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13 Ways to Get Kids Interested in Trail Running

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Maybe you’re one of the lucky few and has a child who begs to run with you.  But if you’re reading this, chances are you may not, and are looking for ways to inspire your child to get interested, and hopefully hooked, on running.

Even if your child, tween, or teen is glued to a screen around the clock or thinks that running is boring, there is hope to get them running.  Lots of hope!

Getting kids running and loving the sport is really only a matter of tapping into their interests and appealing to what gets them excited.

I’m convinced that kids are wired by nature to love running, especially trail running, if they are inspired, encouraged, and given space to experience what it feels like to be wild and free–mentally and physically–on the trail.

Most kids love (and crave) attention from their parents and trustworthy role models.  Running with young kids, tweens, and teens is a fantastic way to connect, build respect for each other, and develop a long-term appreciation for the endurance sport of running.

The following tips may help get your child so interested in running that she or he willingly ditches screentime for time on the trail.

trail running kid

13 Tips for Getting Kids Interested and Hooked on Trail Running

1.  Lead with Attitude.  Lead with enthusiasm. Let your child see how much you love–or have interest in starting–running.  A positive attitude is contagious.  If you are psyched about fitness, getting in shape, or changing your lifestyle, your child will more likely take interest in sharing your enthusiasm.  Model a lifestyle that encourages running and fitness.

There are many little things, and sometimes bigger things, I do to share my running enthusiasm with my four kids. For example, I get my children involved with my running-related purchases, such as picking out protein powder, racing gels and snacks, and healthy dinner recipes.  I ask them to help choose running routes.  I encourage them to volunteer at running races and to ‘research’ fun races that we can do together.

2.  Run trails!  Trail running is exciting.  Running trails can also be safer than running on roads.  It’s hard to feel bored on a trail, after all you never know what is around the next bend or up the next incline.  You can break up the run with walking to make it more manageable, particularly if you are just starting out.  Turn the run into a covert educational mission–point out cool trees, plants, insects, talk about erosion, stream water quality, leave no trace principles, etc.  Teach kids that trail runs are adventures.

My kids think trail running is synonymous with adventure.  Trail running = an adventure.  The kids think of themselves as running explorers.  Every run is different and exciting.

3.  Make Running Fun.  Turn the run into an obstacle course adventure. Use tree stumps for box jumps. Stop and drop and do push-ups. Hide behind trees. Play I-Spy.  Walk along the length of fallen trees.  Plan your runs along routes that have Geocaches and look for them while you run. Look for treasures along the way, such as ‘who can find an oak leaf first.”

My kids love to look for Geocaches, and enjoy challenging each other with games, such as “who can race to that tree first” along the run. On one particular trail route that my kids and I like to run, there is a playground close to the trail.  We often stop there for about 5-10 minutes along the run before continuing on; the kids look forward to it and it keeps them motivated.

4.  Set Goals.  Whether it is a big or small goal, a race goal, fun run, or training run challenge, help your child set personally meaningful goals.  It could be a small goal such as jogging the uphills on a run or entering a kid’s community fun run.

My kids love to race. Interestingly, all of my children have unique goals when it comes to running. My oldest usually races with the goal of beating her previous times, whereas my third child’s goal is usually to finish, regardless of her time.

5.  Make it Exciting to Get out the Door.  If your kid is motivated by technology, consider buying a GPS watch or iPhone running app that will make running even more exciting.  If your child loves shoes, maybe a fabulous pair of running shoes will do the trick. Maybe playing frisbee or kicking the soccer ball around after you run together for a few minutes will be the ultimate incentive to get your kid out the door.

My youngest loves wearing his Camelbak.  A run means he gets to wear it. That alone will get him out the door.

6.  Make Running a Game.  Be creative and come up with a way to turn running into a game. Who can get ready for a run first?  Who can reach the mailbox first? Who can the most mileage during a week? Figure out what motivates your child, and use that knowledge to figure out how to make running an exciting game.

If you have a highly competitive child, as I do, making a game out of running can be just the magic to making regular runs part of your kids trail running 2

7.  Keep a Log.  Encourage your child to keep track of her or his running.  Keeping a log will allows children to see how far they have come on their running journey.  A training log helps build confidence and reminds kids (and grownups) how far they have come with their regular effort.

Two of my children keep running logs. They enjoy looking over their log and seeing what they’ve accomplished.

8.  No Pressure.  If your child is really resistant to the idea of running, it may be your child isn’t ready yet–they may well eventually come around. Instead, take the pressure off your child and encourage your child to participate in backyard games, like soccer or frisbee, where they will get some pressure-free running.  When you run or race with your child, keep it low pressure and fun.  Keep the mood light and cheery. Keep running enjoyable and stress-free! Be flexible with a child’s abilities and moods that can sometimes change with little notice–especially if you have a tween/teen–and be willing to modify or change your running plan, goals, or objectives as needed.

9.  Volunteer at Races.  Get kids involved with the sport of running.  Volunteer as a family at local running races. It’s not only fun to give back to the community, but the spirit and energy of the event will likely rub off onto your child.

Each year our family organizes an aid-station at a local race. We make a big deal out of it, so it’s fun for the whole family. We dress up in costumes and have a festive experience cheering on and feeding racers.

10.  Find a Youth Running Program.  Does your community offer a youth running program, afterschool XC Running team, running camp, junior running group? For some kids a group program and social opportunity is the perfect incentive for taking up running–and falling in love with the sport.  If you don’t have any youth running programs in your community, consider starting one!  Alternatively, find another running parent who has a kid about the same age or ability as yours and plan running play dates!

11.  Bring Your Child to Your Races.  Encourage your kids to watch you race. Give them a fun cow bell to ring to cheer for you and other runners.  Encourage them to make signs with supportive messages for runners. Being part of the race experience, even as a non-racer, is incredibly inspirational!

My kids love the festive atmosphere of big race events. It’s encouraging for them to see how much runners love the sport and also how family-oriented many races can be–it makes them want to run, too.

12.  Sign Your Child Up for a Race.  Let them pick out a race that they would like to try and sign them up! There are so many race options out there, from 1Ks, 1 Milers, 5Ks to ultra races. There are theme races and fun run races.  There really is a race for everyone–and everybody & ability!

My kids especially love costumed theme races.  One year we participated in a Halloween 5K, and our entire family dressed as superhero characters.  The kids not only had a blast–and loved racing with capes–but we have cool family pictures to remember the event.

13.  Praise Your Child.  Praise your child for his/her willingness to try running.  Thank your child for running with you. Let him/her know how much you enjoyed the companionship on your run.  Let your child hear you tell people that you appreciate and love running with your child–your training buddy.

As a mom of four kids who love to run, I can’t emphasize this enough!  When kids feel good about themselves, the possibilities are endless!

Happy Trail Running!  Happy Running!

* * * What did I miss? What tips do you have for inspiring kids to run? What has worked for you? * * *

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