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Run kids, Run!

If we want our children to grow up to be healthy adults then we should start teaching the art of running as soon as children start Elementary School.

I came to the sport of running quite late in life.  At 36, I was no spring chicken when I began my attempt to run my 5K. Nearly four years later, I reflect on my previous life as an asthmatic middle-school student, left on the netball court as my class-mates were running up a hill in the mud and grime. It’s only now that I truly lament that my phys ed teachers were more worried about legalities than fostering a love of running. What sort of runner could I have become if my teachers had operated a “stop whining and get out there” approach?

As I look to the future generation of runners – namely embodied in my seven year old – I realize the importance of running and especially the importance of teaching the skill of running.

I was lucky enough to write an article for the July/August print edition of Canadian Running Magazine about children and how barefoot activity is important for their lower leg strength and development.  A topic I wasn’t able to highlight due to my verbose writing style is the importance of teaching running from an early age and promoting activity in schools.

In the earlier pages of the July/August issue – ahead of my article – is an article by Rory Gilfillan.  He laments the existing lack of fitness in our youth and how physical activity is now pushed out of curriculum due to the pressures placed on teachers to score well in academic subjects.  I read the article and agree.

Objective measures of fitness, as seen in the Canadian Fitness Award, are detrimental in promoting an overall culture of activity. As a ex-teacher myself, I have seen how yearly standardized’ testing segregates the ‘Can’s’ and ‘Can-not’s, so don’t bother to try again – Ever!’  What is needed is a way to promote physical education by applauding effort and promoting a way to improve.

With a lack of any clear scheme and the pressures on schools to perform academically, the role of physical education has been relegated to the annual sports day and support is only really given to those who have a natural talent that requires minimal coaching.

The failure to even consider physical education as a valid subject in school has it’s own consequences.

Running is a sport that essentially requires little money to participate in. If you think of hockey, soccer, football, lacrosse, these sports require extensive equipment, coaching and parental funding. Running only requires a pair of shoes – or if you are like me, then not even that. It is something that can be done anywhere, at anytime, you just have to grab your running shoes.

Poor physical health and rising obesity is costing the Canadian economy billions of dollars a year in rising health costs and loss of productivity.  What would happen if we taught the simple skill of running in elementary school?

Why should running be taught in schools? Running is inherent in our natures; every child can run.

Yet, if you look at those running in any large scale race – the Vancouver Sun-Run for example — it’s clear that the majority of participants would benefit from some coaching in running form. If we examine the amount of money spent on hospital and doctors’ bills every year due to running injuries then it’s apparent that just letting our children run wild may not solve our rising medical costs.

It doesn’t have to be like that. If you run with good running form then the likelihood of repetitive injuries goes down. You can’t eliminate running injuries entirely – fate will always ensure there is some way to trip you up.  If you become educated in how your body works, you will become aware of how to treat simple injuries that without attention become long-lasting issues.  We have all seen the runner who has ended up with surgery because they had a ‘niggling pain’ and they carried on running regardless.

If we teach our children how to run, then it stands to reason that a larger proportion of them will continue to run in the future and with less physical issues. Teaching them doesn’t have to involve teaching them to “Be better than everyone else.” Teaching our children running should be about self-esteem. It should be about our children finding their limits and working on them to go further, faster, longer than they did before, but with an element of conscious control and dedication.

Blaise Dubois, a physiotherapist from Quebec, understands this necessity and is organizing a race series for children as well as pamphlets and articles describing the necessity of teaching children the art of running.

What would the economy look like if we took a simple investment in our children’s health and taught them the simple skill of running?