Kids love to run, but can kids safely run distance? It’s one thing to play soccer and run after a ball, another to enter a 1km fun run, but at what age can kids consider running 5km? Or even 10km? After learning a few running basic like these, and some training you may be surprised what kids can accomplish.
At what age can kids safely run distance like 5km or even a 10km race?
Our kids started running very young as our IronKids Brand has always sponsored local events and we believe in participating in events we sponsor. Our youngest was only 5 when she did her first 5km run . . .perched on our shoulders or riding piggy back most of the way . .but she was there and we were running as a family.
As a result, all 3 of my daughters could not only run a 5km by the time they were 8 years old, they could beat me across the finish line . . and I have been running for over 30 years!
Fast forward a few years and all 3 have now completed many more 5km runs and crossed the finish line of their first 10km race before they were teenagers, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a runner to help your kids safely run distance.
Can Kids Safely Run Distance – 5km or 10km Race?
The answer for most kids is yes, however there are things to consider before deciding if this is right for your family. You may even find mid-way to your goal that they love it and want to go further or loathe it and decide its not their thing. Running is not for everyone. Give it a try and see if your kids get excited by the idea of a fun 1km, 5km or even a 10km run, but first, some considerations.
Important To Consider
When kids are training for distance, they need an adult to run with them or at least bike along side for encouragement, motivation, water breaks and to ensure they run injury free.
Everything in moderation is still key, and for kids, this includes physical activity of any kind. Active For Life suggests “children ages 4–8 like to run fast and science has discovered that’s actually what’s best for them: at that age, their bodies and brains are developing power and speed,” so starting with 3km fun runs or shorter 1km distances are great for kids under 8.
Ideally kids between ages 8-10 should start with a few 5km events before trying to run father.
If they love it and THEY are the motivation behind wanting to run more than the 1-3km fun runs, what do you need to know to teach them endurance, help them train, avoid injury and cross that finish line with a smile?
Teaching Kids to Run Distance
Learn the Basics
Show kids how far 5km or 10km is and ensure they understand it is about endurance and not speed. Teach them about pace, about proper hydration, about dressing for the heat or cold, about proper nutrition before and after a long run and about the importance of training. If they are still motivated to run, start slow.
Set a Schedule
There is a lot of great advice here for teaching kids to run a 5km and when they are ready to train for a longer distance, you will need to add a few weeks to the training schedule. Ideally you want the kids to walk/run a distance of 3-5km twice a week during the week and then make time on the weekends to increase that distance by .5km each week.
It will take getting out for a run at least twice a week and at least 8-10 weeks of consistent runs in order to increase their endurance to be able to run a 10km race comfortably.
Sometimes committing to running a specific time rather than distance is easier. In that case run 25-30 minutes twice a week and increase to longer runs on the weekends by adding 5 minutes to your run until you reach 1 hour.
Set a Pace
Aim for 7 minutes a kilometer of running or a mix of running and walking. Some kids will start off faster but try to hold them to a pace between 6-7 minutes/km so they can go the distance.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Take a smart phone with an app like Run Keeper to track your pace and distance or use a stop watch. This means an adult is with them either running, riding a bike or train at the track where you can walk and kids can run. It is important when kids are young that you are there with them.
Set a Route
Find a route they are comfortable with; maybe through a quiet subdivision to the park or to a track or a trail if there is one nearby. Map out a 5km route that you can easily add on .5km or 5 minutes extra each week. Running a familiar route each week will give kids markers they can use to track their own progress and give them check points so they know how much distance has been covered in how much time.
Make sure there is time in your families schedule to get out for at least 2 runs a week – preferably 2 runs during the week and a longer run on weekends.
Being hydrated before running is just as important as drinking up after a run. Try to get in 2-3 glasses of water up to an hour before running and then sipping up to a cup of water every 20 minutes while running, especially on those hot days. “But don’t drink too much,” says Runner’s World, “If you feel or hear sloshing in your stomach, its telling you it’s full, and you don’t need to drink for a while.”
If running more than an hour (which might be too much for kids under 13), refuel with a sports drink to replace lost electrolytes. I found small waist pouch style water bottles for my kids at MEC so they could get used to carry water with them.
Eating a big meal before a run is a recipe for tummy trouble, “our body is simply not designed to do both digestion and exercise at the same time,” says Runners World magazine. Ensure no large meals at least 2 hours before a run but a snack of a banana and juice, small bowl of cereal or yogurt and berries will give you energy pre run.
Post run it is important to eat within 30 minutes to restore the energy stores that have been depleted from running longer distances. Combing carbs and protein is great, such as a protein smoothie, bagel and peanut butter or go for chocolate milk; the carbohydrates, calcium, protein and sugars in milk are great as is a yogurt, whole grains, real fruit juice and nuts.
Most of all, have fun with it. Set a race goal, enjoy the run and be super proud of the medal you earn at the finish line. You never know where running will take you, but it’s a great start to a healthy active lifestyle.
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