RUNNING SHORTS offers parents and coaches a broad range of advice and perspectives on youth running. Many postings focus on ways to help children be physically active at a safe distance from the coronavirus. To keep this dialogue going, we encourage our readers to tell us what they are doing to help youth get fit; to have goals; to discover running does not stop just because schools and clubs have shut down. You can email us using the link on the ABOUT US page.
TIME WELL SPENT
Recent surveys show what most of us already believed. First, that people who exercise routinely and now are working less hours as result of the pandemic, are exercising more often and for a longer period (an hour versus thirty minutes, etc.). Conversely, these surveys show that having available time is not an incentive to exercise for those who did not routinely exercise prior to the pandemic.
For young runners and those who are new to running, having more time to run may be a real perk. But with more time, the issue becomes one of how the runner takes advantage of the opportunity.
Having more time to run does not mean young and new runners should add more distance to what they have been doing. Yes, once a week maybe, but not every day. Instead, exercising for just a half an hour twice a day, each time with a purpose, would produce better results.
Maybe do a short run in the morning at a comfortable pace followed by weights* and stretching before showering and a healthy breakfast. In the mid-afternoon, try a second short run with a few repeats, or maybe hill-work every few days. Add some drills and core exercises and call it good. This routine will build all aspects of running, not just the miles run, making the runner ready to go both longer and faster when normal returns. Best yet, without the fatigue from a long run, the balance of the day will be more productive.
* Always work different muscle groups than the day before.
COPING WITH STRESS
Amid the pandemic, running remains a constant. Yes, there have been changes. The arrival of the Backyard Marathon and solo pursuits of FKTs (Fastest Known Times) on trails best suited for mountain goats. Both, little known six months ago, command headlines on our favorite running websites. For most of us, it is waiting for a 5k every weekend or the signature marathon run every year.
Meanwhile, our teens have lost their daily routine, of being with their friends, of their senior year. For runners, it is the loss of the big invitational meets kids looked forward to, the promise of PR's earned. For younger runners, lost is running laps on the playground with their friends, earning awards for miles completed, or maybe finishing a popular local FUN RUN with arms raised high in the air.
Experts say that with team and school sports in a holding pattern; with everyone, even grandma, wearing a mask; with children overhearing what adults are saying, there is risk of stress levels exceeding the child’s ability to manage it.
For some young runners, stress is not an issue. For them, it will remain full speed ahead. But if the child shows signs of stress and less and less interest in running, it is the parents’ and coach’s job to step back. We can still encourage them to get outdoors, to be active. But we also must be okay if our young runner stops running. If they genuinely like to run, they will come back. What we do not want to do is push them, to pressure them to run, to cause even more stress. The risk of them rebelling, of their never running again, is too great.
SPORTS SPECIALIZATION AND RUNNING
Today’s youth are moving away from seasonal sports in favor of competing in just one sport year-round. Why? Because the child, their parents, and too often the coaches, believe year-round participation is the key to being a star player. Youth soccer is the most visible and the most problematic, but soccer is not alone.
The enhanced risk of injury, the result of playing one sport year-round, is well documented*. Not the broken bones of contact sports but the result of repeated stress placed on immature tendons, bones and ligaments, the overuse injuries. Running, and particularly at the longer distances, with training and racing in the off-season, is textbook specialization. In one study, girls’ cross country was near the top in stress fractures and soft tissue injuries in all sports.
If our kids choose to go the single-sport route, we need to at least influence them to put cross-training into every running session. But that is just a start. Let’s think bigger. Start by seeing the off-season not as a time to build mileage but to reduce the risk of injury, to build strength, to come into the next season fresh, ready to do the work, anxious to run.
When this Covid thing is behind us, think of fashioning an off-season inner-squad sport; one where every member’s improvement moves the team closer to some team goal. Think CrossFit style workouts and Ninja Warrior style courses; think personal and team “challenge events”, where every young athlete’s performance (strength, agility, technique, coordination) counts in the team score. Think “open house” events allowing the team to show off new muscles for mom and dad. A team with an honors night at the end of the season, recognizing the progress made by every member.
* For more on specialization and injury, check out
EARLY SPEED AND LONGEVITY
Jonathan Beverly, Editor-in-Chief of PodiumRunner.com and author of Your Best Stride and Run Strong, Stay Hungry, offers us a perspective on the role talent, fast times and high finishes by young runners play in longevity and future success in the sport. This perspective is drawn from veteran runners looking back on their own careers.
Beverly writes, “I’ve now coached high school kids long enough to see a generation of them grow up. One thing I have learned is that those who continue running into their adult lives often are not the ones you expect to.
“The state champions, the school record setters, the ones with the most medals and trophies at their graduation receptions often no longer run. The ones who are still running at age 25 or 30 and beyond tend to have been number four or five on the team, or even runners who never placed. The girl who didn’t run track but trained by herself and ran a half-marathon in high school is more likely to be on a starting line a decade later than the one who in seventh grade was setting records.
“Knowing this, I should not have been surprised by what I heard in scores of interviews with lifetime competitors about their own humble beginnings and their perspectives on their abilities. But I was. It is hard not to be dazzled by what they have accomplished in running, how high they have climbed and how fast they still are. But nearly without exception, these runners told me that they were never that good, or if good, not by any means great.”
For more from Jonathan Beverly, check out https://www.jonathanbeverly.com/
ANOTHER CHALLENGE RUN...
We recently received a suggestion for a Challenge Run from a vintage (retired) coach, who described the following as the Three Course Challenge. Three teams, each running a 5K on each other’s cross-country course (separately, alone, not head-to-head) in one day. Confused? Read on.
Each team sets up their cross-country course just as it would be on race day – cones, chalk lines, finishing chute. All three teams run their own course at 8 a.m. They then travel to the next course in the rotation (team A to B, B to C and C to A) for their second run which goes off at 1 p.m. They rotate again for a 6 p.m. start on their third course. For rural schools requiring greater travel time, make it 24 hours with two runs on day one and one on day two.
This is an interesting idea. Doing three 5Ks on three courses in one day is a legitimate challenge, one that runners would need to be ready for. Obviously, a prerequisite to taking on this challenge would be having logged serious miles in a summer running program. Also, send runners off in flights with the intent they finish together, ready to go again (and again).
NOTE: If you have a unique Challenge Run, share it with us. It may end up on this website! You can use the Journal of Youth Running email link on the About Us page.
Amby (Ambrose) Burfoot is Mr. Running. A winner of the Boston Marathon; long time editor-in-chief of Runner’s World magazine; an honored journalist and author of seven books; a popular speaker and an online coach. His website, Lifetime Running, lets veteran runners share their story; the winners, and the also rans. Those who will not let age stop them.
Here, he shares with runners a message we all should embrace, especially parents and coaches of young runners.
“In running, it doesn't matter how fast or slow you are relative to anyone else. You set your
own pace and you measure your own progress. You cannot lose this race because you are
not running against anyone else. You're only running against yourself, and as long as you
are running, you are winning.”
For young runners, reaching their potential will be years away. Sure, there are 10- and 12-year-olds racing with adults and posting fast times, but that is nothing new. And it is not an indicator of future success. For most young runners, it is a time to grow; to gain strength; to accept new challenges and cope with disappointments; to build on small successes. Some may become great runners. For others, it will be the pursuit of PRs or a proud display of finisher’s medals. But those are in the future. For now, pay attention to what Amby Burfoot has to offer. Youth should be focusing on setting their own pace; allowing time to grow, to get strong, to simply go a little farther or a little faster than last week or last month. That is what youth running should be about.
Douglas Finley, editor
MAKE GETTING STRONG FUN
It takes more than running to be a good runner. It takes strength to run fast. It takes working through a full range of motion and strengthening opposing muscle groups to reduce the risk of injury. It takes being athletic, being durable. Some of this is gained through running itself; others through dynamic stretching; and, of course, doing drills and strengthening exercises. For some, it is the exercise part that gets the least attention. Maybe because it is not as much fun.
For kids in a team environment -- with Covid-19 precautions in place -- start with having them run circuits around the playground. Between each circuit have them draw a card from a deck of ordinary playing cards. Have a “scoresheet” which tells what exercise they must do determined by the card they hold. Drawing a Six of Diamonds could call for doing hip raises for the glutes and lower back. A Four of Spades could be forward leg swings for the hip flexors. The coach will assign the number of reps or distance or time based on their knowledge of what the child can do.
For fun, throw in a few gag cards, like the Jack of Clubs, where the cardholder must recite a nursery rhyme while doing push-ups, or the Two of Hearts that when the exercise is completed the card can be passed to another runner who also must do the exercise. Any Ace calls for doing the exercise and then drawing a second card and doing that exercise. Hint: Out of 52 cards, five could be some version of crunches, etc. For more, check out STRONG YOUNG RUNNERS on this website.
POSTAL CROSS COUNTRY - AND OLDIE REVISITED
Long before the NIKE Cross Nationals, it was Track & Field News that annually recognized a high school cross country team as being the best in the country, the Postal National Champion. That dates back to 1959. At that time, it was boys only. Gender equity in sports was still a long way off.
Teams would hold a two-mile intrasquad time trial on their track. The coach would add the individual times of the top five runners to determine a finishing time for the team. The results were mailed to T&FN. The team with the fastest finishing time was crowned champion. In its simplicity, the Postal National's was a huge success. By 1979, postal competitions gave way to FOOTLOCKER and later to the NIKE Cross Nationals. But now comes Covid-19.
Cross Country coaches at every level are looking for something different, something novel, something safe. For starters, check out the HOKA ONE ONE Postal Nationals. Or create your own e-postal competition. To offset the loss of big invitational meets, make the intrasquad race an important event, complete with banners, a chute, the theme from Rocky and Chariots of Fire booming over a P. A. system, and posting video of the run on social media. Maybe even do it at night under the lights. Also, consider putting runners who finish outside the top five onto a second or third postal team.
RACES - GOING OFF IN FLIGHTS?
When Covid-19 hit Michigan hard back in April, the governor issued emergency orders shutting down events and places where the virus could easily be spread. As the number of new cases began to decrease and then level off, the governor issued new orders, which included allowing small outdoor gatherings. The Michigan Running Foundation and Fortitude Outdoor Fitness (Owosso, Mich.) took those guidelines and created the Stay Safe, Keep Fit 5K with "flights" of five runners going off every three minutes. Using chip technology, timing started when each flight of runners crossed the starting line. When runners finished, their 5K time was recorded by gender and age group, just like in any other race.
The race director acknowledged sending runners off in flights was first met with skepticism. After the run, he reported, “The feedback was terrific. Fast runners partnered with other fast runners making for some exceptional races. The slower runners enjoyed not being relegated to bringing up the rear.” Since the Journal first reported this, similar trail races, sent off in flights, have appeared on local race calendars.
This got us thinking about a cross country or team trail race. One with the top runner on each team going off in the first flight; waiting three minutes before sending off the second runners; and then on down the line.
WITH THE VIRUS COMES CHANGE
Coronavirus does not discriminate. It attacks with no respect to age, health or fitness level. Regardless of what we were once told, children can transmit the disease. The United States of America, with all its resources, has the most cases by percentage of population and the most deaths worldwide.
Amidst all this, and even with races being cancelled, the number of runners today is approaching records set a decade ago. But with this comes change. Many runners are bypassing popular running routes in favor of paths less well traveled. Those that twist and turn through a local park or forest, a safe distance from the crowd, rediscovering dirt is forgiving, concrete is not. In one instance where narrow paths made social-distancing difficult, signage was added telling runners which direction to go on which days.
Runners, even those who practice their sport as a religion, seem to have taken their foot off the gas pedal. Mileage is important, but intensity, not so much so. Social distancing and wearing a mask while running are doable, but not every runner sees it as a responsibility. Parents of children that run have stepped forward, finding ways for their kids to connect with other kids -- even if at a distance -- to run, to stay fit, to belong.
All we can do for now is live with change, keep moving, and be safe.
SETTING THE EXAMPLE
Tom Rothenberger, esteemed coach at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon, believes parents possess the single best tool to get children to be more active, to be physically fit, to be healthy. It is a tool built on helping children enjoy being outdoors, getting exercise, but never being pressured, and certainly not rewarded for it. It is simply parents setting the example; by demonstrating that being active, being physically fit, are family values. Today, with Covid-19, Coach Rothenberger’s perspective carries more weight than ever before. With kids at home, parents are being called upon to set the tone, to offer opportunities; to motivate children to be active, to be fit. Making these a family value is the starting point.
Rothenberger suggests parents who are not athletic themselves can still send a message that fitness is important by simply walking around the track or park while their child is running. The same is true by planning healthy meals and cutting out the unhealthy snacks. For a parent that runs, create opportunities to run as a family. When parents do this, they need to make sure it is the child’s run, not just a scaled back version of what they do. Best yet, let the child decide what the run will be. If they want to do an obstacle course, so be it. Just do the best you can, but don't get hurt!
JOURNAL EDITOR'S PROFILE ADDED TO LIFETIME RUNNING WEBSITE
The Lifetime Running website, as its name suggests, features the personal stories of runners who have been on the roads and trails most of their lives – some for 50 or 60 years, logging tens of thousands of miles, running marathons like turning the pages of a book. It is a privilege, and quite a humbling experience, to have my profile added to this honor roll of so many amazing runners.
Douglas Finley, Editor
If you wish to learn a bit more about the author/editor of the Journal of Youth Running, we are pleased to share the link at lifetimerunning.net/Finley. LIFETIME RUNNING is the product of Amby (Ambrose) Burfoot, coach, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon, past editor-in-chief of Runner’s World magazine, and an accomplished author (RUNSPIRATIONS, RUN FOREVER and 5 other books), and Gail Kislevitz, honored journalist, longtime employee of New York Road Runners, author of RUNNING PAST FIFTY, and a 15-year contributor to Runner’s World.
KIDS NEED TO BE CONNECTED
The Journal is committed to offering ways to keep our youth healthy and active. Most are running-related because that is who we are, but running is not enough. Youth need positive social experiences. They need to be with friends, to be one of the tribe, to be included. With school life changing, with sports put on hold; with social unrest and mistrust so pervasive, positive social experiences are at risk of getting lost.
Experts tell us that youth - especially those in early adolescence - that are under stress and feel socially isolated are likely to experience elevated levels of anxiety and depression. Prolonged, these can cause physical and emotional health challenges, both immediate and long term. We agree. We have seen it.
That is why, in the midst of this pandemic, it is necessary to expand our focus; to help identify opportunities for kids to feel connected, to be part of something. For starters, plan runs that offer safe social opportunities such as undertaking a project or a challenge with other youth, working together as a team. Today, in the time of Covid-19, positive social experiences are more important than miles logged.
Working one-on-one is a perfect opportunity to teach kids the skill of pacing. All you need is a watch. For young runners, place a marker 20 to 30 meters from a starting line. Tell the runner to run around the marker and back at a comfortable speed. Time them, record their time, and allow a few minutes for the runner to fully recover. Then challenge the runner to run the course in the same time, down to the very second. When they do this successfully, great. But doing it once is not the goal. The goal is consistency. When they hit their target time four or five times in a row, reward them by adding some distance and starting over.
Next, create two loops of different lengths. The first being relatively short, maybe a minute or just slightly longer to complete. The second is three or four times as long and includes possibly a small hill or an en route change in the running surface. Have your runner run the first loop, recover, and then run the second loop. Record their times. The challenge is to run each loop in the same time as the first time, or at least within two or three seconds on the longer loop. If you allowed three minutes to recover between each run the first time, stick to it. Again, when the runner hits both their times consistently, add distance (or some variation to the course) and start over.
COACHING PACE (CONTINUED)
Learning pace should be an ongoing part of a young runner’s training. Hitting target times over progressively longer distances (see last posting) is the beginning. Next, introduce a Prediction Run. Pick a course the runner is familiar with, run it once and record their time. Do it again a week later. Before they run the course a third time have the runner predict their finishing time using their past times as a guide. Only one rule: no wristwatch and no one yelling out times. If their finishing time is nowhere near their predicted time -- either fast or slow -- see if they can tell you why. But do not stop there. Make prediction runs a regular part of your runner’s routine; some at shorter distances and some longer.
When it is again safe to work with a group of runners, combine pace running with team running. For those who have been working on individual pacing, set a marker at 40 meters from a starting point. Form small teams of three or four runners. Have them run around the marker and back to the start, finishing together. Not in single file, but like a photo finish. Record their time. Now, challenge them to finish together in the same time, every time. Once they do it four or five times, extend the marker out 10 meters and start over. Later, encourage them to push the pace slightly on the first trial and try to match that pace each time.
A NEEDED BREAK FROM WHAT SCARES US
Underdog was an animated television series that ran for close to 10 years dating back to the mid-1960s. The Underdog character, in his blue cape with a U on his chest, sped to the scene wherever danger waited. Often it was just in time to save his love interest, Sweet Polly, from being victimized by the dastardly Simon Bar Sinister or the villain, Riff Raff. The show’s title song, Underdog, was etched in the memory of millions of loyal watchers.
In 2014, Reebok took the show’s title song and incorporated it into a running shoe ad. It gets my vote for the best running shoe commercial ever. Living in Evanston, lllinois, and frequently using Chicago’s mass transit system, I can visualize Underdog in his Reeboks and cape chasing across the city to save Sweet Polly. Check it out at…
Gyms are starting to reopen. Some never closed. For a few, it is business as usual. Many, however, are adopting a more serious and responsible attitude toward keeping their patrons safe. They are taking everyone’s temperature as they enter; expecting members to come dressed ready to exercise (sorry, no showers); requiring face masks; and relocating or taping off equipment to allow social distancing. Some are even discouraging risky behavior (no spotters standing over the lifter on the bench). They are shrinking class sizes for aerobics and spinning; expecting members to wipe down each dumbbell, each bench, or each piece of equipment they touch, both before and after. Even limiting equipment sharing (bring your own resistance bands, please).
Bravo! This is great. These are all steps in the right direction. But if your gym, or the gym or school weight room your kids go to, is not taking these precautions, please put off going there. Stay outside. Go to a park. The risk of transmission of the virus is far lower when outdoors. And it is easier to create distance from those breathing heavy and dripping sweat. There are hundreds of exercises that adults and kids can do that do not require a machine or Olympic plates. Get creative, make it fun, stay safe.
RUN FOR JUSTICE
Our justice system is being challenged. To many, it is neither fair nor equal. And social injustices never seem to be addressed. What we see on television is troubling to adults, but even more so to kids. The images are confusing, even scary. For children of color, it is worse, much worse.
One way to help children deal with all of this is to get them involved. To let them do something to help America heal, to go forward. It starts by simply encouraging them to go out for a run. A special run, a run with a purpose. There is just such a run in your hometown, and every hometown in America. The virtual RUN FOR JUSTICE. It is not a 5K but whatever distance each runner is comfortable with. And there is no registration fee or T-shirt or starting time. It is just putting on running shoes and going out the front door. It is running for a cause; for justice; so everyone can realize the American dream.
GEORGE SHEEHAN ON PLAY
The late George Sheehan, a lifelong runner, physician, past medical editor of Runner’s World magazine, and author of eight best-selling books on running, told us the realization of fitness comes through play. According to Sheehan, we, young and old alike, need to make exercise our play since it is through play that we can realize fitness. “Play, you see, is the process,” Sheehan said. “Fitness is merely the product.”
For seasoned runners, 10 times 800 meters, each at target pace, might be play. It was for the author. Or running a marathon might be play. For youth, play are runs that offer doable challenges, runs that stimulate, runs that kids finish with a smile, runs that are absent of pressure and adult expectations. These were Sheehan’s prescription for fitness. And now, when fun and play are dampened by the pandemic, Sheehan’s words definitely ring true. Play should define our running, for all of us, young and old.
TREADMILLS AND KIDS
Parents confronted with a stay-at-home mandate may see the treadmill in the basement as a way to get children active, moving, even running. Before parents make that decision, they should know that in the U.S. alone some 24,000 children under the age of 14 are injured on a treadmill every year. 24,000! Although some are infants or preschoolers, most are injuries to older children, the result of unsupervised or permissive use of the treadmill. Simply stated, when kids play on a treadmill, are showing off, or setting the speed faster than what they can run, they are likely to get injured. If the parent allows their child to use the treadmill, it goes with the responsibility of always being present, watching, vigilant, knowing that their child is using it safely.
For families, consider a parent and child Destination Run. Start at home or drive to some midpoint and go by foot the rest of the way. Maybe to a local landmark or the neighborhood where you once lived. If grandma and grandpa live nearby, they would be overjoyed to see their family, even if only through glass. And make it the child’s day. Parents can talk with each other anytime. A dialog that includes the child will make the distance seem shorter and the child’s memory of the day, longer.
FITNESS JOURNAL FOR KIDS
Keeping their own Fitness Journal may be something children staying at home will enjoy doing. For younger children, it can be simply putting a sticker on a calendar for each day they exercised. For older kids, it could be written notes in a spiral notebook or diary or entries on the computer.
Or get out the art supplies and let the kids create their own journal. To decorate the pages, dig out old issues of running magazines and cut out pictures that inspire being out on the road or trails. What? No old running magazines? Then print images off the computer. Use lots of color and allow plenty of space for recording what the child did each day or each time they exercised. Keep personal records, such as the number of reps of some exercise completed in 30 seconds. Challenge those records each week. Use bright stars for PRs.
FOR INSPIRATION TODAY
If you need a little inspiration today, check out PODIUM RUNNER at https://www.podiumrunner.com/culture/terry-foxs-transformational-run/.
MAKE EXERCISE A PATTERN
With children at home, plan their day to include 15 minutes of physical activity in the morning and again in the afternoon. To do it right, pick a specific time and stick to it. That way it becomes a routine, a part of the day. For young children, keep it simple -- maybe just walking up and down the stairs a few times or standing in place swinging the arms, then the legs; doing toe touches, marching in place, maybe some jumping jacks.
For older children, create a simple exercise circuit. Thirty seconds of running in place. Rest 30 seconds. Thirty seconds of bending the knees, lifting a light weight or even a stack of books from off the floor to arms-length overhead, hold it for a second and lower it back down to the floor and start again. Rest 30 seconds. Then maybe do a wall-sit (with no chair), the plank, high knee marching in place, trunk rotations or side lunges, each again for 30 seconds with a 30-second rest in between.
The Journal of Youth Running is supported by the
MICHIGAN RUNNING FOUNDATION