Just over a year ago, our children were catapulted into a scary new world and all of a sudden so many familiar things were taken away from them. They weren’t able to go to school, see their friends or play sports. For parents, a new responsibility was added to the weight of an already worrying situation: how to keep our children fit and healthy when all their organised physical activities had been cancelled. And so, the idea of taking our children running with us crept into many of our minds as a possible exercise replacement.
I have never been a solo runner and love to chat whilst running (except when I’m ascending a ‘mound of opportunity’, as Lindsey would call it when I go strangely quiet), so the thought of running with my children when I couldn’t run with anyone else was rather appealing. I find it difficult to motivate myself to run on my own and they needed a P.E. lesson – it’s a no-brainer surely! After all aren’t my children eager young athletes, raring to go, full of vitality and energy? And don’t I need running partners? I had visions of us all joyfully leaping out of the house bright and early, gazelle-like in our speed and grace. We would return happy and buzzing, our bodies tired but our brains energised, ready to start another day of homeschooling.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to any of you to read that the reality was a far cry from the images in my head.
First of all, just getting them out of the house required a mammoth effort on my part, using persuasion and bribing techniques not seen in our house since the toddler years. Secondly, once we had finally set off one of them would invariably fall over within the first 50 metres, requiring an immediate about-turn and the administering of emergency first aid. Thirdly, during the (eventual) run I would find it very hard to get into a rhythm due to the stop-start nature of my children’s running technique. My children and I dare say most children, seem somewhat reluctant to take any advice on how to pace themselves. My children start off as jaguars, complaining about me being too slow, then almost immediately turn into sloths, complaining about having a stitch.
In fact, complaining is the main contribution my children brought to our collaborative running. It’s too slow, too fast, how much further, can we turn back now, why can’t I climb that tree/wall, why can’t I run whilst dragging this enormous branch with me? For me, the feeling of achievement at the end was always slightly marred by the memories of the battles and incessant moaning before, during and after each run.
Reading other RTBers’ posts on the group page, and talking to other RTB members, has led me to believe I’m not alone in feeling like this. There seem to be a lot of us who have a love-hate relationship with running with our children.
Notable contributions from runners like our very own Nic Langford (who ran with her two sons The Greyhound and The Whippet), reveal similar experiences to mine. As Nic said after a solo run at the start of March this year, “Is it rotten to announce to the world that I didn’t miss my little running buddy at all and found it quite refreshing not to have to listen to him moaning?” And, when I was thinking about this blog and chatting to Nic about her experiences, she declared, “I like running with my children, but not very often!”
And yet, there is most definitely another side to this story. Despite not enjoying it most of the time, at least dragging my children out for a run got us out of the house and exercising. And amongst the posts about how difficult it could be at times, there were heartfelt and heart-warming success stories of how well children were doing and how motivated they were by the monthly challenges. The many photos of our runners with their children proudly displaying their medals were a pleasure to see. The addition of the 25k challenge in July 2020 was all the incentive that a lot of our children needed, and the discounted rate for children was a good incentive for parents to encourage them to do it!
Sarah Elliott, another of our runners, has a very motivated ten-year-old daughter. Cora has stacked up a colourful collection of medals, and she’s not even that keen on the actual running! Sarah states, “I would never have thought to get Cora running as she was never really interested in it. For that, I’m forever grateful to RTB.” But even this success story wasn’t without its difficulties. As someone who loves to run on her own, Sarah admits that she found it hard to run with Cora because it meant Sarah had to give up her valuable me-time. And it was hard for her to face Cora’s moaning (which for the rest of us is quite reassuring, sorry Sarah!). She is very happy now that Cora’s usual activities are back in place to fill the lockdown exercise gap, and no doubt Cora is happy to be back doing those activities.
During the last year or so the news has been full of stories about mental health, particularly with regards to children. Sarah and Nic are both well aware of the fragile state of their children’s mental health as a result of the pandemic. Sarah recognises that, despite the battles to convince Cora to run, Cora would feel good about herself once each run was finished. And Nic and I have both posted about how going for a run with one child at a time was an opportunity to give them some much needed individual attention. At a time when we all had to be cooped up at home, unable to be as active as usual or to see other people, going for a run in the fresh air and giving a child the opportunity to gabble on about some nonsense or other became a way of staying sane in the madness. Nic’s seven-year-old son was also struggling to sleep, particularly during the first lockdown, and he would often lie awake worrying, but the physical exhaustion of having been for a run helped him to fall asleep more easily.
Both Nic and Sarah agree that the charity runs organised by Run to Be were a huge motivation for their children. Sarah says, “My stand out positive memory is Cora’s look of elation at completing the Christmas 5k for Shelter. She never thought in her wildest dreams that she could do it. Proud mummy moment without a doubt!”
In May, Run to Be’s charity run will be in aid of Place 2 Be, a charity dedicated to improving children’s mental health. It will be free for children to join in, adults can join for a £5 donation, and all the proceeds go to the charity. There isn’t a medal for this run (look away now Cora!), but you and your children will get the satisfaction of knowing that you have helped to raise money for a charity that is needed now more than ever. And at the same time, you can revel in the delight of a bit of extra running time with your children, even if it took you two hours to persuade them to leave the house. By Erica Corbett