With cross country season around the corner and school running programs picking up again, help your young runners increase flexibility and avoid knee pain with this IT band stretch. Running along the outside of the thigh from the pelvis to the knee, the Iliotibial band is a strip of tissue that helps stabilize the knee. Running on banked tracks a lot or neglecting to warm up and cool down properly can contribute to IT band discomfort, as can muscle imbalances or biomechanical issues like over-pronation or low arches.
My first mile: I am 9, rotund, and the new kid in school. The P.E. teacher walks us around the loop that must be completed four times. "Try," she says sternly, "to run the whole way." I put my head down and chug around, and I am rewarded with the time of 8:12. I go home and announce that I have run a mile. A whole mile!
I knew that covering a mile on foot was an accomplishment, though I couldn't have told you why. This arbitrary unit of measure, infrequently marked beyond interstate highways and road race courses, is nonetheless a gold standard for people from all walks of life. Students in New York City who measure their lives in blocks often ask me how many miles I've run that day. When I tell them, they ask, "How far is that?" They ask about miles not for information but for their symbolic import, and they swell with pride when, after 10 or 20 laps of their schoolyard, they too have joined the club. For them, as for all of us, the mile is the currency of distance running.
At first, a mile run, like a dollar, is a dear thing, but as youngsters become runners, miles flow more freely. Miles are accumulated, both on long individual runs and over time, and benchmarks are noted. Miles are invested, run with those who aren't quite as far along to help them accumulate their own. Miles are spent, whether in the final stretch of a race where training takes over or at the moment on a beautiful day when you realize you have covered a mile without realizing it, a millionaire of the roads and trails.
Since my first mile, I have run several thousand more, some strung together in great marathon chains, some raced as single units. I cannot remember them all, but I retain the sense of accomplishment that comes from covering even one. Jogging with my wife on our honeymoon in Mexico, we happened upon a dirt track with spectacular mountain vistas. "Let's run a mile as fast as we can," she said. "Just to say we did."
The mile is probably the ideal distance for kids to run. It's not too long, but it still feels like a great accomplishment to complete. While many elementary school students can work toward finishing their first mile, middle schoolers can pursue faster times as their fitness progresses.
In elementary school, novice runners can start out with a combination of running and walking. Students can alternate between 60 seconds of running and walking to acclimate their bodies to different speeds. Run an Obstacle Medley to introduce some friendly competition while students improve their running. As the school year progresses, increase the running segments while decreasing the walking intervals, with the aim of building toward running straight through a practice session. You can play music to motivate your students. Make sure to keep it fun – if kids don't enjoy running, they'll start to see it as work and may not be as likely to run in later years.
While elementary school students should play rather than train, it's fine to introduce middle school runners to more structured workouts. You can start the year with Time Trials and track students' progress throughout the year. Stronger runners can strive for a specific time. Many young runners start out too fast, so use our Running Rewards video, which outlines how runners can practice pacing with their teammates and learn how to better monitor their speed.
One-mile road races are on the rise for kids. In September, kids can run in New York City’s Fifth Avenue Mile, the Half Way to St. Patrick’s Day Kids Fun Run in Somerville, MA, and the Girl Scouts New Day 1-Mile Run in San Diego.
Looking for a mile race in your area? Check out FindaRace.org or search for kids races at CoolRunning.com. You can also hold a school-wide mile race or fun run. For help organizing a race, check out Events to Run: Action-Ready Plans for Youth Running Events.
Kids thrive on learning new sports, activities, and exercises. Have you introduced your team to yoga or Pilates? Elementary school kids can benefit from modified or simplified versions of unfamiliar physical activities, while older and more serious runners can integrate them into their training routines. Check out these videos and resources to relax and strengthen your young runners.
- Check out Sarah Kline's 10-minute Yoga for Kids video for help using Kundalini yoga and breathing movements to relax your students and burn off some excess energy. Appropriate for elementary and middle school students.
- This brief news story covers the rise of yoga in schools' physical education programs. Yoga can help students improve their breathing and muscle tone, and can aid concentration during athletic competition and combat pre-race jitters.
- Amazon sells yoga videos geared toward children as young as 3. There are also special videos and books for runners here.
- Pilates instructor Nico Gonzalez guides you through variations on Pilates mat exercises for kids, including rolling like a ball, "the seal," and "walking the plank." Kids will love the names and you can turn them into games. Watch it here.
- Students at Mitchell Elementary School demonstrate Pilates exercises to strengthen arms and abs with the help of three instructors in this video.
- High school runners can enjoy improved posture and relaxed muscles with these six Pilates moves profiled in Runner's World.