Baby we were Born to Run
Baby we were born to run. Never was a truer word sung. Children often seem utterly incapable of walking. Why dawdle to the park when you can sprint? Why amble to the ice cream van when you can hurtle?
Kids are natural fast movers and love to race – just watch the reception class at sports day. If they’re not focused on the finish line, they’re lapping up the crowd’s cheers as they showboat along at the rear of the pack.
But, increasingly, children’s running isn’t simply limited to sports day. Wherever you might find an adult racing – at the Park Run, any old Fun Run, or sprightly celebrity endorsed 10k - invariably there is now an event for kids.
The phenomenal success of ParkRun – 3 million runners/1,000 parks – is well known. But less so the junior event:100,000 young runners have taken part in over 150 parks worldwide. Meanwhile, fun runs aren’t just a pelt around a playing field; that would be boring. These days there are bubble themed runs, chocolate chases and halloween zombie sprints, to name but three of the zanier outings.
Partly the kiddie interest is because of the thrill of competition - as old-fashioned sports days with podiums and FIRST PLACE PRIZES die out, straightforward running races provide ample opportunity for kids to trounce their peers and allow parents to shout with pride. But partly its because as adults are running more, they are increasingly running with their progeny.
As anyone who has done a mile with a six-year-old will know – they are fantastic sprinters. They set off like Billy Whizz, leaving you standing, aghast. But they are bad pacers. One mile down and they are done. But pair up a steady-as-she-goes parent and a dynamo-child, though, and you’ve got a dream team.
And training together is far more fun than sweating it solo. Motivationally, they’ve got it licked: kids are up and out before we’ve got our trainers laced. Physically, of course, the benefits are inarguable for both: a 2015 study of 10,000 primary school children in the UK found that two-thirds lacked basic fitness; 60 per cent of women and 70 per cent of men are overweight or obese. If we continue to stand still, we’ re in danger of never moving again as a nation.
But fitness aside, running with a child is a revelation because it opens a new window of communication between the two of you. It’s so much easier to talk freely when you’re side by side, rather than face to face. Without the awkwardness of eye-contact neither of you – but particularly the junior sprinter - feels scrutinised or judged. Plus, it’s difficult to row when you can’t catch your breath.
It’s hard not to feel elated as your teenager - or tiddler - opens up about homework worries or a new-found friend or simply observes the blue blue sky. If you’re running in synch, with no interruptions, bar dog turd dodging, words tumble out as the path stretches before you.
That’s why, with the weather set fair for non-competitive sports day just around the corner and the memory of our Olympic legacy fading, the time has never been better to hit the ground running.