Reader To Reader: My Son Has Discovered Running

If your child is showing a new-found love for running, how do you encourage them without overdoing it?


Posted: 6 January 2007
by Jane Hoskyn


When your 11-year-old son discovers a love for cross-country running, how do you encourage his enthusiasm without overdoing it – and how do you prepare him for disappointment?

"My 11-year-old son is showing an interest in running. It all stems from a teacher establishing a cross-country running club at school about six weeks ago, and to my surprise David has not just shown an interest but real enthusiasm. Training sessions have been held once a week after school, sometimes when it's freezing, but always he wants to go. I'm impressed and delighted. He is proud of his stronger 'playtime' running now, and sees a difference in his own physique. He is asthmatic (mild), but treats and controls it well. His other sports are really playground games: football kickabouts, PE classes etc. I do some running myself and enter about 6-8 events a year, so I'm happy to jog along with David but don't want to push him. How much dedicated running should he do each week, and how often? Should he set goals and targets, and enter events? How do you help a 12-year-old through the low times and disappointment?"
Raymond McMillan (by email)

Your best answers

  • Make it an enjoyable family activity
    My two daughters aged 11 and 14 have come running with me – just light jogging. Their mum wants to lose weight and run a 10K in April, and the girls wanted to help out. Running has helped build the girls' self confidence, without the peer pressure, embarrassment etc of organised school sports. As a whole family activity, it can't be beaten. My daughters got to 5K by using the same techniques as their mother: run-walk a set distance, and build from there. Going for gentle jogs with my daughters after my own 12-mile runs is a perfect way to ease away post-long-distance aches and pains. They ran a 5K race when I did the 10K, and they thoroughly enjoyed it – taking it easy and enjoying the spectacle. Whilst I encourage them to come out as often as possible, I keep it relaxed. This builds stamina and makes the runs much more enjoyable. However there is a downside: I've just spent £190 on three pairs of trainers! – Mike Hawes
  • Don't over-complicate things Why not just ask your son whether he wants help? Ask him if he wants to set goals and how much running he wants to do. He may well not have low times – many kids are well-adjusted and don't get depressed just because they don't win at sport all the time. He's only been doing it six weeks. Give him some space to get on with it, and offer encouragement and support if he wants it. – popsider
  • Find a young runners' club
    My 11-year-old son has social behavioural problems and is probably somewhere on the autistic scale – yet to be diagnosed. He struggles to interact with team events, but running has become a great outlet for him. He now trains twice a week with the children's group at my running club, and it's been great for him. (I have been a runner and a club runner for a fair few years now.) They have fun sessions to encourage the children to develop naturally, plus some local fun events and cross-country leagues. The club staff are very good with all the children and youth runners, and everyone is placed in groups according to thier abilities. He has the potential to be a very good runner; in his two cross-country races so far, he has come 5th and 3rd in the Wessex U11 League. If he wants to run with me, he can. I encourage him but don't put any pressure on him – and don't need to. ndash; RFJ
  • Check out the cross-country championships
    Look around for a local club that has a junior section. Runningteenbeanz has never looked back after going along to a series of introduction sessions at our club. In the first weekend of January there are county cross-country championships, so if there's still time it's worth going along to find out which local clubs include juniors. – beanz
  • Kids love clubs
    My club started a junior club a couple of years ago, and we predicted that around 20-30 kids would turn up. Last year we signed up 120 junior members. They must love it or they wouldn't keep coming back. – slug
  • Running helps me control my asthma
    It's great that your son has shown this interest and has been encouraged by his school. I am asthmatic and have found running to be of great benefit. Very cold/windy weather bothers my breathing, so I use a scarf over the lower portion of my face so that the air I breath stays warm. This reduces my exercise-induced attacks. Tiredness can also cause my breathing to "kick out" at the most unlikely times. Asthma is a very personal condition, and I think your son will be able to tell you if he's having more problems today than yesterday, or that today was the greatest run ever. Let him set goals. Keep them realistic. And let him know that there are other asthmatics out there not letting the illness win! Good luck to you both. – Karen Meaney
  • Running can help his asthma – but take care
    I am an asthmatic 43-year-old who discovered running three or four years ago, and I wish I'd done so when I was 10. There is really nothing much to running with mild asthma. You just keep going, and if your chest tightens up you either slow down or stop for a little while. I can avoid wheezing by running slowly – and, as my fitness improves, my threshold for wheezing improves too. The key is to build up slowly rather than trying to push it. You cannot just 'run through' an asthma attack, in the way that some people do with muscle pain. You have to slow down, or you could get into trouble. I have also found the drug Singulair very good for exercise-induced asthma, though the inhaled steroids are pretty good as well. Using either of these drugs properly will really make a difference to your son's running. Also, don't be afraid of going out in the cold air too much. Just make sure that you have a Ventolin with you, and don't push it too hard.
    Mike Saunders
    (Note from Jane: asthma is no bar to running, if Paula Radcliffe is anything to go by! Click here to find out what she told us about controlling her asthma back in September)
  • Encourage him, but don't overdo it
    I started running at age nine, and am still running now – 19 years later. With my club as a junior, I used to train twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and then race in cross-country or on the track in the summer, or go out for my own run. My parents supported me by providing transport and encouragement. They never expected me to come in a certain position; any pressure came from myself. I enjoyed the challenge and still do. Variety is important. But it is vital not to overdo the training at an early age. Everyone I know who was pushed too much at an early age became despondent and overly worried about their placing in races. They either dropped out in their teens or became injured through overtraining injuries. Don't overdo the milage either, as young bodies are still growing. Also, I think it is helpful not only to focus on running. During my young running years I was also on the school teams for hockey, netball, volleyball, basketball etc, which also kept me fit. – Speedy Snail
  • Don't link running with 'the body beautiful'
    I think it's great that David is showing an interest, and you should certainly encourage it. I am sure that there'll be some school representation on the cards for some local events. I can't wait for my two to start showing an interest in mountain biking and running. But... just one word of caution. Years ago I used to do a lot of steroids and weights because I didn't think I was big enough. Before I met my wife, she was anorexic and bulimic because she thought she was too big. We're happily married and now well adjusted. But I can remember my dad giving me his old chest expander and a Bullworker when I was about 13, and reckon that might have been the start of my troubles. So I'd encourage the participation and health benefits, but play down anything to do with physique. My two are aged 3 and nearly 2, so I don't know how a 12-year-old thinks, but I'd guess it's more enjoyable when there's no pressure to perform. – Craig Llewellyn
  • Let him run without you
    Twelve years of age may be a time when he needs his own "thing" and own space, and he may prefer to run with the school or club that with you. Perhaps chatting about running at home will be as far as he wants you to be involved. Be careful you don't use your shared interest to crowd him and threaten his independence. – Repatriated Nessie
  • Don't be Competitive Dad
    Running is supposed to be fun at age 11. Heck, everything's supposed to be fun at age 11. Give him space to make his own choices. Also avoid the cliquey competitive wannabe sporting parent trap. It's really difficult, I know, but the quickest way to put a kid off something for life is to do the pushy parent bit. I used to take my two daughters orienteering. It was something we could do together, and it involved a bit of brainwork as well. They're both grown up now, and still competitive athletes – in fact I'm running against the younger one in a couple of weeks' time. – Fell Running
  • Take the 'should' out of running
    I think it's great he's showing such an interest, but I wouldn't even mention how much running he "should" be doing – it'll spoil the fun. When I start thinking in those terms, it all becomes a bit of a drag. He should do however much or however little he feels like doing, and enjoy himself. I've got five-year-old twins (boy and girl) who both want to do the kids' 1K race that takes place before the 10K I usually do in the spring. I think they can both manage it, if I get them to slow down a bit! My girl is naturally a much faster runner than my boy, but he's the competitive one. I may need some tips on dealing with a bruised 5-year-old male ego... – Vicki Chung


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Hi peeps,

This week's Reader to Reader question was emailed to me. I really liked it and I think a lot of you would be able to offer some insight. Please add your comments, advice etc...

From Raymond McMillan:

"My 11-year-old son is showing an interest in running. It all stems from a teacher establishing a cross-country running club at school about six weeks ago, and to my surprise David has not just shown an interest but real enthusiasm.

"Training sessions have been held once a week after school, sometimes when it's freezing, but always he wants to go. I'm impressed and delighted. He is proud of his stronger 'playtime' running now, and sees a difference in his own physique. He is asthmatic (mild), but treats and controls it well. His other sports are really playground games: football kickabouts, PE classes etc.

"I do some running myself and enter about 6-8 events a year, so I'm happy to jog along with David but don't want to push him. How much dedicated running should he do each week, and how often? Should he set goals and targets, and enter events? How do you help a 12-year-old through the low times and disappointment?"


Posted: 29/12/2006 at 15:46

Raymond is over complicating it. Why not ask him and see if he wants help, if he wants to set goals, how much running he wants to do.

He may well not have low times - many kids are well adjusted and don't get depressed because they don't win at sport all the time. He's only been doing it 6 weeks - give him some space to get on with it and offer encouragement and support if he wants it.
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 17:50

My two daughters of 11 + 14 have come running with me , light jogging as they wanted to help with their mothers training , she wants to lose much weight and run a 10K in April (she was 18+ stone). The girls got to 5K by using the same techniques as their mother - run walk a set distance and build from there.

I used to run/walk 5 K with my wife then run first with the one daughter then the other as one was quicker than the other. 15K of very light running for me and a whole family workout. I've been out with both of them individually _after_ a 12 mile run of my own and it was a perfect way of easing away any post long distance aches and pains. I enouraged them to run a 5k race whilst I did the 10K and they thoroughly enjoyed it - taking it easy and enjoying the spectacle.

Now my wife is able to jog 4 miles having lost several stone and just the other day they both accompanied us for 4 miles over mixed terrain XC . A most enjoyable Christmas Eve run indeed.

So whilst I encorage them to come out as often as possible I keep it relaxed as they can run with their mother rather than racing off - this builds stamina and makes runs much more enjoyable.

However I've just spent £190 on three pairs of trainers - thats with sale discounts and freebies thrown in!! - there had to be a downside , thank goodness one daughter trainers were OK!!
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 17:54

I have a 14 YO Daughter who is active but doesnt like running, but my son is a different story.

He is also 11 YO, we moved in Aug last summer (I have been a runner and a club runner for a fair few years now), where we used to live there was no junior part of the club. But now we have moved there is is my new club.

He trains 2 a week (Fun sessions mainly to encourage the children to develope naturally), there are local fun events plus the XC lges.

For my Son its great, as he has social behavioural problems and is somewhere on the Autistic scale (yet to be diagnosed - thats a long story).... he struggles to interact with team events, running is a useful outlet for him.

If he wants to run with me he can, I only encourage him and do not put any pressure on and don't need to either.

He has got potential to be a very good runner, as in his 2 XC races so far in the Wessex Lge in the U11 he has come 5th and 3rd.

The Club are very good too with all the children and youth, and everyone isplaced in groups acoording to thier abilities.

Hope some of this helps.....
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 18:46

I'll agree with RFJ as to the positive character building aspect of running , in my case especially for girls. It builds self confidence in an individual way , without the larger team aspect of peer pressure, embarrassment etc. Of course as a whole family activity it can't be beaten , they get excercise, my wife continues to improve and I get my legs stretched away from race training!
Posted: 30/12/2006 at 21:50

I'd look around for a local club that has a junior section.

Runningteenbeanz has never looked back after going along to a series of introduction sessions at our club.

It's county cross country championships for many counties next weekend (6th) - why not go along and support - the youngest age group is 13, which includes 11 year olds.
This would also give you chance to see which clubs field juniors.


Posted: 31/12/2006 at 11:08

As above look for a running club with a junior section. My club started one a couple of years ago, we predicted around 20 - 30 kids would turn up. last year we signed up 120 junior members, we`ve obviously got the correct coaches, gear, venue etc but the kids must love it or they wouldn`t keep coming back.

Posted: 31/12/2006 at 11:45

It was good to read about running with kids, i have a 7 year old son, who after doing the sport relief mile with me wants to run, and i want him to join me, but have a bit of a challenge, he does suffer with autism and is terrified of dogs, but saying all that i am going to get him suited up this week and saturday will attempt our first little run, he loves to watch me run so hopefully it has encouraged him will update next week on outcome. Any advice though greatly appreciated !!!!!!

Andy G
Posted: 01/01/2007 at 11:37

I started running at the age of 9 and am still running now (19 years later). I initially started with my primary school in the local primary school race and then joined my local athletics club when I was 11. It is vital not to overdo the training at an early age. Everyone I know who was pushed too much at an early age became dispondent and overally worried about where they came and either dropped out in their teens or became injured through overuse injuries. Do not over do the milage either as young bodies are still growing.

Through my club as a junior I used to train twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and then race in cross country or on the track in the summer or go out for my own run. My parents supported me by providing transport and encouragement. They never expected me to come in a certain position, any pressure that was applied came from myself. I enjoyed the challenge and still do. Variety is important.

Also, I think it is helpful not only to focus on running. During my young running years I was also on the school teams for hockey, netball, volleyball, basketball etc, which also kept me fit.
Posted: 02/01/2007 at 15:32

I think it's great that David is showing an interest and it's certainly encouragable. I am sure that there'll be some school representation on the cards for some local events. I can't wait for my 2 to start showing an interest in mountain biking and running.

Just one word of caution and I am wincing as I say this and I really don't want to come across the wrong way so please read it as a genuine post that might bear no relevance at all in this instance. Years ago I used to do a lot of steroids and weights because I didn't think I was big enough. My wife (before I met her) was Anorexic and Bulimic because she thought she was too big. Anyway we're happily married and now well adjusted but believe that we work as a partership by coming from opposite ends of the body dysmorphic (inaccurate body image of yourself) scale. The initial post read well until I read 'and sees a difference in his own physique'. I can remember my Dad giving me his old chest expander and a bullworker when I was about 13 and reckon that might have been the start of my troubles. What I am trying to say is I'd encourage the participation and health benefits but play down anything to do with physique. My 2 are 3yrs and nearly 2yrs so I don't know how a 12yr old thinks but I'd guess it's more enjoyable whilst the pressure is off.

Hope this helps.
Posted: 02/01/2007 at 20:20

I went through Junior school hated comp(as the teacher was a w*nker) and done athletic club and army cadet routes(hard runs them!)
However I got p*ssed of at 16 with training and found beer and women took me 10 years to return to the fold.
Posted: 02/01/2007 at 20:41

You don't say if he wants to run with you or not. At 12 years old this may be a time when he needs his own 'thing' and own space and he may be happy to run with the school only or to join a club without you.

Perhaps chatting about running at home will be as far as he wants you to be involved. Be careful you don't use your shared interest to crowd him and threaten his independence.
Posted: 03/01/2007 at 13:01

It's great that your son has showed this interest and has been encouraged by his school. I am asthmatic and have found the benefits inestimable. I find that very cold/windy weather bothers my breathing so I use a scarf over the lower portion of my face so that the air I breath stays warm. This reduces my excercise induced attacks. Also tiredness can cause my breathing to "kick out" at the most unlikely times. Asthma is a very personal illness and I think your son will be able to tell you if he is having more problems today than yesterday or that today was the greatest run ever. Let him set goals. Keep them realistic. And let him know that there are others asthmatics out there not letting the illness win! Good luck to you both
Posted: 04/01/2007 at 13:27

With an increasing number of fat and lazy kids in the world I think that any interset in a physical activity should be encouraged - But not pushed!

At that age I was stubborn and the more my parents pushed for things, the less likely I was to conform.

Perhaps when you enter events, choose ones with a shorter fun run and offer David the opportunity to enter if he chooses. That way the choice remains his and the added responsibility of waiting for you at the finish will boost his confidence!
Posted: 04/01/2007 at 13:44

Warning Warning FR about to agree with Popsider

:-))

Completely correct. Running is supposed to be fun at age 11. Heck everythings supposed to be fun at age 11.

Give him space to make his own choices.

Also avoid the cliquey competitive wanabee sporting parent trap. Its really difficult I know but the quickest way to put a kid off something for life is to do the pushy parent bit.

I used to take my two daughters orienteering. It was something we could do together, that involved a bit of brainwork as well.

They're both grown up now, and still competitive athletes - in fact I'm running against the younger one in a couple of weeks time.
Posted: 04/01/2007 at 14:01

I think it's great he's showing such an interest - but wouldn't even mention how much running he 'should' be doing, it'll spoil the fun. I know, even for myself, when I start thinking in those terms, it all becomes a bit of a drag. The best thing is that he does however much or however little he feels like doing and enjoys himself.

I've got 5-year old twins (boy and girl) who both want to do the kids 1K race that goes before the 10K I usually do in the spring. Think they can both manage it, if I get them to slow down a bit! Thing is, my girl is naturally a much faster runner than my boy but he's the competitive one. I don't want to stop either of them having a go but if they both run, he's gonna get pasted by his sister - any tips on dealing with a bruised 5-year old male ego? :-)

Posted: 04/01/2007 at 14:36

Tell him to get over it :-))

I'm gonna get creamed in a couple of weeks by my daughter.

Now she's in her 20's the old "I let you win" excuse is wearing a little thin.
Posted: 04/01/2007 at 14:55

My 22 yr old daughter thrashes me each time we run and can't wait to thrash me again and cause much public humiliation in a 10 mile race coming up - so much for kid gratitude huh?
Posted: 10/01/2007 at 13:54

Thankyou to everyone for the encouragement and advice. I think the gist of the messages is more or less my own view - keep it fun, keep it positive, keep it low key and keep it going...
David dictates to me when he wants to go out running but it is (at most) twice per week and I think that's ample at the moment. I have no doubts that he will change sports and activities as he grows but it pleases me that he is keen on running because it is so fundamental to many activities and helps develop a positive mental attitude. He also dictates pace and distance. In fact, tonight he admitted he slows down to make sure I'm ok!!!
Someone mentioned in one of the replies that he will create his own pressures and goals - well, that's also started because today he was picked for the school cross country team. And you're right - it is difficult to stand back and listen. First inclination is to congratulate and give advice. Ah, the trials of being a parent - I wonder how mine coped!
Posted: 11/01/2007 at 23:43

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