Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Charlie's running initiation

This weekend, I took my second run with my son Charlie. He just turned 6. You may remember that I wrote a post about feeling disconnected from him lately. It was one of the reasons that I was drawn to the book by Jim Axelrod. I thought running could be a way for us to bond and a time for us to do something without the rest of the clan coming along. He has been excited about it. I even purchased him a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves. Sorry New Balance but you are way behind the curve when it comes to minimal kid shoes. The reason I got them was so that he felt like running shoes are special (which they are—duh!) and because I noticed that kids shoes have a really high stack height and are so inflexible that it makes them run really awkwardly in them. This is a shame because there is nothing more natural than watching a young child run with bare feet. Charlie was pretty light on his feet with the Trail Gloves.

Running is a really fun thing to do with a young kid. Charlie was especially excited to go out and run in snow and ice. He asked me if it was dangerous and I told him it could be. The last time we ran it was getting dark and he thought that was dangerous too. I think he is excited by the fact that I am allowing him to take risks. When I dressed him today, I explained why I was choosing the specific clothes. I told him that I was giving him woolen gloves, so that his hands wouldn't get too warm but reminded him that if he picks up snow, they would get wet and make him very cold. He just said "That's OK dad. I'll just put my face in the snow to eat it." When we got to the park, Charlie told me to turn my watch on because he wanted to know how far we ran. Isn't it funny that a watch that can track you using GPS is so unremarkable to a kid that age? It was cold running through the park but beautiful in the sun. As we ran by the empty and frozen lagoon, families were sledding and having a great time. I was so happy to hear Charlie commenting on the environment. He seemed tuned in to the majesty of it all. At one point, he got super excited about the fact that some ducks had found a small area of water in the frozen lake. We ran two miles around the park with a few walks as recovery and to let Charlie eat snow.

Humboldt Park Lagoon. Courtesy of mbaltstiel on Flickr.

So, here are a few things I have learned about running with a young kid:
  • They are intrigued by running gear. Wearing thermal underwear (in lieu of running tights) under shorts is amusing.
  • They are interested in running terminology and science like "technical shirts" that wick moisture. When we got home, Charlie told me that he though his shirt had done a great job keeping the sweat off him.
  • Running slow to run further is an alien concept to them. They just want to run as fast as they can until they stop. Sprinting is all they know. You have to explain distance running to them.
  • They will tell you when they need to stop. I was very worried about over–exerting Charlie. We end up walking when he is tired and running when he is recovered. It comes naturally.
  • They can run further than you think. With run/walk/run, I think Charlie could go on for a very long time. Regardless, I am going to take it slow.
  • When you tell a 6 year old boy to avoid ice, they process that as "find the ice and run on it." He only fell twice but he thoroughly enjoyed it both times.
  • Even at a young age, there is a sense of achievement from running. Charlie always says that he wants to run more next time and can't wait to tell mom how far he ran.
  • Giving coaching on running form is a bit of a waste at this age. I tried telling Charlie about the way he should hold his arms. He just couldn't do it. Running is so natural to him, the thought of altering form is alien. I didn't want to take away the fun, so I took back my direction and told him that he could run any way that felt right to him.
  • They think running is fun. Charlie never thought of running as an activity before. It was just something he used to get him from place to place. He now asks about people who run for a living.
The biggest smile I got from Charlie today is when we stopped at the car after the run. His cheeks were all red from the cold and he said "Dad. Can we get some hot cocoa when we get home? Please!" How can you say no to a mischievous little face like that? He knew that he had earned it.

As a result of the running with Charlie and the "special shoes", my daughter Maggie is now asking if she can run with me and get a sweet pair of shoes too. I am a little nervous about doing it with her because of the heart murmur she sometimes gets because of her blood disorder. I wrote a gut wrenching post about that a little while ago. I guess I'll just check on it medically and if she is cleared, we can do a little running. I'm always going to be worried about her even though she is a tough little thing.

I hope I have started a legacy here. I want them to be healthy people when they grow up. It doesn't matter if it is running. They can substitute their own version of it in future. Selfishly though, I want them to run because I want to run races with them when they are older.

I was checking out New Balance Chicago's Facebook page and what did I see... A kids Minimus range coming in Q3? Cool... but that's a long time to wait.


  1. Simon,

    Awesome post.

    I ran with my daughter this summer (she's was 10). What I was hoping would be a positive experience for the both of us turned into a bit of a disaster. She's very strong willed and was intent on impressing me to the point where she pushed beyond her limits. This, in spite of my explaining that it takes a very long time to "ease" into running. After the run she didn't feel well and my wife gave me a "stern talking to".

    On the other side of disaster I think it gave her a taste of the will and determination required to be a runner. I would never push her toward one sport or another but I'm secretly hoping she joins cross country next year. ;)

    Really enjoying this blog.


  2. That's interesting Tony. It was the part of running that I was most fearful of. Charlie just turned 6, he is pretty much still a 5 year old. Maybe at that age, he hasn't developed that sense of needing to prove something to me or being afraid to fail in front of me? I'm not sure but I am pleased that it hasn't been an issue. I could see Maggie being more like your daughter. She is only 16 months older but girls are much more mature than boys. I hope your secret wishes of cross country come true :)

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