Attend any middle school cross country meet and take a look at the participants. Hidden among the 6-8th graders you might very well see some younger runners. In recent years, the average age has fallen and now you can see scores of first and second graders running distance. My own 7th grade daughter runs cross country and has for three years. On her team are three second graders and a handful of higher elementary students. What has brought on the popularity of running for the younger set?
Many children have grown up watching their parents run for fun or exercise and become interested. Often, distance runs, such as the Marine Corps Marathon, also sponsor Fun Runs, runs of 1-3 miles that are specifically geared toward kids. Many think that children are competing in these runs for the rewards of trophies and medals, but you might be surprised. Most often, children indicate that they run just for the fun of running. Schools have begun cross country teams and groups have sprung up all across America to help get kids interested in running. One such group is Girls on the Run International, a non-profit that provides schools and communities with the steps for a 12-week running program for young girls. At the completion of the program, the participants can run a 5K. Kunz began the program with just 13 girls and now numbers more than 70,000.
“Our mission is to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. So while running is part of the program, it’s just a piece of it,” says Elizabeth Kunz, president of Girls on the Run International. The classes not only consist of running, but discussions on gossip and bullying and work to help girls with self esteem issues.
Running is a concept that is as natural as breathing to children, but often needs a little bit of refinement. Make sure your child is well hydrated, wears supportive and well-fitting shoes, and eats a proper, balanced diet. If your child is new to running, it can be beneficial to begin with walking and slowly progress to running short distances. One example of this is the Couch to 5K program.
The bottom line is that children love running. By beginning early, you can help a child develop a habit that will help them maintain a healthy weight and stay active and fit long term.