The OM Bottom Line: Whether starting out a new fitness routine or maintaining your fitness level, running is a great way to build endurance, burn calories and boost your endorphins, making you healthier and happier. Depending on how old your children are though, finding the time and getting the right gear to juggle the little nuggets and not want to turn around and go home can be difficult. I offer this guide to suggest the best ways to include your children in your running or walking routine.
Eliminate the excuses and move forward, one foot in front of the other.
Newborn to Pre-toddlerhood (not walking and still taking naps)
My preference: Stroller jogging/walking
Stroller– If you are a walker, any stroller will do. As for jogging strollers, I’m an advocate for whatever works for you but know going in that you get what you pay for. I have a BOB and love
it because it has the option of locking the front wheel or letting it spin which is good for trails and routes with lots of curves and turns. BOB recommends for their strollers that children are at least 8 months old before going along on your runs so they are able to hold their heads up and deal with bumps. However if you have the carseat conversion kit you can cheat this a bit.
Baby-wearing- If you are a walker, strap your kid to your back or your chest and go! I never did this with my daughter but wish I did. Running is obviously not advised while baby-wearing especially at this young of an age.
Treadmill (Gym or at home)- If all else fails, jump on the treadmill. Whether during nap time at home, or with your child in their car seat beside you at the gym. Again, treadmill running is different than running outside but you are moving! And that’s what matters.
Early Toddlerhood (Walking/Running and still taking regular naps)
My preference: Stroller Jogging/Walking
- Stroller- If your child will still sit in a stroller for extended periods of time or you can get them to go down for nap while you are running this is probably the optimal. Remember that children love routine, so if you have been running with your little one for a while, they should be used to it as they get older. But if not, be patient. If your child is like mine, as soon as she was mobile she wanted nothing to do with the stroller unless she wanted to sleep. So if it wasn’t nap time, keeping her in the stroller for a workout was a no-go. Try what you can, bring snacks, a tablet, maybe a bluetooth speaker so you both can listen to the same music and sing along together. If they get squirrelly, let them out and walk beside you for a bit, you will still be moving, keeping your heart rate up and they will get to join in the fun for a while. Hopefully after a few attempts, they will learn to enjoy being along for the ride and watching mommy work!
- Baby-wearing- Not recommended. However, I have been known to have run a few fun runs (5k’s) with my 3 year old on my shoulders for most of the race. Again, not recommended.
- Treadmill- Always my last choice just because you can’t really include your child in this much at this age. If you have one at home, nap time or before they wake up or after they go to bed is probably the best time. If you can find a gym or local YMCA that has childcare you can always jump on one there.
Toddlerhell (Full Tilt and Naps are a four letter word. Ages 3-4)
My preference: Anything that gets them moving alongside you, but I love the idea of having your kid being your pacer and mini-coach on wheels.
- Stroller- By this age, you may have added another running partner or two to the mix so this may be your only option for including the whole brood. But the good thing is you either have a kid that has spent years running with you in the stroller at this point or they are almost old enough to get some “miles” in themselves. See below.
- Let Them Run Too– At this point, they are still too young for structured running but who says they can’t play alongside you especially if you are a treadmill runner. Otherwise, find a local track that you could run laps on and let them play on the field. Get them used to running short distances or 200-400m. Play Red Light, Green Light. Then next time you sign up for a race, sign them up too. A lot of organized races in bigger cities offer events like diaper dashes and toddler trots up to a distance of 400 meters prior to the big race.
- Teach Them to Ride– They are a little too young to run, but what about a bike? Whether it’s a balance bike or one with training wheels, get them to ride alongside you. Make them in charge of holding your water bottle, give them responsibilities like counting laps or watching a timer. Strap a Go-Pro to them and make them chase you, then go home and critique your running stride and form.
School age and beyond
My preference: At this point if you are a SAHM, you should be able to get a few miles in while the nuggets are in school.
If you are a treadmill runner, this is a great time to get them involved. Either as cheerleaders, pacers or even DJ’s. Turn up the tunes and let your kids dance while you crush your workout. If you try to take advantage of your free time then I still encourage you to get out in the evenings if you can with your children to keep up the fitness as family fun time. If your children enjoy running then you should give them the opportunity to explore the sport. The following are some recommended distances for races based on age, so when you are out running with your kids you know what is safe.
- K-2nd Grade- Fun Runs (Half to Full Mile (800m-1600m) running and walking
- 3rd-5th Grade- 5k’s are doable but only if the child has been working up to this distance. Safety note: Dr Richard Beauchamp M.D. a regular contributor to the Running Room’s magazine says that “children are most susceptible to athletic injuries during their period of maximum growth velocity” and this age is when they are growing the fastest.
- 6th grade-High School- 5K’s up to Half-Marathons are deemed safe at this age given proper training. However, at this point you child is going to either have shown an interest in running or not. Don’t push it if they aren’t having fun. Keep up your own fitness level and they may choose to follow in your footsteps for recreation or for sport.
The Overeducated Mother’s Running Routine:
To be honest with you all, I didn’t start running as a form of exercise until last year when my daughter was about two and a half. At this point we already had her in daycare three days a week. So those are my running days. I just never made it a point earlier in her life to get her used to the stroller enough to be able to get her willing to ride in it now that she is older. We do go on walks in the evenings though, she runs with me and my husband and our dogs for short periods of time. We practice skipping and running backwards. She has done a 5k with me just recently with no stroller that ended up with me carrying her on my shoulders (passing her back and forth between her father and I) for most of the race. But she ran for a while and had a blast. She was so proud to cross that finish line. I have a good friend who has a three year old son who rides his bike alongside her while she runs in her neighborhood. I am chomping at the bit to get to this point now as I think it would be so much fun.
What other creative ways have you been able to get your running in with your child/children? Comment below!
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