“Uncle Mikey, when are you going to take me to run another 5k.”
A few weeks ago, my precocious seven year old nephew Andrew melted my heart by asking me that simple question. As you may recall, Andrew kicked off his Casual Running career with the runDisney kids races, and last year he ran his first 5k during the inaugural Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Half Marathon weekend in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Needless to say, he loved it, especially the snacks and SMOs. Interestingly, he never really asked about running another race – he is more focused on baseball – so this request took me pleasantly by surprise.
I told him sure, we could find him a race to run. He said no, he wanted to go out and run a 5k, with me. As in a training run around the neighborhood. I said sure!
As most of you know, I came to running later in life, much later in life than I would have liked actually. So, when I see young people, especially my nephews, getting exciting about running, this makes me happy. When his younger brother Nolan (age 5) saw us getting ready to go out for a run, he asked if he could join in. This made me even more excited.
Now, here’s the thing, as with most things, when it comes to encouraging kids’ interests in things – anything really, it isn’t just about running – you have to be careful not to push them too hard, too far, or too fast, but rather you need to let them explore and discover their passion and interests on their own, and in their time frames. Remember what the Stolasz family told us about how they got their son Teddy to train for the runDisney Star Wars 10k? They let Teddy pick the pace and the intervals. Allowing him to dictate the training allowed him to discover his love for running his way in his own way.
Following their lead, I did two things. First, I let Andrew and Nolan pick the pace. Second, I let them tell me when they were done. Now, lets see how that worked out for us.
We left the house and Nolan and Andrew took off like rockets. There was NO way that I could possibly keep up with them. They ran to the corner and waited for me, then took off again to the next corner (always sticking to the sidewalks, these kids paid attention in the safety classes their school offers).
After two turns, Nolan decided he was done. You know what? That’s fine. My initial inclination was to encourage him to keep going, but he had gone far enough for his interests, and enjoyed himself. If I would have pushed him, he may have resented it, and that’s not what we want when trying to teach a passion for athletic activity. There was a convenient cut through that he could get back home, so I watched him get back into his house before Andrew and I continued on.
But this is when Andrew earned his title of precocious. He started running faster than me down the sidewalk, and then turned around and said to me “What? That’s all you got!” Like I said, precocious, but how can you not love the kid?
He soon tired himself out and I taught him about intervals and the run-walk method. We would walk two driveways, then run 4, and so on. He may have stopped to pick up a stick or two, and I learned all of the pertinent Pee Wee baseball stats of every kid in the neighborhood, but Andrew kept on running, determined to hit 5k.
We soon came upon my sister and brother-in-law, who were out for a walk with Nolan, their son, Ryan, and Andrew’s younger brother, Zach. Nolan decided he was ready to run with us for a little while longer, so he did. He lasted another quarter mile or so until we ran past their house, and he went inside. He was done, but he had fun.
Andrew and I continued on, but he was getting tired. We discussed how “boring” school subjects like math and science are important in running (he would calculate how much farther we had to run when I could call out distances from my GPS watch). With about a quarter mile to go, he stopped an interval short and started walking. I couldn’t resist, I turned to him and said “What, is that all YOU got?” He laughed, but this was all he needed to start running again to finish out the interval.
Andrew sprinted the last interval, determined to beat me back to the house. In the end, all 3 of us had a great time. I know the boys enjoyed it because Andrew and Nolan already asked me when I will take them running again. I know I enjoyed it because I got to spend time with my nephews, doing something I love, and hopefully helping to help their parents instill a love for fun and healthy physical activities that they will take with them going forward in their lives. Not bad for a way to spend a spring afternoon.
Oh, and as a fun post script. When I saw my nephews the next week, Andrew said to me “Uncle Mikey, I think I must have slept funny the night after we ran, when I woke up the next morning, my legs hurt.” Well, at least it is good to see that doesn’t just impact us older Casual Runners!
Are you looking to share your love of running with a new generation of Casual Runners or just looking to get out and get started on your own running adventure? Check out our great FIRST MILE story collection and our GETTING STARTED series as a way to help new runners discover their own potential.
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