From Parent to Parent advice on running with kids

Almost all of our parents had the same golden rule: Make sure it’s fun! To do this, they have a range of hints & tips:

  • Tess recommends letting youngsters discover new paths, even when not the planned route.
  • Both Richard & James suggest mixing things up. Richard has found this helps prevent his two from getting bored – even if it’s only running the last route backwards. James sometimes takes his son to other places locally, such as Pendle Hill, just for a change.
  • Several of our parents talked about making runs into adventures in different ways, including:
    • Running off road to keep the terrain more interesting (puddles, mud, etc.)
    • Picking a route with plenty to do & see – including taking the opportunity where possible to explore places you wouldn’t normally go to.
      For example, Richard has taken his children to find the hidden WW2 bunker on Rishworth Moor, & to explore the old railway line in Ripponden. They’re planning a trip to the Roman road at Blackstone Edge next. Similarly, James takes Euan on planned trips to the Lakes etc.
    • Having a fun destination in mind even on shorter runs. Toby does this frequently with his two. For example, last week, they ran to a rope swing, he’d found in the woods.
    • Exploring parks or trails from close to home that lead you to places you haven’t been before. You can try buying yourself a walker’s map and learning how to use it, this. will make the world bigger & more interesting for everyone.
    • The Danes have a saying that there is no such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothing – & that is doubly true when running on the moors. Even if the weather is bad, running can still be fun. Going out in the wind and snow can be another adventure, if you make it one (& play it safe)
  • Stop to look at things! Colin explained that for a generation brought up to travel in cars, we notice more when running – interesting buildings, farm animals, whatever – it won’t lessen the run to take time to notice the world. Similarly, Tess allows her two to stop whenever they want & admire the view or point at a funny sheep, etc.
  • Play with the pace: Try Fartlek, which in addition to being an hilarious word for the average 11-year-old, is a training technique involving short periods of faster running. For instance, from a particular bench to the next one, or from one lamppost to the next. Colin emphasises that when working on technique with youngsters it’s vital to keep things fun (but avoid turning it into a race)!
  • Colin also recommends lightening up & being silly: Have a laugh together – try things like a hopping or running backwards (when safe to do so), without worrying about what passers-by might think.
  • When it’s possible to do so again, many of our parents recommend joining a junior running club, emphasizing how much children get from this in terms of motivation, friendship & camaraderie, alongside training and technique.

Our top practical tips:

  1. Think safety at all times!
    • When running at dusk or after dark, always have the appropriate high-visibility vests & good torches.
    • Proper supervision is important at all times.
    • Explain the Countryside Code to younger ones – it’s useful for lots of reasons.
    • Make sure you have the right clothes for the weather and location. Extra layers in case anything were (heaven forbid) to go wrong. You can get cold quickly up on the fells if you have to stop and walk or sit and wait for help.
  2. Carry all the kit yourself – make sure children have as little to carry as possible.
  3. Take snacks and drinks with you. Ben and James both highlighted how you need lots of these & may need to remind children to eat and drink
  4. Several of our parents recommend having a treat lined up for afterwards, as this will be well-earned. This might include a special location at the end of the run, e.g., a rope swing (Toby) or a river to play in in the summer (James).
  5. Start small – be mindful of distances & recognize that children will get tired be patient. James has noticed with Euan that this often happens after about four miles. Liz was quick to emphasise that there is a reason why fell races for juniors are only around three miles: it’s a long way for smaller legs. How far a child can run will depend on age, development and experience – but remember that younger children aren’t really designed for stamina – it’s easy to put them off by making them run too far.
  6. Make it about them, not you. Personal bests, speed and distance don’t matter. Don’t turn things it into a race, unless they do – it can be incredibly off-putting for a young teen to be slower than their Mum!
  7. Be prepared to faff about and even walk at times, especially when the child wants to (regardless of how you feel about it – even when you are desperate to run). In fact, Toby recommends mixing walking and running at first – pointing out that any adult would do this when learning, so why shouldn’t children. Remember, on trails, ground is often steeper which is harder to run up. Walk if necessary, it may well be just as good for you as running. Whether you walk fast or run, tackling hills regularly is one of the best ways to get fit, regardless of how often you stopped for a breather.
  8. In fact, let your child dictate the speed, pace & distance – respect the speed of the slowest person with you & listen when they say they have gone far enough. If anything, it is typically better to encourage children to run more slowly than they might be inclined (little ones tend to go off at a clip and run out of puff/energy). Pacing is an art to be learned.
  9. Always encourage them, whatever happens. Just like adults, youngsters can have good & bad days. Cut it short if they are finding it tough – don’t risk putting them off completely!

Finally, a parent & a coach, Colin emphasises that not all children want to run – & it’s important to accept that. Even the keen ones may not want to run as often as you might, so don’t force them!  As they become teenagers, they may well be less inclined to run (especially with a parent). Remind them of the link between running fitness & performance & keep them motivated by stressing how running will help iimprove their performance in other sports. Alternatively, just, as Liz has always done with Fearne, remind them they will nearly always feel better for getting out.

Overall, remember, as long as they’re smiling at the end & asking when you can go again, then you’re all winning! The lessons they learn & the memories they make now will truly serve them a lifetime!