Cincinnati Children’s Running Tips

Jeff Taylor-Haas, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS

Physical Therapist, Researcher, Runner, and Lead Clinician for The Runner’s Clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

Race Day Running Tips

Running a race is a fun way to exercise and to test our limits.  Here are a few race day tips for youth runners to maximize their potential and minimize their risk of injury.

The day before: Make sure to stay hydrated and, if possible, avoid excessive time on your feet or in the sun. For race distances of 10K or less, carb loading is usually not necessary. Rather, eat an easy-to-digest meal and drink non-caffeinated beverages to fuel up for your race. Before going to bed, set out your race clothes, shoes, and water bottle. Shoot for about 8-9 hours of sleep before your race.

The morning of your race: Give yourself enough time to eat an easy-to-digest breakfast such as a banana, bagel, toast, or non-fibrous cereal along with water, a sports drink, or juice approximately 60-90 minutes before your race.

10-15 minutes before your race: Put your race gear on and start warming up. A simple warm-up can include a series of dynamic/active movements such as walking on your heels, walking on your toes, performing lunge walks, and a series of gentle and progressive strides. At the start of the race, it is good to have a light sweat going and to have an elevated heart rate and breathing rate.

During the race: Have fun and go for it! Remember to pace yourself for the distance that you have trained for and to have fun! As you are racing, remember to relax your hands, arms, and face muscles. This will help you enjoy your race and avoid having excessive tension that might impact your form and race.

After the race: Do not immediately stop moving. Remember to keep walking and moving. This will help your body cool down and avoid a quick drop in blood pressure. Within 10-15 minutes after your race do some light stretches for your quads (thighs), hamstrings (back of thigh), and calf muscles. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds and do 2-3 repetitions per muscle per leg.  Within 15-30 minutes of your race remember to rehydrate with non-caffeinated beverages and eat an easy-to-digest snack or meal.

Again, congratulations on completing your race!  Savor the memories.  Reflect on your accomplishments and plan for your next active adventure!

Goal Setting

Here are a few tips for setting goals so that you and your child will enter Flying Pig Weekend energized and ready to run!

  • Share Your Dreams! Goal setting is really about dreams.  Talk about what you hope to achieve and why.  As you share your goals and hear the goals of others you will find yourself energized and ready to start working toward their achievement.
  • It is ok to use the “F” word. No, not “that” word.  I’m talking about failure.  Prior to the start of any new program failure can sometimes creep into our minds.  When it does it can sometimes sound like it is saying “are you sure?”  Rather than completely ignoring that voice, share your concerns with others.  Most likely others have similar concerns.  Through sharing we can embrace the risk of forging ahead in unchartered territory, together.
  • Start with the End in Mind. When thinking about training it is important to visualize the goal you are setting out for yourself.  Do you want to run the 26th mile?  The 5K?  Maybe even the 10K?  Talk about your goals with others—friends, coaches, family members—and pick a goal that is both realistic and attainable.
  • Work backwards toward achieving your goal. Racing on Flying Pig weekend means that you will need to create a training program.  My best advice is to gradually build toward your goal.  The best way to do this is to work backward from race day weekend.  Make your longest training workout 1-2 weeks before the race.  From there, work backwards to the present day, slowly decreasing your training from that longest training run.
  • Stronger Together. Training is much more fun with others.  Consider either joining a running group or starting your own!  Whether you organize via Facebook or through your school or your church find others who share similar goals and dreams.  Planning and training together both enhances your accountability to doing the work to achieve your goals and makes doing so more fun!


Tips to Make Running Training Fun!

As we begin to start thinking about training for the youth program events, here are some keys to make spring training more enjoyable!

  • Slow and steady wins the race! Encourage your children to slowly build up from walking, to run-walking, to running with few/no rest breaks.  This gradual build-up allows your child’s muscles, tendons, and bones to gradually get used to regular running.  Remember, regularly doing a little bit is better than having significant “peaks” in training volume/intensity followed by long “valleys” of no training.
  • Create a visual training calendar at home. Hanging a training calendar on the refrigerator or in the family room can be a fun way for your child to demonstrate his/her training progress.  Marking off the miles leading up to the 26th mile/their goal race can be a regular source of conversation and encouragement for your child.
  • Make it fun! Running is better with friends and family! Meet up and train with classmates, neighbors, friends, and/or family members.  Mix up fun games into your child’s training.  Games such as “capture the flag,” “sharks and minnows,” “tag” and relay races turn training workouts into fun games.
  • Go on an Adventure Run! Whether it is driving to a park, trail, track, or the river front it can be fun to break up your training by running in a new location.  A change of scenery not only stimulates your senses but also great conversation.  Do this every few weeks to explore your hometown.
  • Shoes & Attire: Keep it Simple. A nice, comfortable pair of athletic or running shoes, weather-appropriate running attire, and a safe, well-lit place to run are the necessities you need to get your child running.  When it is cold it is especially important that children wear gloves and hats to stay comfortable.  Dressing in layers can be helpful to avoid getting too hot/cold on the run.
  • Set Goals & Celebrate Milestones. Finally, training several weeks or months for a race can seem very daunting to many, particularly children.  As your child completes each training milestone find a way to celebrate his or her accomplishments.  A card, hand-written note, prize, or special time with a loved one can really help keep your child energized and on-track to complete his or her training.

Easy & Fun Running-Specific Strength Exercises for Kids 

There are so many reasons to run!  First, it doesn’t take much time.  Put on your athletic clothes and your running shoes and your ready to go.  No need to drive to a gym.  Second, it is relatively inexpensive.  Other than running shoes there is no fancy equipment needed.  Third, running is an incredibly healthy activity.  From the obvious cardiovascular benefits to the more subtle benefits to our minds and spirit, running touches nearly every aspect of our physical and mental well-being.  But for most who take up the sport, running is just fun!  And the best way for it to continue to be a fun activity is to stay injury-free.  One way to help increase your joy of healthy running is to do some simple and enjoyable running-specific strength training.  These exercises can be done in less than 15 minutes and will target key muscles across your entire body.

  • Chair Squats. This exercise helps to strengthen your thigh muscles and your glute muscles.  Place a sturdy chair (one without wheels) behind you.  Begin in a standing upright position about 2-3 inches in front of the chair.  Place your arms straight out in front of you and slowly lower yourself into a squatting position, bending at your hips and knees, until you lightly touch the chair.  Return to the starting position and repeat.  Tip—make sure to maintain your balance during the exercise.  Do not let your knees touch and do not let your knees bend forward past your toes.  Try 10 repetitions.  Take a 30 second break and complete a second set of 10 repetitions.
  • Front planks. This exercise strengthens your abdominal muscles. Begin lying on your font, propped up on your elbows.  Engage your abdominal muscles and lift your hips and legs up into a plank position, keeping your elbows directly under your shoulders.  Hold this position.  Tip—make sure to keep your back straight and avoid holding your breath.  Hold for 10-30 seconds.  Take a 30 second break and repeat 3-6 times.
  • Standing Single Leg Heel Raise. This exercise strengthens your calf muscles.  Begin in a standing upright position with your hands resting on a sturdy counter or chair in front of you.  Lift one foot off the ground to balance on your other foot.  When you are balanced, slowly raise your heel off the ground as high as you can comfortably go, then lower it back down and repeat.  Tip—try to just use the sturdy counter/chair for balance and avoid pushing up with your hands.  Try 10-15 repetitions.  Take a 30 second break and complete 1-2 more sets of 10-15 repetitions.  Do this on both legs.
  • Heel Walking/Toe Walking. This exercise strengthens your shin and foot muscles.  Heel walking. Begin in a standing upright position.  Lift your toes off the ground.  Keeping your toes raised, walk forward on your heels.  Walk in this manner for approximately 30-40 feet.  Now, switch to toe walking.  To do this, lift both heels off the ground and walk forward on your toes keeping your knees straight.  Walk in this manner for approximately 30-40 feet.  Perform 2-3 repetitions of each walking pattern.

These exercises can be done alone but are best done with a partner.  Perform these exercises after you run but before you completely cool down.  You can slowly progress these exercises by carefully adding more repetitions/sets/time to each exercise.  Please note—it is best when starting an exercise program to do a little less and then gradually increase your workload.  As always, if you have pain or discomfort with these exercises beyond a reasonable amount discontinue them and reach out to a physical therapist for advice.

For more information on the Cincinnati Children’s Runner’s Clinic, click here.