This time last year, my older daughter was training for her first 5K with Girls on the Run. I’d been eager to get involved with GOTR since I first learned about it from one of my Galloway running buddies, and I couldn’t sign her up fast enough when she reached 3rd grade and became eligible for the program. She was excited about it too, especially since she’d be training with one of her besties from preschool.
This was a really special & fun time for us. Some days I’d run laps with the girls. Other days I ran around the park on my own or just sat and watched. Every day I ran through the parking lot (yes, we were always late). And while my daughter wasn’t necessarily the most motivated runner on the team, she was definitely one of the most fun. At the end of the season, she received the “Nature Girl” award, since she stopped to pick up every stick, leaf, and rock that she spotted while out running.
The day of the GOTR 5K was exciting too. The race began at Hodges Stadium at the University of North Florida. There were hundreds of girls, coaches, running buddies, and spectators. GOTR made sure that each girl had a running buddy – an adult partner to run with during the 5K. I was my daughter’s buddy, and my dad was her friend’s buddy. Such a fun morning!
And as for the 5K…well, we didn’t finish first, but we did find a whole bunch of really cool sticks and flowers along the way! And when we finally cross the finish line, she had a whole team supporting her. The pride on her face as she crossed the finish line with her friends, her coaches, her grandpa, and myself was priceless.
I hope that she (and her sister) will continue to love running, and I will encourage them in any way possible. Here’s why:
- Running is fun. Watch a group of kids at recess or in your backyard. (Or in the case of my kids, in the grocery store.) Kids love to run. Why not harness that energy – that pure, unbridled joy – into a sport?
- Running is affordable. Adult runners know that the costs associated with running can add up; the shoes, the gear, the race entry fees. But in reality, the only item a runner really needs to buy is a good pair of running shoes. Expensive equipment or uniforms are not required. Your kids don’t even have to join a team or a club—a run through the neighborhood with mom or dad is a great way to get started.
- Running is an easy sport to learn. Aside from some general safety rules and etiquette, recreational running is pretty simple. Stay in your lane. Don’t go until you’re told to go. Tie your shoelaces.
- Running helps kids improve in other sports. Take soccer, for example. Soccer players run almost nonstop during a game. Running off the field will help improve your child’s aerobic conditioning on the field. Running also helps develop core and back strength, both of which play an important role in activities like gymnastics, dance and cheerleading.
- Running has great role models for young people. Take Shalane Flanagan—her determination, perseverance, confidence, grace under pressure. Those are qualities that I hope to encourage in my daughters. And Meb Keflezighi is a great example for young male runners to look up to.
- Running is for everyone. The great thing about running is that kids get to participate at their own pace. Even a child who is not particularly athletically-inclined can set attainable goals, which will help boost their confidence and build healthy bodies and minds.
You can find a Girls on the Run group near you HERE. And check out your local race calendar – lots of races now include a one mile “fun run,” which is a great way to get started!
This article originally appeared on ActiveKids.com.