My kids hate to run. The problem is that I love to run, and nothing would make me happier than to be able to go out for five miles with one or more of the kids. It would provide some one-on-one quality time with these people who are growing way too fast for my own comfort.
After years of trying, I eventually realized that I could not just say, “Hey, lets go jog two miles.” I am sure there are kids on this planet who would jump at that chance, but none of them live in my house. I have to be sneaky.
One of the best ways to get kids running is to get them around other kids and causally suggest a game of Zombie tag. In this game, one person starts off as the zombie, and they have to chase down the other kids. Whenever the zombie kid touches another, the second kid becomes “infected,” and they are now both zombies. And so it goes until everyone has been infected. Usually the last kid standing is either a very good hider or an extremely good runner.
With this game, it helps to set clear boundaries, like “stay inside the fence” or “don’t go past the stop sign.” It works best if you have at least five kids involved, and it is fantastic if you can do it on a playground with climbing equipment.
And, by the way, as the adult, you get tremendous benefits from playing zombie tag with your kids. If you have to hang around and oversee the activity anyway, you might as well be playing.
Capture the Flag
You might remember capture the flag from your own childhood. There are two teams (you probably should have 3-4 kids at least on each team), and each side has a flag. We usually use a jacket or one of my ugly scarves. The field is divided into sides for each team. You stash the flag in a visible, but not easily accessible place. One person from each team guards the flag from a set distance (at least three feet) and the opposing teammates try to capture the your team’s flag and bring it back. You can capture the other team’s members and put them in “jail” by tagging them when they’re on your side of the field.
In addition to the health benefits of zombie tag, capture the flag also adds an element of strategy: The kids have to figure out how to get past the guard, so they usually develop some elaborate distraction scheme, which also helps boost creativity.
If you were to get together with 10 or 12 of your adult friends, playing tag would definitely not be the first activity on your mind. However, if you are watching your kids and a game of tag breaks out, join in. Or if you have kids hanging out on your sofa playing video games, get them outside, suggest the game, and play with them.
At first, playing like a kid may hurt your knees, or you might not be able to sprint as fast as some of the little speed-demons, but the kids actually enjoy the opportunity to see grown-ups moving and looking like they are having fun in a childlike way. The kids will also benefit from your expert strategic experience when trying to capture that flag.
If you are a runner, and you are trying to increase your 5k (or 10k) time, most trainers will tell you that you should work on doing sprints in addition to your regular distance runs. Sprints train your body to perform short bouts of high-intensity work before you slip back into a more moderate pace. In a race, this helps you keep up with the pack, make it up hills, or blow past a competitor.
Sprints are actually kind of fun, because you get to push yourself hard and enjoy the feeling of going fast without having to worry about sustaining that pace for a long time. Coincidentally, kids usually enjoy sprinting for the exact same reason: it’s fun. Sprint to the stop sign or the next mail box on your next walk.
I may never be able to take my daughter for a three-mile run with me, but I can definitely get her to agree to going for a walk, and after we warm up for a few minutes, I can get her to race me to the stop sign, or to the blue car, or the fire hydrant. We both get a great sprint, and then we get to walk and talk again.
Maybe someday, she’ll actually enjoy straight running. But for right now, we’re both getting the benefit from the little sprints. And the time we spend talking between the short bursts of speed is priceless.