Essential Guide to Children’s Running

Check!

Can you tick all 10 boxes? If not, your child is probably running too much.

This checklist from KidsRunning.com helps you determine whether or not the running your kids are doing is appropriate. You should be able to put a tick next to each statement.

  • They are having fun
  • They want to run
  • They set the pace
  • They take walking breaks when tired
  • They do other physical activities, for example, cycling, dancing, playing football or swimming
  • They can let go. In other words, if you want to run on your own, it's not a problem
  • They are healthy - not injured
  • They eat to stay strong
  • They are positive about running
  • They have enough pep left to do homework and other chores

Picture credit: Seth Joel/ Getty Images

Setting Limits

Make sure your children don't exceed these recommended distances

The International Association of Athletics Federations offers guidelines on the maximum distance children should run in any one session. Weekly training mileage should not exceed twice these maximum distances.

It also advises that training frequency for those up to 14 years old should not exceed three sessions per week; teens aged 15-18 can train up to five times per week.

"What isn't clear is how these volumes should be adjusted for children who regularly take part in other sports," points out coach Chris Donald. "The guidelines may need adjusting depending on the particular circumstances of the child."

Under 9: Maximum distance: 3K
9-11: Maximum distance: 5K
12-14: Maximum distance: 10K
15-16: Maximum distance: Half-marathon(21.1K)
17: Maximum distance: 30K
18: Maximum distance: Marathon (42.2K)

Picture credit: Nick Dolding/ Getty Images

Join the Club

Nuture your kids' love of running by sending them to a junior running club, where they can receive coaching and take part in road, cross-country and trail competitions - and make friends at the same time.

Founded in 2007 and now with over 100 members aged between eight and 14, Benfleet Junior Running Club in Essex organises its own outdoor, indoor and cross-country championships. Junior club coordinator Karl Cadman says, "We train twice a week and encourage our juniors to compete in local races."

For safety, make sure your chosen club's coaches are CRB certified. 

Picture credit: Julian Andrews

Happy Feet

Get your kids kitted out in the right shoes

Traditional

While most shoe manufacturers produce running shoes with 'scaled-down technology' in children's sizes, Asics is the first brand to release a child-specific shoe: the GT-2160 GS (£45, asics.co.uk, available in UK sizes 13-5.5).

"We did some research on the biomechanics of children's particular running styles and found two main differences between kids and adults," explains Kenta Moriyasu from the Asics Institute of Sport Science.

"Firstly, children tend to make contact with the ground with the lateral edge of their heel, and with the foot in greater external rotation [when the foot rolls outwards] and dorsiflexion [when the foot bends upwards at the ankle]."

Secondly, as Moriyasu explains, because children have less strength in their feet to flex the shoe, the GT-2160 GS is designed with greater forefoot flexibility.

...Or innovative?

Not everyone believes that children's feet should be encased in trainers.

"Shoes that reduce sensory feedback from the feet should be avoided if parents want their kids to learn more biomechanically efficient movement patterns," says Lee Saxby, a biomechanics expert and consultant for barefoot shoe brand Vivobarefoot.

A review of 11 studies conducted by the University of Sydney in Australia found that wearing shoes was  found to slow down the swing phase of the gait cycle, encourage a rearfoot strike and reduce foot motion.

"This confirms the Vivobarefoot philosophy on kids' footwear," says Saxby. "A slow stride rate and heelstrike is associated with walking, not a natural running gait."

Vivobarefoot's first kids' running shoe, the Neo, has a thin, flexible, puncture-resistant sole and will be out in September in UK sizes infant 4.5 to adult 6.5 (£39, vivobarefoot.com).

Play Time

Try these outdoor games to help make running (even more) fun

Switcharoo (in pairs)

Mark out a square or circular course (it could be half or all of a football pitch, or just the back garden). Get the children into pairs and label them A and B. All the As set off anticlockwise at a walking pace, while all the Bs set off clockwise at a jogging pace. When the partners meet they high-five each other and carry on, but this time, the As are jogging and the Bs are walking.

Butterfly sprint (in groups)

Mark out a butterfly shape using cones: you need to create the two wings and a centre line for the body. The kids start at the base of the body and can choose to either make their way around the left wing (which means they walk) or the right wing (which means they jog). When they get to the head, they sprint down along the body back to the starting point, where they choose which way to go again: left for walking, right for jogging. 

Invented by Carol Goodrow