If you're a thirty something and it's a summer weekend, chances are your Facebook feed is all but clogged with all your thirty something friends and their sweaty, but happy racing photos. Running races is something we start doing to keep us motivated as we try to recapture our twenty something bodies. But then we realize: we kind of like this running business with its energy pumped racing events and "runner's high". We want to share that experience with the whole world, especially our own children. In the spirit of sharing and passing on a passion to posterity, running parents may find themselves asking, "But can I run a race with a child"?
The short answer is: "You bet!" The long answer is...well, a little longer but can be covered in a few points.
1. Does my child have the desire to run?
Most kids already seem to be natural-born runners. They wear us out as we just try to keep up with their energetic pace everyday. But to run with purpose and in a straight line? That may be a different story. The simplest way to know if you can run a race with a child is to ask. They might just be waiting to be asked. Maybe they are a little hesitant and need some encouragement. Gentle, loving encouragement is great. Brute force is not. Never force your child to run. That's just not fun for anyone.
2. Is my child physically capable of running?
How old is your child? What physical condition are they in? Don't let these things be restrictions but rather guidelines. Age is just a number and physical condition is certain to improve. When it comes to running with children it is best to start with shorter distances and a slower pace. While you may enjoy pounding the pavement through a half marathon at a break neck speed, be aware that younger, shorter legs may need to run much shorter distances at much slower paces.
That being said you don't need to hold them back either. Start with "just run to the end of the block". Then move on to "one more lap around the track". Pretty soon you'll be on your way to "let's do one mile". Before you know it you're both ready for a 5K (3.2 miles). Let me them set the pace with some encouraging advice and moral support from you.
3. What race are we going to run together?
So your child has decided to literally follow in Mom or Dad's footsteps and run a race with you. Now which one? One of the beautiful things about running events is the wide variety of experiences. Do you want one close to home or are you up for a destination run? Is expense a concern? There are often many cheap, family-friendly races offered in communities.
Do you want to support a charity or a cause? Is a "color run" appealing or do you just want that shiny medal swinging around your neck at the end? Are you a sucker for a good themed run? Some races have zombies chasing you. The popularity of running is on the rise as is the amount and variety of races. Have fun picking one together. Even before you get very far in training get registered and mark the race date on your calender. This will keep both of you motivated and anticipating the big day.
4. Am I ready to be the "wind beneath their wings"?
Running is fun, but let's face it: running isn't easy. Sometimes running is absolutely hard, boring, and really not fun. Be prepared to carry your child through those "not fun" times. Be a cheerleader when they need it. Be a coach, a teammate. Be firm, but be flexible. Simply be ready to help them through the entire experience, from first run to finish line. Help them to train consistently so they can be prepared, but keep it light and upbeat. You're in this together!
Running with your child can be a fantastic way to get in that special one-on-one time. Remind them to keep their eye on the prize. Talk to them about the energy and fun of race day, of the feelings of accomplishment when crossing the finish line. Make sticker charts where they can track their progress. Offer training incentives ("If you can run at least one mile for four days this week we get to go to the zoo on Saturday"). Be patient.
Running with children may take a little more time and patience, but will pay off ten fold. As parents we want to see our children healthy and happy and what better way to see that than by their side as we enjoy the benefits of running too. Running isn't just for thirty-somethings.