Running with the family: How to get the kids race-ready and keep them safe
Always wondered what it takes to do those family runs? CNA Lifestyle checks in at the start and finish lines for some expert tips.
If you haven’t already noticed, sports events are what many families are signing up for these days. The proliferation of themed runs, family walks, stroller-pushing races and parent-and-child runs such as the Santa Run For Wishes, and Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon Kids Dash is a sign that more families want in on the action.
Even if you’re not keen to pant and sweat it out on an early Sunday morning, consider the benefits. For one, it is a good way to spend quality time together, and burn off your rambunctious kids’ energy (everyone will sleep soundly). It will be a nice change of scenery from the malls, Ikea, and indoor themed parks and experiential playgrounds where many Singaporean families coop themselves in.
Most importantly, you’ll finally get the exercise you’ve been putting off and perhaps lose a kilo or two.
There is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to the age for your child to start running, said Dr Andrew Gregory, an associate professor of orthopaedics and paediatrics at Vanderbilt University School Of Medicine, in a U.S. News article.
A good idea is to let your child cue you in. If Junior shows an interest in running, you could start by signing him up for short races, said Skye Donovan, a physical therapist and associate professor of physical therapy at Marymount University, in the same article. Short races are also a good way to ease yourself into the activity.
Above all, the emphasis should be on participation rather than winning.
Just as you wouldn’t plunge head-long into a 5km run without prior training, you shouldn’t let your children go into a run cold either – even if you're just in it for some family fun and not a podium finish. If the kids aren’t prepared for the physicality of a race, they wouldn’t be mentally ready to see it through, said Dr Jay-Lee Longbottom, Singapore Sports Medicine Centre’s (SSMC) sports psychologist.
There are many training programmes available online. To get your little runner up to speed, Assoc Prof Donovan has some general guidelines when training as a family: Take at least one day a week off from sports, and only participate on one team at a time. And limit your kid’s hours of exercise per week to less than his age.
Above all, the emphasis should be on participation rather than winning, said Dr Leonard Lim, who is SSMC’s sport and exercise medicine physician. If you see that your child is withdrawn, not sleeping, is emotional, and avoids training or competing, these are signs that it might be too vigorous, cautioned Dr Longbottom.
RUN INJURY FREE
Your family may be gearing up for a run but it is also important to do a variety of activities to avoid overuse injuries. “Children may be more prone to overuse injuries compared to adults as they are still growing, and their muscles and bones are still developing,” said Dr Lim. “These injuries occur when an activity is repeated so frequently that the body does not have enough time to heal during the periods of rest in-between training sessions.”
The injuries can manifest themselves in different sites, including the upper limbs, heels, knees, ankles and feet. “They can range from simple muscle strain to more serious ones like growth plate injuries or even stress fractures,” said Dr Lim. If your child complains of pain, it is essential that he has a period of rest from training. If the symptoms persist, you should seek medical attention sooner rather than later, advised Dr Lim.
WHAT TO FEED JUNIOR
Your little athlete is going to need more calories than his computer gaming peers. But just how much more food should you give him? “Children are extremely good at regulating their own energy requirements through hunger,” said Huang Liyan, Sport Singapore's senior sport dietitian. “Children will not intentionally let themselves go hungry and it is the parents’ responsibility to offer healthy and nutritious foods to children.”
A healthy meal for children should include carbohydrates (wholemeal or whole-grain bread, cereal, rice/noodles), lean protein (fish, poultry, meat, eggs and dairy), vitamins and minerals (colourful fruits and vegetables), said Huang.
Minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc are as important as the main nutrients.
Priscilla Li, dietitian from Changi General Hospital’s Dietetic And Food Services, suggested that “at least 50 per cent of their diet should be in the form of carbohydrates” to support growth and provide for extra training requirements. If that is not met during this period of growth, it can result in “short stature, delayed puberty, menstrual irregularities, poor bone health and increased incidence of injuries”, she said.
Minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc are as important as the main nutrients, said Li. “Calcium requirements are the highest during childhood and adolescence, where it is used to grow bone tissue and prevent stress fractures. Up to 90 per cent of peak bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and by age 20 in boys. The Recommended Daily Allowance is 1,000mg daily.”
It is also crucial to shore up your immune system before a mass run as you and your child may be susceptible to catching a bug from the crowd, said Huang. To do that, make sure you meet your daily required servings of fruits and vegetables for at least a week leading up to the event.
BEFORE A RACE
It’s natural to feel excited the night before the event, especially if it’s your family’s first run together. “Prepare your children for the experience by telling them in advance what to expect, and to listen to their bodies if they don’t feel well,” said Huang.
To help settle those butterflies in the stomach, take your child’s mind – and yours, too – off the race by doing quiet activities at home that aren’t too stimulating. That means no computer games. It also helps to get him into bed early, said Dr Longbottom.
Huang, who is a mother, finds the checklist below useful for packing for a race the night before:
- Thermal bag with ice packs to keep food and drinks cool
- Fruits such as banana, apples, or dried fruit like raisins
- Shelf-stable drinks such as chocolate milk, yogurt drink, fruit drinks or sports drinks
- Plain water
- Snacks such as crackers, biscuits or plain popcorn
- Change of clothes, especially for your child
Help your child begin the race well hydrated, advised Huang. Let him drink according to his thirst in the morning when he wakes. “Parents can assess the hydration level through their children’s urine colour: Colourless or a very pale yellow suggests good hydration, while a dark yellow indicates dehydration,” she said.
Don’t forget to have breakfast before the race. Huang suggested carbohydrate-rich foods to top up the glycogen that was used up during sleep. “A small nutritious breakfast could include a peanut butter sandwich, a fruit salad with yogurt, or cereal with milk.”
Nutrition and hydration aside, Dr Longbottom said that the most important thing parents can do is to send their children to the start line early. “If there is one thing I see all the time that makes young athletes extra nervous, it is when parents have not dropped them off early enough to warm up. This is an important point for parents to keep in mind.”
AFTER A RACE
Whether your child came in first, last or did not finish at all, you can support him by keeping your feedback the same after every race, advised Dr Longbottom. “A child does not perform poorly on purpose. Always say ‘I love watching you perform’,” she said.
The other things your little trooper will need is to cool down and get hydrated. “Small amounts of sports drink may be beneficial to children post-race, especially if they sweat a lot,” said Huang, who added that the sodium may help the body to retain the fluids.
A child does not perform poorly on purpose. Always say ‘I love watching you perform’.
Huang often brings with her a thermos with ice and/or cold water to help her child cool down after a race. “Alternatively, parents may also consider providing diluted juice to encourage fluid intake,” she said. “Milk is proven to be an effective rehydration drink, providing fluid, carbohydrates, sodium and even protein. Chocolate milk may serve as a tasty recovery treat to children.”
If you're not certain of your family's suitability to participate in a sports event or aren't sure how to train, do consult your doctor before signing up.