I ran middle school track once. Literally, once. I attended a track meet, ran my race and received a shiny green participant's ribbon. My dad, a lifelong runner, was so proud. Had he witnessed the beginning of his daughter's illustrious running career?
Sadly, no. At 12 years old, I had much more important things on my mind: boys, bras, navigating the caste system of the school cafeteria. Running (or any sport, for that matter) wasn't on my radar.
It would be 25 years before I laced up another pair of running shoes. Now, three years later, running has changed my life in ways I never imagined. And while I wouldn't go back and change things, I do sometimes wish that I'd discovered my love for running a little (or a lot) sooner.
I'm a strong proponent of letting my daughters discover their own talents and passions. But I certainly wouldn't complain if either of them expressed an interest in running. Here's why:
- Running is fun. Watch a group of kids at recess or in your backyard. (Or in the case of my kids, in the grocery store.) Kids love to run. Why not harness that energy – that pure, unbridled joy – into a sport?
- Running is affordable. Adult runners know that the costs associated with running can add up; the shoes, the gear, the race entry fees. But in reality, the only item a runner really needs to buy is a good pair of running shoes. Expensive equipment or uniforms are not required. Your kids don't even have to join a team or a club—a run through the neighborhood with mom or dad is a great way to get started.
- Running is an easy sport to learn. Aside from some general safety rules and etiquette, recreational running is pretty simple. Stay in your lane. Don't go until you're told to go. Tie your shoelaces.
- Running helps kids improve in other sports. Take soccer, for example. Soccer players run almost nonstop during a game. Running off the field will help improve your child's aerobic conditioning on the field. Running also helps develop core and back strength, both of which play an important role in activities like gymnastics, dance and cheerleading.
- Running has great role models for young people. Take Shalane Flanagan—her determination, perseverance, confidence, grace under pressure. Those are qualities that I hope to encourage in my daughters. And Meb Keflezighi is a great example for young male runners to look up to.
- Running is for everyone. The great thing about running is that kids get to participate at their own pace. Even a child who is not particularly athletically-inclined can set attainable goals, which will help boost their confidence and build healthy bodies and minds.
Last fall, my third grader participated in an after school running program called Girls on the Run. This 12-week program uses running to inspire and motivate girls. The program guides them as they develop positive relationships with teammates and coaches, build confidence through accomplishment, and learn important lessons about health and fitness. At the end of the program, the girls complete a 5K. The pride on my daughter's face as she crossed the finish line with her friends, her coaches, her grandpa, and myself was priceless.
Girls on the Run is just one of many running programs designed specifically for young kids. Many elementary and middle schools offer running clubs, and "Fun Runs" for kids and families are becoming quite common at racing events.
- 6 Ways to get Kids Ready for Their First 5Ks
- Dynamic Running Drill for Kids
- Running Form Drill for Kids