There are many great couch-to-5k programs available online, including runnersworld.com.
 
Ages 10, 11, 12 and 13
Distances: Any racing distance from 50m to 10k is reasonable. 10k programs, much like 5k programs, are goal- and experience-specific. The miles-per-week for a 10k training program will vary, but generally speaking, one should expect to run at least three to four days a week, with total weekly mileage being in the 10 to 20 range. It’s important to follow a program tailored to your goals and starting point.
 
Ages 14+
Distances: Any racing distances up to a half marathon are doable with proper training. Ages 16 and older can manage a full marathon, although most races won’t let you compete until you are 18. When considering a half or full marathon, there are many more factors to consider:
  • Do I have three to six months to dedicate to training?
  • Do I have five to six days a week available for training?
  • Am I going to run/ walk the race or run the entire distance?
  • What are my time/ race goals? Do I just want to finish standing up or run a sub-4 hour marathon?
  • Am I mentally ready to run the distance, and even more importantly, am I physically conditioned for the training and race? I strongly recommend that anyone considering a half marathon or further distance checks with their doctor before starting the training.
SIDEBAR

Upcoming Runs


Think your kid could run for miles? Here are a few upcoming running events for kids around the area this fall:
 
Fort Worth Runners’ Club Labor Day Race
When: Sept. 3, 2012, starting at 7am
Where: Luke’s Locker, Montgomery Plaza
What: 5K, 15K and kids’ 1K
Details: $5 for the kids’ 1K. All participating kids receive a trophy and a T-shirt. fwrunners.org
 
Labor Day Rangers Race
When: Sept. 3, 2012, starting at 7:40am
Where: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
What: 1K fun run/walk and 5K race
Details: $12 for kids’ 1K; $32 adults or $28 through September 2. Registration includes a T-shirt, ribbon and post-race party. Race benefits the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation. texasrangers.com/race
 
Heroes for Children 5K Run/Walk
When: Sept. 15, 2012, starting at 6:30am
Where: The Shops at Legacy, Plano
What: 5K run/walk and 1K fun run
Details: $25 adults; $15 kids with race timing; $12 for kids ages 14 and younger. Raise at least $150 to receive free registration. heroesforchildren.org/5k
 
Oktoberfest Run for the Children
When: Sept. 22, 2012, starting at 7:45am
Where: Addison Circle Park, Addison
What: 1K fun run/walk and 5K run/walk
Details: $20 for the 1K fun run/walk. Participants also get free admission to Addison’s Oktoberfest on race day. oktoberfest5k.com
 
David’s Cure
When: Oct. 7, 2012, starting at 7:30am
Where: Campion Trails, Las Colinas
What: One-mile fun run, 5K and 10K
Details: $18 to $33 through Sept. 30, 2012. davidscure.org
 
Red Balloon Run & Ride
When: Oct. 20, 2012
Where: Children’s Medical Center at Legacy, Plano
What: 1K kids’ fun run, 5K run/walk and 100K bike ride
Details: All participants are encouraged to raise a minimum of $100 to benefit Children’s Medical Center. childrens.com/runandride
 
Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot
When: Nov. 22, 2012, starting at 9am
Where: City Hall Plaza, downtown Dallas
What: 5K and eight-miler
Details: $40 on race day; $15 for 3-mile Trot Tot for kids ages 6 and younger; $10 for dog registration. Score extra points by dressing like a turkey. thetrot.org
 
Fort Worth YMCA Turkey Trot
When: Nov. 22, 2012, starting at 8am
Where: Camp Bowie at Westridge
What: 1K Gobbler Trot, 5K and 10K
Details: $19 for the Gobbler Trot before Nov. 21, 2012; parents who enter the 5K or 10K can run the Gobbler with their child for free. fwtrot.org


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