RUNNING SHORTS offers parents and coaches ways they can 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.
Douglas Finley, Editor
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.
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.
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.
Identify and print off a checklist of maybe 20 special runs and challenge your young runner to complete these before school starts in the fall. Place it on the refrigerator. Some will be runs in places he or she may never have been – an old local cemetery, a school playground other than their own school, in parks they have never run in before, or on a rainy weekend, laps on an upper floor of an empty downtown parking garage. Seriously! The ramps between floors can make it a hill workout. For this run, it is a good idea to have a parent along, watching and listening for the occasional car entering the garage.
On your checklist include a destination run, going somewhere special; or a ladder run (50m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, then coming back down, 400m, 200m, etc.); or even climbing stairs in the tallest building in town. And do not forget a midnight mile; a prediction run (predicting their finishing time); or runs just up and down a big hill. Another favorite is a “map run” where the runner is given a map they need to follow to get somewhere (other than a direct route).
GIRLS RUNNING by MELODY FAIRCHILD
Melody Fairchild knows running. She was the first U.S. high school female cross country runner to make the jump onto the international stage. It was a third-place Bronze Medal finish in the Junior Women’s Race at the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium in 1991. Only two Kenyan girls were faster. To some, seeing her on the podium was no surprise. Melody had given notice of great things to come as the first repeat winner at the Kinney (now Footlocker) High School National Cross Country Championships (1989, ’90).
She went on to earn NCAA honors at the University of Oregon and was a member of the U.S. World Track and Field Championship Team in 1997. Today she is a youth coach, a new mother, and a national champion in age-group and trail races. She also is a contributor to the Journal of Youth Running. Now, Melody is an author. Her book, GIRLS RUNNING, co-authored with Elizabeth Carey, is being published by VeloPress and will be in bookstores and on Amazon in August.
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.
Being on a team, being with friends, contending for a place on the varsity -- these experiences were lost to many young runners these past few months. But maybe not.
Start by creating a new team, a virtual Trail Challenge Team. A team where each runner sends their "team manager" how many miles they ran that day. The manager then adds the miles to those of other runners on a virtual run - from start to finish - of one of our great National Trails; the Appalachian Trail, the Oregon Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or one of a hundred more to choose from.
When choosing a trail, start with a simple calculation: the number of runners (10), multiplied by the miles estimated that each runner will complete each day (3), multiplied by the number of days they will run (20). With that example (10x3x20), a 600-mile trail is a doable goal for new runners. For a team of 10 seasoned high school runners, finishing a 2,000-mile trail in 30 days is a healthy challenge, but also doable. For schools with lots of runners, spread out the talent and create two or more teams.
This challenge is perfect for social media. Begin with a “team manager” posting photos of the trail (clipped from the Internet) and a trail map. Make daily notations updating the team’s progress. To add a learning perspective, post the story of the trail. Why it is significant. Next, include photos of runners taken presumably while on the “trail” (sky or trees as background), and stories from the runners about their journey, like what it was like sleeping in a rainstorm deep in the woods or discovering raccoons had carried off their food supply in the night. Kids are into social media, so mugging for the camera and telling stories is what they do. Just remember to feature every runner with a picture or a story or both.
Want to get your kids fired up about exercise? And have them doing something to help others? Consider a Charity Challenge. First, let them pick a measurable fitness goal, one they will commit to, like climbing stairs at home, simulating the trip by stairs to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. That could be the goal, but not all in one day! To make calculating easy, use 1,600 steps -- maybe 50 steps four times a day for eight days.
Second, visit your favorite charity on Facebook. Many allow you to create a fundraiser, with a description and starting and ending dates. You can then share the fundraiser and invite friends and family to participate. You never handle any money; all donations go directly to the charity. If your climber gets grandma to donate just a penny a step, the charity gets $16.00. But do not stop there. Think of five sponsors at a penny a step, or ten, or even more.
If your child takes this as a challenge, work together to create on paper a “thermometer” like you see with many fundraising efforts. To keep it simple, for a 50-step, four-times-a-day goal, use a 12-inch thermometer with crosshatches every inch and a half. To fancy it up, add images off the internet showing how tall the building is above the NY skyline. Encourage your climber to color in the spaces between hatch marks as they move up the building. The more color, the greater the motivation to reach the top. Finished, it goes in their Journal, becoming a lifetime reminder of their accomplishment.
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.
Consider creating noncompetitive Challenge Runs for kids whose school or running team has been shut down. For this, a child simply challenges his or her friends or classmates to do a solo run (not with other runners) that offers a distinct challenge, like up and down the longest or steepest hill in town, say two or three times. Parents are encouraged to take photos or video their young runner to share with the other runners through social media. The next runner to offer a challenge might make it a midnight “Pajama Mile.” For this one a parent might like to jog along. Or 100 repetitions of some exercise, 5 to 10 at a time, while watching American Ninja Warrior Junior on TV. Seriously!
Not familiar with American Ninja Warrior Junior? Check it out at... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWwFXWd1ZxQ
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