Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How to help your kids run a marathon, mile by mile

Welcome to the July 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Summer Fun

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about how to get out and enjoy the warmer season as a family.

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Several years ago, I wrote an advice post asking how in the world to get a kid to want to walk. That child was my oldest, Mikko, and … he still hates to walk. Note: I do not mean “walk long distances” or “walk fast” — I mean, move his tush at all. So, apparently, it was just who he is!1

But, three years ago, when I was figuring out how to change from someone who hates running and is terrible at it to someone who could maybe, very slowly, run a 5K race (not well! obviously! but finish it!), Mikko was intrigued by my efforts and expressed his own interest in competing in a race.

Technically, kids can enter a lot of races, and there were plenty running (full out) alongside their parents in the 5K I eventually conquered (at a snail’s pace, but I kept moving the whole time!). However, I knew Mikko wouldn’t do well for a whole 5K (about 2.2 miles), even walking. So I kept looking and found the Seattle Children's Kids Marathon, and it was perfect for us.

I’m sure you hear “marathon” and think, “What the what? How is that easier than a 5K?” Well, let me explain. (And let me also, just to get this out of the way, explain that this race takes place in Seattle in November, which isn’t “summer fun,” but I figure your training and running of races might necessarily take place in the summer months where you live, so I’m writing this now!)

The Kids Marathon organizers have set up the kids’ portion of their famous adult marathon magnificently. Only the final 1.2 of the 26.2 miles are run (or walked, or strolled) in a big group of kids and guardians downtown. The other 25 miles are all “honor miles” and take place before the official race. In other words, the training for the race is built into the structure itself. Brilliant!

In addition, kids are asked to read 13 books, do 13 good deeds, and try out 13 good foods. I thought those were a nice touch, though not strictly necessary if you want to engineer something similar in your home.

For the registration fee, the organizers send out little tokens of encouragement for the parents (or teachers or coaches) to handle: a chart with the adult marathon route marked that you can fill in as you complete each training mile, certificates for significant milestones (5 miles, 10 miles, 13 books read, etc.), and even a little charm necklace/bracelet with little relevant charms to add as you finish each portion of the training (books, deeds, and miles).

The day of is a lot of fun, too, because there are a ton of excited kids participating, and there are photographers at the end just like in a real race. There’s no timing, so you can go as slowly as you need to (Mikko and I definitely did our usual shuffle, with plenty of slowing to a walk as he complained that this race was taking forever). At the finish line, Mikko was wrapped in a shiny foil blanket, which — obviously — was one of the highlights of his life. And then we got to browse through the sponsors’ booths and pick up a bag of freebie loot (also a huge plus in Mikko’s eyes!).

Every participant also received the same medal. Mikko assumed this meant he had won the race. I was literally agog at his lack of rationality here. Did he not see all the groups of people ahead of us? But, hey, at least the kid has confidence?

So, with full props to the Seattle Children’s Kids Marathon and other kid-focused races of this bent, here’s how you might adapt this method to work with your own kids, if you don’t have a similar race near you:

  • Decide whether you want to enter a real race at the end of your training. I think it's a fun reward in itself for all your hard work. If you find a child-friendly one, it doesn’t matter if you walk or run or how fast you go, and you can often bring along siblings in a carrier or stroller, or even the family dog. Look for local charity runs, particularly ones labeled “fun run” or “run/walk.” Legitimate races are a lot of enjoyment for the camaraderie and the swag. That might sound silly, but it’s heartening to put on your race t-shirt and see a sea of people wearing the same one. Pinning on a number, too? Woot — it makes you feel like a runner. Even if the loot afterward is free bananas and a paper cup of Gatorade, that can be enough to make you feel like a real athlete. I highly recommend having some race to look forward to, so plan ahead to allow plenty of time for your training runs beforehand. If you’re going to do 25 or 26.2 miles ahead of time, allow yourself 2-3 months’ leeway for low stress, though you could do one mile a day for almost a month if you don’t skip many days.

  • Decide what counts as a training mile. If you and your kids are up for actual running, go for it! Since my brood and I are pathetically slow, I allowed walking in the training and the race. You could also decide whether other exercise counts, and if so, to what degree (maybe a half hour of bike riding or hour of soccer is 1 mile, for instance). We did a mix of walking and jogging with occasional sprints for each of our training miles. I was thinking, though, to encourage longer daily walks, that I might use the pedometer app on my phone to allow any and all walking (not just miles specially marked exercise or training) that the kids do with me, such as even sauntering to the playground or running errands. In that case, I might set a higher goal, like “Let’s walk 100 miles in the next month.”

  • Set a route or use an app to track your miles. If you’re going to have specific training miles, particularly if you’re going to be running instead of walking, you’ll probably want to figure out a route that’s a good amount for a day’s exercise. For instance, Mikko and I mapped out that walking to our old home and back was almost exactly a mile. A school or gym’s track could also be useful for tracking laps. If you have a smartphone, you could use any one of many exercise-tracking apps. Mikko’s favorite is Charity Miles, because it gives money to the nonprofit of your choice as you use it, and all it asks in return is that you tout your run via social media. Just remember to turn it on as you start your run!

  • Determine your gear. If you’re going to take it easy, you can probably make do with whatever clothing and shoes your kids normally wear (unless maybe if it’s flip-flops). If you're running all out, though, you'll be safer in well-fitting athletic shoes, and, regardless, you might both find it enjoyable to get some sports-specific duds, such as an athletic shirt and shorts or skirt. You can check the thrift store for cheaper options. Some people choose races where dressing to a wild and costumed theme is part of the fun, or a race where you start off in a pristine t-shirt that then gets liberally doused in bright colors or splashes of mud. Talk with your kids about what would be fun for them.

Resting afterward in our workout wear, such as it is.
I believe one layer of Mikko's is Spider-Man pajamas,
but he was super proud of that athletic shirt on top we found at a thrift shop!

  • Factor in rewards for milestones. Don’t wait till the very end but give yourselves high fives along the way. You could copy Seattle Children’s Marathon and make up some cute mile-marker certificates to hand out or post on the fridge. You could do the charm bracelet idea as something wearable. Use a chart to mark your miles each time (here are the free downloads for the Seattle race), and post it prominently for everyone to see how much progress you’re making. Other ideas for rewards: movie night, a special outing, a new toy or book, stickers, or posting a video bragging on yourselves on YouTube and then sending it to the relatives so they’ll pat you all on the back! If you’re not running a race at the end, you’ll probably want to go big for your final mile: maybe even get a medal or trophy engraved (I have no idea how much that would cost, but it sounds super fun to this girl who never got a medal or trophy for anything ever! — here are some cheap design-your-own medals and a plastic "gold" trophy, if nothing else), or make your own matching runner t-shirts with fabric paint (I recommend puffy and glitter!).

  • Involve the whole family. This isn’t a requirement, but it’s fun if you can swing it. Littler sibs of an age to sit up well can come along in a jogging stroller (if you’re running) or via babywearing (only if you’re walking — I wouldn’t risk the jolting to a baby’s neck and head otherwise, as well as the safety considerations of keeping the wrap tight). The family dogs need walking anyway. Older siblings, co-parents, visiting relatives — anyone could come along as they have the time and enthusiasm! If you choose not to be strict about what counts as training, you could do some cross-training miles through a family bike ride or swimming laps together.

  • Keep it fun. I have to admit, this was challenging for me, and I didn’t even have any aspirations to run the stupid race! Mikko is just so, so resistant to anything that involves motion, so convincing him to put on shoes and head out the door was always the hardest part of the equation. Once we got moving, we usually did ok, but it still often involved bribes (“yes, ok, we’ll stop at that restaurant on our way back for a soda”) and sometimes bandages (we are a clumsy folk). If you have similarly reluctant children, try not to let it get to you. Even if your kids are gung-ho about the idea of racing at the start (as mine was), enthusiasm can wane in the face of frequent, regular training. You might find yourself repeating, over and over, the concept of training, and that, no, it’s not enough to just show up on race day and expect to be awesome. Now, I am a believer in doing what works for your family, and stopping what doesn’t work, so, assuming you haven’t paid some exorbitant registration fee and are just winging this, you could in fact all give up if you want. But I also believe it’s ok to encourage children to keep up with something you think will benefit them, even if they can’t see the benefit at the moment. I kept reminding Mikko, “You wanted to run this race, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. We need to train for it regularly so we can be as strong and fast as possible on race day.” And speaking of race day, don’t put the emphasis on winning — the point is to move your body, work as a team, and enjoy yourself. Kids don’t need the pressure to be the best. If Mikko’s experience is any evidence, as long as they get a medal, they’ll assume they’ve won anyway!

Have you and your kids run any races and have tips to offer? What sort of exercise do you favor as a family?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon July 14 with all the carnival links.)

  • All my Summers — The Barefoot Mama reflects on summers past and talks about the changing dynamics of her family life.
  • Wild summer days Stoneageparent shares some of the many delights the summer offers to her already nature loving, outdoor family.
  • How to Make a Messy Fun Car Emergency Kit (+ a Recipe for Homemade Disinfecting Wipes) — It can be a huge pain to clean up muddy, sandy kids before they climb in the car, but what would childhood be without the wonder of dirt and mud and nature?! Today Dionna at Code Name: Mama is sharing a few handy things to keep in the trunk of your car year-round so that you feel more comfortable with the mess.
  • The Best Part of Summer — Rachael at The Variegated Life has a portable escape route that helps her enjoy all of summer.

1 By the way, I am tickled to read that post from 2010 when Mikko, now 8, was 2 years old and trying to tell me he couldn't walk up the stairs. He totally still is that kid, I'm not exaggerating. If he's sitting on the couch and he needs something that's at his feet or two couch cushions away, he'll ask someone else to get it for him. In the mornings, Sam still carries him downstairs to wake up at his leisure. I have to admit that I no longer carry him myself, though! I try to walk 5 miles every day, all told, and I cajole the kids into coming with me for at least part of it daily. Alrik, 4 years old, is always game, sometimes even when I'd rather be solo, and Karsten, 8 months old, necessarily loves to come along, but Mikko comes only if there's a pragmatic reason for him to do so, such as stopping for a treat. Even then, he wants to go get the treat, then come right back, not wander aimlessly as I'm wont to do and can get him to agree to only if I trick him into it. So … things change, and don't, and all that. Time, it does its timey thing, and yet — people remain who they are. There's my deepish thought for the day.


stoneageparent said...

Thanks for sharing, a refreshing read. It has answered some of my questions about how to run with my five year old and has inspired me to do so! He loves running short distances so maybe a fun run would really suit him. It is also great to do activities together as a family. Thanks. Stoneageparent.

Anonymous said...

This was so lovely to read. The organisers have done such a good job making it child friendly. I enjoyed your thoughts on how to encourage children to run and your son was clearly very proud of his achievement.

Kendall said...

Wow, that marathon really sounds like tons of fun and it looks like both you and Mikko enjoyed it!

We, as a family, aren't really into exercising in this way, but we have been making a bit more effort (1-2x/wk counts, right) in taking family walks, especially with my being pregnant now. Baby Boy Only wants to go to the park and swing, but he also doesn't like to be left behind (lol), so he'll walk with us and we usually stop to look at birds or plants or trees! :)

Rachael said...

Oh, wow, L would TOTALLY be into doing something like this! I just ran in my first road race since becoming a parent (I think?), so the kids got to see me in action. Now L has ambitions of running a 5K, though I’m not sure how he feels about the idea now that he’s run an actual mile or so with me.

Congratulations to Mikko! What an accomplishment!

Holly Scudero said...

I absolutely LOVE this idea! I had no idea that things such as kids' marathons existed, although I know that a lot of regular races offer a 1-mile fun run. I've never actually tried any kind of formal race with my 3-year-old, but... we did register for the Bubble Run this fall! Which is just like it sounds: a race with lots of big, sudsy, colorful bubbles. Pretty sure my son will love it. But you've also inspired me to look into other race ideas nearby, and I've found a kids' marathon pretty close to me that we just might check into. Thanks for all the ideas to help get my son motivated!

Deb Chitwood said...

This is fabulous, Lauren! Thanks so much for letting us know about kids' marathons. I hadn't heard of them before, but I think they're an amazing idea! :)

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