Last Updated on July 6, 2023 by Andrew Pirie
When practised safely, Distance Running with kids proves popular.
The advantages of distance running for kids —here defined as an ad hoc cardiovascular-based physical activity where running is the primary means of propulsion—include improved cardiovascular fitness and respiratory health, strengthening bones and muscles, improved body composition, possible mood and self-esteem boosting, and disease prevention (Noakes, 2003).
Table of Contents
Due to three widespread misconceptions about distance running for kids, some practitioners are hesitant to incorporate distance running into their programs for elementary-aged children (ages 5 to 11):
(1) it is not enjoyable for them
(2) they are not physically prepared for distance running(i.e., it is unsafe)
(3) they will become mentally “burned out” from a distance running.
But with the right planning, distance running for kids may be a long-term, risk-free activity for students in primary school.
Are you having fun?
Adults think youngsters don’t like long-distance jogging. The first author, who had previously taught physical education in elementary schools and coached cross-country in high schools, would often hear the assistant principal mock his attempts to encourage distance running for kindergarteners through distance run/walk activities.
Some people feel anxious when they recall bad sports or PE events, especially if they involve running. Many elementary school, physical education teachers, know that kids can enjoy distance running. “When given the possibility, children [run] as their preferred method of getting from one area to another” (Gallahue & Donnelly, 2007, p. 450).
Look at any child’s face during a tag game or simply watch children chase each other at recess. Perhaps running, not baseball, is a child’s favourite pastime. It appears that at some point in their lives, distance running for kids ceases to be enjoyable.
- Maybe it is due to physical education teachers or coaches inappropriately using running as a form of punishment.
- Perhaps it is because running requires effort, self-discipline, and motivation, and it does not always provide instant gratification.
Kids First, Athletes Second
Tim Noakes (2003) advised treating children as kids first and athletes second to avoid this. In his book Lore of Running, Noakes advocated prioritizing general physical exercise for children six years old and younger and enjoyment and elementary abilities (e.g., pacing, running form) for youngsters six to 10 years old to encourage distance running. He suggested that kids should run acceptable distances and walk when they choose.
Distance running for elementary-aged kids should build confidence and include a variety of 15-minute activities that focus on basic body awareness, agility, balance, and coordination, according to the New York Road Runners (NYRR, 2012b).
Variety, running games, and Seth Jenny ([email protected]) and Tess Armstrong ([email protected]) are doctorate candidates in the Department of Health, Exercise, and Sport Sciences at UNM. Seth Jenny is a USA Track & Field-certified coach, and Tess Armstrong is an elementary physical education teacher and Mighty Miler coordinator at Helen Cordero Primary School in Albuquerque.
A first-grader checks his heart rate to see how hard he is working in PE.
Never punishing elementary-aged kids for distance running will help them appreciate it. Gallahue and Donnelly (2007) say they’ll leave if it’s fun (p. 451).
The following quick activities can spice up and make a jogging program more enjoyable.
All exercises should begin with a suitable warm-up and end with a cool-down.
Children begin to walk backward in a single file while passing a rubber thickener or baton.
The line’s last runner advances the baton to the front and takes over as the new leader. Tag. The person tagging is holding something in their hand (e.g., a ball, rubber pig).
One student becomes the new tagger when another is tagged.
The running track must be maintained by all students.
No running in the opposite direction is permitted, and neither are tag backs (the person you tag cannot directly tag you back).
The obstacle run
On the running track, students must navigate around, over, and through cones, agility ladders, and miniature hurdles.
Until they hear a whistle, students run.
The children perform the exercise in the nearest hula hoop after hearing one whistle (e.g., flashcards of yoga poses, stretches, or even team-building activities).
Establish guidelines for how long each activity should take for the kids
. At the sound of two consecutive whistle blows, running begins once more.
Timed Out-and-Back Run
Pacing is being taught through this exercise. A straight out-and-back running route should be designated. The kids race outside for one minute; then, when the whistle blows, they run back inside for another minute to see if they can finish exactly where they started. Depending on physical condition, time may change. Another way to teach pace is to lead the children in a run after telling them, “No one passes me.” The phrase is “Pace, not Race” (Pangrazi & Beighle, 2013b, p.32).
The Swedish word “speed play” is “fartlek.” Children can speed up for as long as they like throughout this activity, or they can slow down or walk for as long as they like. This is fantastic for trail running because it allows the kids to enjoy running on different surfaces.
Add variety to the program and reduce the chances of overtraining by incorporating alternative cardio-based activities.
Use the PACER test by the Cooper Institute as an indicator of improved pacing and form.
Digitally record students running the PACER test early in the running program and again near the end.
Use the digital recording to determine whether the students have improved their pacing and their overall form. The test is also an indicator of whether the students are in a healthy fitness zone for their age.
Use timed sprints as a goal-setting activity.
Select a distance for the sprints (50-100 meters).
After timing the first set, ask the students to set a goal for the remainder of the workout. H
Help them set a realistic target, and have them revisit the goal at the midpoint of the workout and again at the end.
Track-Form Follow the Leader.
Split the students into groups of two or three and designate one child as the leader.
The leader takes the group on one lap of the running track, alternating between proper form and exaggerated improper form (e.g., leaning forward, stomping, tensing the shoulders, swinging arms vigorously across the body) while the other group members mimic the actions.
The groups and the practitioner debate the variations following each lap.
Children can experience the difference between a proper and bad form with this exercise.
Each lap’s leader is changed.
In front of a full-length mirror, the pupils jog while stationary.
Try leaning too far forward and back to see what happens.
After practising good posture, send them running for a predetermined distance.
When they return, have them inspect their form once more in the mirror.
Pick a course that has undulating terrain that isn’t overly challenging or hilly. When jogging uphill, emphasize raising the knees and pumping the arms aggressively from front to back (not across the torso).
When running downhill, focus on a modest forward lean (remaining parallel to the ground and utilizing gravity’s pull), a minor lengthening of the stride, landing on the forefoot, and pushing off the toes.
Scavenger hunt online
The older kids who participate in this game should do so. Make a list of items for a scavenger hunt using items found in the practice area (e.g., school grounds, track, park).
A sign, bench, picnic table, pavilion, red leaf, pine cone, dandelion, or a group member doing a cartwheel are just a few examples of possible decorations (the funnier, the better).
Separate “bonus” products that are more difficult to obtain (e.g., a dollar, a picture with their whole group in it, a squirrel).
Then, divide the kids into manageable teams of three to five, and give each team a copy of the list. Start each team at the same time, then monitor their progress.
The following regulations must be followed:
(1) all teams must stick together;
(2) all travel must be done on foot
(3) groups must take pictures of each item on the list using a digital camera or cell phone
(4) a team is not finished until all items are found (except for bonus items)
(5) for every bonus item found, one minute will be deducted from the team’s overall time.
Depending on how far you want them to travel, choose items that are dispersed throughout the region.
Are You Safe?
Another widely refuted myth is that elementary-aged youngsters aren’t physically equipped for distance running.
Healthy Kids The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM, 2010) suggests three to four days per week (ideally daily) of 60 minutes of physical activity for 13-year-olds and under. The ACSM recommends 60 minutes of moderate and intense exercise.
Distance running meets daily moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity requirements.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE, 2004b) advises 5–12-year-olds to get at least 60 minutes (and up to several hours) of moderate-to-vigorous intermittent action daily. Distance running is NASPE (2004b)’s moderate, self-selected activity for kids. Sprinting requires several breaks, but brisk walking and running can be done for long periods. Distance running instructors should limit training sessions with five- to seven-year-olds to 30 minutes and eight- to eleven-year-olds to 45 minutes to ensure safety and efficacy while delivering more than 15 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, according to NASPE (2009).
Distance running in youngsters has inconsistent long-term impacts.
Noakes (2003) claimed that while acute overtraining concerns can linger up to six weeks, there is little evidence that severe aerobic training in prepubertal children causes lasting physiological or physical abnormalities. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine (AAPCSM, 1990) found that the most prevalent musculoskeletal problems in young runners are overuse injuries that correlate to total distances covered and may lead to persistent disabilities like arthritis or growth deformity. While there are no long-term negative effects, juvenile distance runners are susceptible to iron shortage and heat- or cold-related diseases due to poor thermoregulation and female distance runners commonly have delayed menarche due to reduced body weight (AAPCSM).
In a study of 184 children ages 9 to 13 who competed in swimming, tennis, team handball, and gymnastics at a competitive level, “genetic factors, birth weight, early childhood growth, sport, hours of training, and pubertal status on the stature and body mass index (BMI)” showed that “prepubertal growth is not adversely affected by sport at a competitive level” (Damsgaard, Bencke, Mattiesen, Petersen, & Miiller, Roberts (2007) also re-searched 2,000 Los Angeles and Twin Cities Marathon kid finishers. The youngest data set child was seven. The short-term investigation found no major medical injuries at these events. Roberts stated that children who wish to run this distance on their own should be allowed to do so, but they should be monitored for social, scholastic, psychological, and physiological development. Marathon running by elementary-age children is not advised (e.g., “preadolescent children should not run long distance races conducted largely for adults” [Lebow & Averbuch, 1994, p. 421]), but proper training does not appear to be dangerous. Table 1 outlines distance-running guidelines for elementary-aged youngsters.
Note that Table 1’s maximum training and racing distances are for child-initiated running. Training distances are any jogging at a comfortable, easy-to-moderate pace interspersed with walking if the child desires, usually in a practice situation. Racing distances are continuous, moderate-to-vigorous running in a time trial or race. A nine-year-old youngster could engage in an age-appropriate five-kilometre “fun run” as a training run at an easy-to-moderate effort level with walk breaks. Practitioners who follow Table 1 and pay attention to each child’s needs, characteristics, and experience level are more likely to provide a safe distance-running environment.
Given children’s lower anaerobic ability, practitioners should set acceptable distance goals to minimize short-term injuries. Following suitable progressions for children’s developmental and experience levels reduces dangers. Set child distances for safety and motivation. Noakes (2003) recommended five to six kilometres of self-initiated exercise for children under 10 years old, with a maximum of 10 to 20 minutes of intense training at a time. Running form instruction reduces injury risk.
Movement concepts, proper nutrition and hydration, proper footwear, sun safety, and safe running routes.
Form. Eliminate arm movement across the midline and upper body twisting to teach appropriate mining form (Greene & Pate, 2004). Focus on looseness, foot-rolling, and erectness (Pangrazi & Beighle, 2013). To boost speed, emphasize not overstriding and step cadence.
Running movement concepts for children include (1) running at varying paces, levels, paths, and directions; (2) landing heavy or light; (3) manning smoothly (i.e., efficiently) or jerky (i.e., inefficiently); (4) influencing leg turnover rate by arm carriage rate (i.e., pump the arms and the legs will follow); and (5) influencing stride length by the amount of force during the push-off phase (Gallahue & Donnelly, 2007).
Food and water
Running programs should emphasize nutrition and hydration.
Water is recommended before and during exercise, and electrolyte (sports) drinks after 30 minutes. Clark (2003) advised training with eight ounces of liquids every 15–20 minutes. I am not waiting until thirsty. The best hydration is clear or light-coloured urine (Noakes, 2003). Recovery drinks with a four-to-one carbohydrate-to-protein ratio should be consumed 15 minutes after the workout (Clark). Finally, explain the relationship between nutrition and exercise. Promote a variety of whole or lightly processed foods from the basic food groups. By the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (2010) dietary guidelines for Americans.
Safe Running Routes
Mark running routes with cones, lime, paint, chalk, arrows, or other means. Avoid marking routes the night before in case of rain, wind, or vandals.
Will It Cause Mental “Burnout”?
Avoid boredom by changing training sessions daily.
A year and play on one squad per season for mental and physical rehabilitation. John, a 10-year-old child, should attend track club practices five days a week and not try out for the baseball team during the same season. Additionally, John should not run with the track club in the spring and summer and then on a cross-country team in the fall and winter, which would total more than nine months of distance running. He may join a winter sports team to stay active, improve his cardiovascular fitness, and recuperate from distance running.
Motivation prevents mental exhaustion. Greene and Pate (2004) offered some tips for motivating and retaining young distance runners in Training Young Distance Runners. First, practitioners must recognize that motivation levels vary within a group and that motivation must be cultivated. Musically,
Variety and running games may encourage kids to engage for enjoyment and socialization. Competitive success may demotivate children. Connecting effort to self-improvement boosts motivation. Inspiring commitment, hard work, self-improvement, and applauding effort can boost intrinsic motivation.
When combined with intrinsic incentives (self-satisfaction, improvement), extrinsic rewards (trophies, prizes) can remind children of the joy of achievement.
A medal for finishing a race, a T-shirt for complete summer training, or a ribbon for running a new personal record are examples of prizes. Finally, defining short- and long-term goals with each child can help them focus their mind and body. Childhood motivation, self-esteem, and self-worth depend on practitioners providing realistic training sessions and program goals.
Process goals include running an even pace throughout a session, whereas outcome goals include reaching level 17 on the PACER test. Establishing ambitious but achievable goals can boost confidence and happiness. The practitioner may assist the youngster in overcoming disappointment, examining what went wrong, and preparing for future success by changing the aim or training plan.
Running systems that measure daily distance or steps can assist in creating long-term objectives (e.g., running one mile a day for several weeks to finish a marathon) and motivating. The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (2006) online log (www.presidentschallenge.org) lets kids document their physical activity for the President’s Challenge.
Tips for Practitioners
* Track laps around a track, steps with a pedometer, or mileage in a session with age-appropriate journaling. Older kids can keep a reflective journal to communicate their running feelings and track injuries. These diaries can help set intermediate and long-term goals.
Establish an extracurricular running group before or after school.
Practitioners should consider the following while creating elementary-age training sessions:
Avoid “cookie cutter” programs that force all kids to do the same workout.
* Adjust volume (distance), intensity (speed or effort), and frequency to gradually increase running workloads (number of days a week; Greene & Pate, 2004).
Youngsters new to jogging should start with modest volume, low intensity, and two days per week.
* Never increase training volume by more than 10% week-to-week (Brenner, 2007; Daniels, 2005). Time or distance can measure this.
Individualize training by time, not distance, so fitter kids run farther and less fit kids run less. Everyone finishes at once.
Hill, fartlek, whistle, progression, pace, and other workouts.
Change workout intensity. Avoid back-to-back strenuous workouts.
* Run on tracks, trails, fields, bike routes, etc., but avoid hard surfaces.
* Run events should be age-appropriate for students. The Road Runners Club of America (2012) advises “dash” events starting at 50 meters for five-year-olds and “fun run” events starting at a one-half mile for older children, allowing them to run and stroll at their own pace.
A Practitioner’s Perspective: The Mighty Milers
NYRR offers schools and community centres the Mighty Milers incentive-based running program (2012a).
Students earn medals for each full marathon up to four times (26.2 miles to 104.3 kilometres). Prekindergarten, kindergarten, and adapted physical education students can earn 13.1-mile half marathon medals. Mighty Milers is free for schools with at least 50% free and reduced lunches. The second author, who was new to distance running, used the NYRR Mighty Milers program to start a running program for her prekindergarten to second-grade physical education students.
Running regularly could harm young students’ knees and ankles. NYRR resources alleviated overtraining injury concerns. NYRR offers a monthly newsletter, coaching tools, and a “loopy laps” link with age-appropriate games for young runners. Videos assist practitioners in teaching running form to students through fun activities. Elementary-aged runners can adapt to several of the website’s activities. Mighty Milers regional coordinators assist with running chib logistics.
Running club members must run twice a week for 15 minutes. Jogging for 15 minutes helps kids reach the prescribed 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical exercise (NASPE, 2004b). The program encourages children to listen to their bodies and walk and drink as needed.
Running would bore students.
The running would begin with an all-school cheer rally that ended with everyone yelling, “I love running!”
This excitement didn’t fade, despite concerns. New students joined the group weekly till the conclusion of the year. Many kids arrived 30 minutes early to start running.
Veteran runners occasionally urged rookie runners to start running at a medium speed to avoid fatigue. Students check their effort by feeling their heartbeat. Prekindergarteners grasped the relationship between heart rate and manning speed. Students exclaimed, “My heart is beeping!” when their hearts beat quicker.
Having a core group of students and great music were two key in- ingredients of the program. Alumni recruited friends and monitored lap monitoring in the chub. Students collected Popsicle sticks after each lap to track their laps. Alumni racers respectfully reminded fresher runners to walk off the track when they were fatigued and not linger in the inner lane.
Distance mining is safe for elementary school kids. Will-Weber (2001) defined an excellent distance-running coach as “someone who helps you progress but leaves something “in the bank,” and also instils a love of the sport as you move on… plus… someone who teaches you something about life in the process” (p. 46). Running must be fun and safe to avoid mental burnout. Distance running can assist physical educators in satisfying national requirements for motor skill competency, understanding of movement principles, regular physical exercise, health-enhancing fitness, and displaying responsible fitness behaviour and valuing physical activity (NASPE, 2004a). Well-organized elementary distance-running activities may also enhance adolescent running and lifetime physical activity.
(2013) Distance Running and the Elementary-age Child, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 84:3, 17-25,
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“In 2020, Andrew advanced to the position of Vice President with the Association of Track and Field Statisticians, having devoted seven years as an active member. His impressive track record includes roles such as a PSC Consultant and Research Assistant (2013-2015) and a distinguished stint as a Sprint Coach and Consultant at the renowned Zamboanga Sports Academy (2015-2017). Today, he offers his expertise as a Consultant Coach with VMUF, starting from 2021.
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