How to Make Running Fun for the Family

A family enjoys a run together.
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One of the many joys of running is that it can be an outlet for each of us in a variety of ways. Whether you log your miles to be competitive or social (or both), running can provide opportunities to connect with others and ourselves to boost whole health in body, mind and spirit. We’re here to empower your entire family to lace up, hit the pavement and start feeling whole with these tips.

Couples and families often find themselves pulled in a zillion different directions with hectic schedules. Between work, school, and the ongoing necessities of daily life, there’s little downtime throughout the week. Sharing the joy of running can provide an opportunity for families to spend quality time together in a healthy, rejuvenating way.

Customize Your Family Fitness Goals

Every runner trains for his or her own reasons. For some, running is a lifelong habit that provides both physical and mental well-being. You may be striving toward longer distances or faster race times. Or perhaps you’re a newer runner, just making running part of your daily schedule. Maybe it’s an outlet for stress, or an opportunity to socialize with friends, or simply part of your fitness routine.

No matter how or why you train, sharing running with your significant other or family can be a wonderful way to get closer and enjoy one another. But in order for everyone to have fun, it’s essential to approach running time together in a low key, inclusive way.

Including Your Spouse or Significant Other

You may have a spouse or significant other who is an equally or less intensive runner, or perhaps a non-runner. If you both train and race at a similar level, you have the benefit of a partner who understands your love of running and the ups and downs that are part of intensive training. Depending on your schedules, you may have the opportunity to train together and support each other at races.

For many of us, however, there’s not such an equal balance in how we approach running compared to our partners and families. Finding ways to share the joy of running in a fun, low-key way can insure that running remains something that helps bring you together.

Michelle Ramirez, a physical therapist for AdventHealth, has many ideas to help spouses enjoy running together. “Attend your spouse’s running event and have the kids make posters for the finish line,” she notes. “Also, have the kids help cook a pre-race dinner or snacks to get them more involved.”

Here are a few more possibilities:

  • Joining your partner for warm up or recovery miles can be a wonderful way to spend some quality time together when you’re not focused on a certain pace.
  • Even if you don’t race at the same pace, supporting local races where you both can complete the distance can be a shared experience and an opportunity to cheer each other on.
  • Vacations in places with opportunities to run or hike can be an amazing way to explore at a pace or effort level that is comfortable for you both.
  • Even if you stay local, hiking can be an alternate option to running together that allows you both to explore and improve your fitness.
  • If your spouse is a non-runner but still wants to support you at longer races, they can always be involved in cheering you on or crewing for you at long distances such as an ultra run.

Kids and Running

Above all else, running needs to be a fun, playful outlet for kids, especially for those under 10. Under the age of 6, games like tag or racing to the mailbox or running with a dog around the yard are perfect low-key ways to get kids moving.

Ramirez has advice for parents who are unsure about signing up their kids for races. “For kids five and over, fun runs of up to a mile are ok, with walking allowed during the race. Children 12 and over can start participating in 5k’s and kids over 15 are ready to start running 10k – half marathon races.” Younger children shouldn’t participate in long distances like marathons or ultras until they’re adults.

Nature trails and parks can give them an opportunity to experience the beauty of the outdoors while being active. Cheering for mom or dad (or an older sibling) at a race can be an introduction to the fun and challenge of racing and provide an alternate option for staying involved.

Here are some additional ways to introduce your kids to running in a playful way:

  • Map out a local loop: Find a neighborhood loop where you can safely walk or run together with your children. Set goals such as completing the loop a certain number of times or running portions to give them a chance to push themselves in a fun, low-key environment.
  • Try the track: While tracks can be a little monotonous for longer runs, their small size and controlled environment make them a place where family members can easily run together at a variety of paces. Take turns running faster and slower so you all have an opportunity to be together at varying times.
  • Run while they bike: Depending on your family’s fitness, taking turns biking while the others run can help everyone maintain a pace that is comfortable for the group and allows you to stay together. Alternate who runs and bikes to give everyone a chance to improve their running fitness!
  • Complete a fun run as a family: Many races - both large and small - offer fun runs to get kids involved in a positive, non-competitive environment. Depending on their age you can run with your kids or cheer them on from the sideline.
  • Enjoy the scenery – plan for stops and starts: When you run with kids, embrace the idea that you’ll be stopping and starting. Use this opportunity to explore the environment around you. Avoid trying to make this a training run or you may all end up frustrated!
  • Fun fartleks: Fartleks (and their laugh-inducing name are ideal for giving kids an opportunity to run faster paces. Keep them unstructured and use landmarks to speed up and slow down, such as running faster between mailboxes or trees on a wooded path.
  • Let kids do the planning: Kids are more likely to enjoy a run-related outing if they are allowed to be a part of the planning. Depending on their age, give them a chance to help choose a location, pace, distance, etc.
  • Running and Fueling: Running requires fueling, and pre- or post-run meals can provide a perfect opportunity to introduce kids to fueling their bodies in a healthy way.
  • Apps for tracking and goal setting: While running is a wonderful way to reduce kids’ screen time, some apps may be useful for tracking family run time and even setting time or distance goals.

When you’re sharing the joy of running with your family, keep the focus on them and their needs. Remember that this is an opportunity for shared time together rather than serious training. Start your family with a healthy, happy approach to running, and they’ll be more likely to continue to enjoy it for a lifetime of whole health.

We’re here to support you and your entire family in starting a safe and successful family running plan. Check in with one of our adult or pediatric sports medicine experts to help you customize a health check and fitness goals just for you.

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