Kids are born to run and running in the mud is a kids dream. At school playing chase, at the park playing hide and seek, at the soccer pitch chasing a ball. Do you really need to teach them how to run?
I was surprised to learn while training for our recent family mud run with my own kids that you actually do. The proper running technique, with arms bent at 90 degrees, for example, and not swinging across the body, does not come naturally but can help kids run faster and avoid injury especially during a kids mud run race.
Young children, ages 4–8, like to run fast and science has discovered that’s actually what’s best for them: at that age, their bodies and brains are developing power and speed. Until kids have gone through their puberty growth spurt, they can’t actually improve endurance (any performance gains are a result of improved technique).
But when kids get to be about 8 and older, they can start running for distance which is ideal for family mud run races in NJ, NY or MA, and obstacle races, These include skills that kids don’t instinctively know and require some practice to help them avoid injury and cross that finish line with a smile at the end of the mud run.
1. The Right Age
By age 7 or 8, kids can start with short, 1 km runs that they can finish without any breaks or much practice. Once they venture past the 1 km fun runs, its time to teach them a few running skills. By age 8, my three active kids were all doing fun, family 5 km mud runs. Not breaking any speed records, but getting used to longer distances, the race experience, running with a crowd, and crossing a finish line.
2. The Right Stuff
Kids need proper shoes and socks for running to avoid shin splints, blisters, and even knee or joint problems later on that can be caused by insufficient footwear. It is worth a visit to a running store to get moisture wicking, anti rubbing socks to avoid blisters and even a quick check of their gait to determine the best running shoes for their growing feet. Get the right mud run footwear is key to a successful kids mud run race.
3. Be The Pace Bunny
An even pace wins the mud run! Kids have no idea how to pace themselves. Teaching pace is valuable to be able to enjoy a distance run or a family mud run. A watch or smartphone app that measures distance and speed is handy and striving for a 6 to the 8-minute mile is average for kids.
Start slow and watch how your child is reacting. If they are short of breath, have a stitch in their side or complaining of leg pain, take a walking break for one or two minutes and then run again. As you run more often, you can increase the speed, but only if the kids are able to run and still enjoy it! Going too far and too fast is one way to turn kids off the sport!
Always pack water. When you’re active it’s valuable for more than just quenching thirst. Even though there will be mud and water on the mud run course, drinking water before, during and after the family mud run is good practice to teach your kids.
5. Increasing Distance
Pick a route for the kids that will be fun. Run to the park, to their friend’s house, to the ice cream shop, or on some nearby trails. Focus on the time you spend moving, and not distance. Our goal is to keep moving for 30 minutes. We run/walk 15 minutes away from home and then turn around and run/walk back — always running the first 1 or 2 miles and then, depending on their energy levels, running until they need a walking break. Walk for a couple of minutes and then run again.
Each run will be different. Some days you feel great, other days you don’t — same holds true for kids. Not every day is a great running day for them.
As with anything, you need to get the kids out a couple times a week over a few months to be ready for a 3 to 5-mile mud run race.
7. Mud Run Race Day- Let ‘em Go
You’ll be surprised what the power of a crowd can do to kids. For my daughter’s first 5-mile mud run race she had never run more than 3 miles without stopping to walk. At the kid’s mud run race in New Jersey, she ran right past the 3-mile sign, stopped to take a photo at the 4-mile sign, and then sprinted to the 5-mile finish line and beat me across! I’m not kidding.