Getting kids into running in a healthy and fun way

From Coach T. J. Garlatz-

Running is an amazing lifelong activity that can help someone both mentally and physically. Here are some answers to common questions and tips on getting children into running.

What is the right age to get someone started with running?
So long as most of the excitement is coming from the child, no age is too early. Humans are built to run, and it’s perfectly natural for kids to want to follow in the footsteps of their parents!
That said, I don’t feel kids should focus on running performance until they reach middle school or even high school. Instead, the attention should be on having fun and being safe. They should be running and exploring, not training!
Getting kids participating in random events at the Monday night All Comers Track Meets and the youth events of local road races is a great way to get kids started in an exciting way. Make the emphasis be on participating and having fun – any competitive nature will tend to take care of itself!

How do we prevent injuries in younger athletes?
Balance the stresses in their lives. Some kids do too many activities and are spread too thin. This leaves them feeling overwhelmed and at risk of injury. Let them enjoy and excel at a few things!
Don’t ramp up their formal running too quickly. Get in shorter easy runs every few days (along with good old fashioned play) before joining a team or a club. A good coach will understand that changes in stress leads to increased risk for injury, and will make sure children ease themselves in and allow their bodies to get acclimated to the specific stresses of running.
Keep kids in good running shoes. Just like you or me, an appropriately designed running shoe will help keep them feeling good and staying healthy.

How do I make running fun?
Think like a kid. Kids love to play games and to be entertained. Have kids run relays instead of workouts. Play tag, capture the flag, and red light green light!
Make it social. Perhaps even more so than with adults, kids love the social side of sport. Get them connected with a school team or a club. They will meet great new friends, develop lifelong healthy habits and physical fitness in the process.
Get kids exploring. Kids love running trails. When I work with my younger groups, for any continuous type of run, I try and make it an exploration run. Bellingham has amazing trails, and the kids love them just like you do!

TJ Garlatz is a running guru who has coached cross country and track collegiately in Alaska and at WWU for the past 15 years. He also mentors youth runners ages 7-18 as they start the process of becoming lifelong runners through the Chuckanut Raptors Running Club. For more information about the Raptors Running Club and summer offerings, please click here Chuckanut Raptors or email TJ directly at

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