How to get your children into running - local fell runners share their stories
With the snow a distant memory, some sun finally and a lockdown Mother’s Day looming, what better way to spend time with your loved ones than getting out on our local fells for some family fun?!
Parents have felt added concern about their kids’ physical and mental well-being and looked for ways to get them outside, for all sorts of reasons, if for nothing else, just to get them to take a break from schooling via Zoom.
Themes that come up again and again include how far or long you should run for, how do you make sure children are okay and enjoy themselves, and even how on earth do you get them out the door.
To answer these (and other) questions, Calder Valley Fell Runners' Catherine Jones spoke to local runners who take their youngsters onto the moors to learn from their experiences and get some great advice and tips.
Tess Whitaker runs regularly with ten-year old Fred, and five-year old Cora. Her children have always been interested in running, which she puts down to both their parents being sporty.
Aged five, on first moving to Mytholmroyd, Fred was fascinated to see the Calder Valley Fell Runners (CVFR) juniors run past their living room window every Tuesday evening and he joined as soon as he turned six, even before Tess joined the senior club.
Tess recalls how this, ‘opened up a whole new world of running’ for the two of them, as they became suddenly aware of what they had ‘on the doorstep’ and ‘just how many new paths and hills there were to discover’.
Over the past year, running has really helped Tess and her whole family to get through. By the time the first lockdown started, her youngest, Cora, was five and desperate to go out with her older brother and mum.
One sunny day, they gave in and took her out on one of the junior club routes. To their surprise, the five-year old absolutely loved this. And since, they’ve made the trip onto the tops a bi-weekly outing.
Richard Hand’s two children Lenon (11) and Farris (8) have always enjoyed running. When they were little, they loved to watch their dad race & even took part in some junior park runs, alongside local outings together of a weekend or on a spare afternoon. But that was back when ‘the word was normal’ and running was just one sport among many.
Lockdown has changed all that and Richard describes how going out for a run has become something they’ve ‘all been able to hang on to and enjoy together’. It also provides a much needed ‘reason to get out of the house and get fresh air’.
Over the last year, they’ve gone out two or three times a week together, usually three to four miles a time. Richard is keen to place the emphasis on having fun and creating memories, by keeping it varied and as interesting as possible.
Toby Cotterill runs with both Rowan (9) and Holly (7). Rowan joined CVFR juniors a few years ago and has since really improved in terms of technique.
Holly was due to join juniors last Easter and Toby hopes she can do so soon, as she has amazing enthusiasm for getting out running. As with many younger ones, Holly ‘zooms off really quickly’ and just can’t maintain it. He and his wife have been trying to encourage her to take it steady but it’s not easy!
Toby highlights how, when out with the kids, they mix up walking and running, just as an adult would do when learning to run. Overall, he doesn’t mind how quickly they run; he simply enjoys being out with them in the woods and exploring. He’s certain they love it too and hopes that the fact that they have come to the sport young will mean they ‘get the bug for it’ and keep it up as they get older.
Ben Cliff has been running with his two since they were six. He started off small with them and looked for ways of making running fun. He also accepted that running with kids was going to involve quite a lot of walking and faffing around, but ‘once over that hurdle, the rewards have been fantastic’.
Liz Hainsworth loved to run as a young person growing up in the Valley, but she only discovered fell running when on moving to Hebden a little over 30 years ago.
Her daughter Fearne (now 13) also loves to run and has done since she was a toddler. Aged six, Fearne joined CVFR juniors and went from strength to strength, competing each year in the Junior Fell English championships (even placing fifth nationally one year), winning her club fell championships several years in a row, and representing her school and Calderdale in cross country.
Liz describes how much her daughter loves the fells and the mud, not to mention the friends she has made and the camaraderie. Both of them really appreciate how this is something they can do together, outdoors, whatever the weather.
When out with Fearne, Liz is careful to keep distances short - mindful that at 13, the maximum fell race is not much over three miles. However, as Fearne has grown older, they now have a particular four-mile route she likes to do up on Wadsworth Moor.
Liz said: "Young people’s well-being and mental health is so important at any time but especially now. If there is one little saying I’ve taught Fearne, which she now will say to me and what we can pass on, it is 'you never regret going for a run'."
James Logue’s son Euan (14) has been running for quite a long time, but over the past three years, has started to run further off-road, which means he has also been able to run more with his dad.
James has been careful to build up the distance they run together over time. Now, although most of their runs are still local, they can go further afield on occasion. This has proved invaluable, when Euan started getting ‘bored’ with local runs.
Now that he is older, Euan runs regularly on trails and paths and fields around Todmorden on routes he knows well. He and his dad have gone off together on some longer runs, including in the Dales or The Lakes.
Colin Duffield is keen to discuss running with young people from his experience as a father but also coaching juniors. He acknowledges how it’s a real challenge to keep children active and occupied whilst home schooling, especially with all organised sport cancelled.
Running as a family has been one way of making sure they do this. But he is also quick to emphasise that the ‘rosy picture of skipping along with your adoring child gazing up at you admiringly’ may not be exactly be the reality of running with your kids!
Many parents know only too well the tantrums, complaints about a ‘stitch’ and sulking that can accompany collective family exercise.
That said, when it works, it is quite simply magical, ‘one of the most fulfilling and heart-warming experiences a runner can have’. That is when ‘real memories are made’ and he is mindful that you may even be introducing a young person to ‘something that’ll give them pleasure for the rest of their life’.
For the view from the other side, CVFR and GB runner Martin Howard, was happy to share his memories of running as a young person with his dad. The lessons he was taught when he was young have helped him hold onto how important it is to be active and to appreciate not only the surroundings but also the people you are fortunate enough to run with.
Running with his dad when he was younger pushed him to be better, which in turn saw him compete locally, then nationally and later internationally.
Even now he is older and has achieved his dream, by becoming the U23 English fell running champion at the age of 20 and representing England, he still goes out with his dad, Bob, today and is grateful that he still pushes him to be the best he can.
Coming soon - top tips to get your kids running.
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