Moments after taking their first steps, kids are literally off and running – or so it seems – do we really need to be teaching kids to run? 

Running for a sport is different than running for play, and running a race or for a distance goal has unique challenges. For soccer or basketball you need to run with speed and agility to turn quickly, to kick and to jump. For track there are obvious advantages to running fast but using arms for momentum, running with proper posture and the right technique at the start line can make a difference in how you place. These skills are taught and practiced and those that have correct running form may actually finish faster than someone who is just speedy.

Running for a distance goal is no different. There are skills that kids don’t instinctively have and teaching kids to run has many benefits including preventing injury.

Kids know how to run fast but generally they run with short goals in mind like a game of tag or as part of a sports team. To run a 1km, 5km or even longer distance, kids need to learn a few skills to have fun, avoid injury and cross that finish line with a smile. 

And you don’t need to be a runner yourself to teach them! Grab a watch and your bike and join them outside.  Who knows, once you learn about teaching kids to run you might decide to try it too.

Teaching Kids To Run

The Right Age

There are many “fun run” events open for 3-5 year olds like 1Km races, or short triathlons that have fun swims, runs and even ‘training wheel’ bike courses. These events are usually done with parents by their side, are meant for fun, no training is required and walking is perfectly acceptable. 

  • When kids are 6-8 they may want to venture past the 1km fun runs, and at this point its time to teach them a few running skills.

The Right Footwear

Kids need proper running shoes and anti friction socks for running to avoid shin splints, blisters and even knee or joint problems later on that can be caused by insufficient foot wear.  

  • It is worth a visit to a running store to get moisture wicking, anti rubbing socks to avoid blisters and even a quick check of their gait to determine the best running shoes for their growing feet.

The Right Clothes

Have light layers for tops when running in warm temperatures and light jackets that can be tied around the waist for colder runs.  You may find yourself walking home and it can get chilly if you’ve been sweating and then you stop running.

  • Avoid cotton and go for fabrics that wick away moisture to avoid rubbing and chafing. 

The Right Pace

Kids don’t know how to pace themselves, it is usually full throttle out of the gate followed by a total melt down 5 minutes in. Teaching kids how to set a pace is valuable to being able to enjoy a distance run. Set a goal of a 2km (or 15 minute) walk/run and take a watch with you to run 3 mins, walk 1 minute until the 2km is reached. When that is getting easier, increase the distance to 3km (or 20 minutes) and the run to 4 minutes of running, 1 minute walking. 

Start slow and watch how your child is reacting – if they are short of breath, have a stitch in their side or complaining of leg pain – take longer walking breaks. Keep in mind that an average pace is 7 minutes/per km for casual runners. Be careful not to go too far too fast as that could turn them off distance running for good.

  • Once they can run the full 2 or 3km without walking you can increase the speed and distance, but only if your child is still enjoying it!

The Right Fuel

Always pack water, even if its not hot or you are not going very far.  Water is valuable when you are active for more than just quenching your thirst and you will be surprised how thirsty running can make them. 

Don’t run on a full or empty stomach. Try a light snack 30 minutes before a run such as a banana or a yogurt and wait 2 hours after a big meal before running. Post run put some energy back in like a glass of chocolate milk or one of these protein smoothies for kids

From Personal Experience

My kids were 5, 7 and 9 when we started doing family runs and by ages 9, 11, 12 they had all done their first 10km race. We go for 30 minute run/walks starting in the Spring, focusing on time run and not distance to prepare for summer 5km events. Our goal is to keep moving for 30 minutes.  We run/walk 15 mins away from home and then turn around and run/walk back.  

Each run will be different. Some days they feel great, other days they don’t but try to get out at least 2 times a week if you are preparing for a specific race day distance goal. 

Race Day Let ’em Go

You will be surprised what the energy from a crowd can do to kids! My kids first 5km race they had never run more than 3km without stopping to walk. At the race they ran right past the 3km sign, stopped to take a photo at the 4km sign and then sprinted to the 5km finished line and BEAT me across!

They loved the start line anticipation, the crowds on the race route cheering them on, the volunteers directing runners and their adrenaline really kicked in at the finish line.

They are now very experienced runners and as a family we have done night runs, halloween runs, foam runs, colour runs, a Zoo run, trail runs and are spending Mothers Day this year doing our first Chocolate run! 

Maybe make learning to run a family affair and then you can enter fun runs together.

PIN this to your Active Kids Pinterest Board and get the kids out running this summer.

Teaching Kids to Run