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Four Weeks to Fitness

Teaching Children to Run

Jan Tipton believes the way to make running fun for young children is to take the emphasis off distance and place it on time. "The worst thing," says Tipton, a physical education teacher at Alimacani Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida, "is to take kids outside and tell them to run four laps (one mile). Every single day, the same kid wins, and all the rest lose."

Instead, Tipton asks everyone to run four minutes--and freeze! Each child sees how far he or she ran. The next day, they return and try to run farther. "Suddenly the focus is off the kid that won and on what you just accomplished." Over a period of weeks, Tipton gradually increases the time run in two-minute increments to 12 minutes. At that point, most children find they can run four laps and feel proud of their achievement. At the end of the school year, the children are tested on their ability to run one mile.

Tipton sees each class only once every two weeks, so relies on classroom teachers to supervise running during daily recesses. "It takes extra effort on their part," admits Tipton. "They have to stand on the track and blow the whistle." For children not in a supervised program, Tipton suggests that the parents run along. "If the kid is faster than the parent, let them go."

The following four-weeks-to-fitness program begins with daily four-minute runs. Each Friday, the time (and distance) increases. Tuesdays and Thursdays are designed as a speed day with the Friday time split in half. On Tuesdays, encourage the child to go farther in the second run than the first. On Thursdays, have the child run the first and stop; then after a rest, run back faster and try to run past the start/finish line. Do all workouts on a track or in some area without traffic. The final Friday run in Week 4 could be a 1-mile race, those dreaded four laps on a track that seemed so imposing on Day 1. Walking in any of the workouts or in the final test itself is acceptable.

Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri WEEKEND
1 4:00 2 x 300 4:00 2 x 3:00 6:00 Soccer
2 6:00 2 x 400 6:00 2 x 4:00 8:00 Soccer
3 8:00 2 x 500 8:00 2 x 5:00 10:00 Soccer
4 10:00 2 x 600 10:00 2 x 6:00 12:00 Soccer

After a child attains the goal of running a mile, you can continue workouts using a similar gradual progression. After another four weeks or more, the child will be able to run two miles non-stop and may be ready to enter a 5-K race, where inspiration will carry him or her the extra distance--provided you run along!

- Is Running Good for Children?
- Wesley Paul: "I just wanted to run with my father"
- Mary Etta Boitano: "I am not a little boy"
- Liz Reichman: "We just go out and see what develops"
- Training: Four Weeks to Fitness
- Training Tips for Parents
- Kids Running