Running Lessons? Is that a thing?
August 9, 2018 5:22 PM   Subscribe

DOT, Jr. came to swimming a little older than his peers. But with some attentive lessons from a local swimming school, he's now solidly average and fully capable in the water. Now he wants to learn to run faster. He wants to know: are there lessons for that?

I want to be clear: he's not asking about how to get started in competitive running or track team. DOT Jr. is--despite being a trim, reasonably fit kid--a fantastically slow runner. At track and field day at school, he came in dead last. This does not bother me. It doesn't bother his mom. But it bothers him.

The way I found this out was I asked what he might like to do as an activity now that he's gotten what he wanted out of swimming lessons. (That being simple competency.) He wants to know if there's some way to get help for form/practice in running, so that he could be faster or "at least not slow."

Again, I want to be very clear: it won't matter how kind and supportive the track team is; he will emphatically not want to sign up if he's the slowest kid in his class. And if he weren't the slowest kid in his class, he likely wouldn't want to get help/training/lessons at running. I'm not immovably opposed to track team but it would be an uphill battle to convince me, let alone to convince him.

So are there tutors? Lessons? Clubs? Is this a thing where I should be looking through the park district?

I am at a loss for where to start. I only run to catch crosswalk lights.
posted by DirtyOldTown to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are! What you want to do is look for your local running store. Something like Fleet Feet that specializes in gear for running. They very often sponsor or are otherwise involved in amateur running clubs and similar programs. I did a Fleet Feet couch-to-5k program where we met once a week to run together with the newbies running alongside experienced mentors. It was a great experience even though one of the things that I learned was that I haaaate running with other people. But it absolutely did what it said on the tin. It improved my running, both technique and distance, and prepared me for the 5k race that was the goal of the program.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:26 PM on August 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

How old is DOT, Jr.?
posted by uberchet at 5:38 PM on August 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Unless his form is really strange, he probably doesn't need running lessons. What most runners (and non-runners who want to run) do is... run.

Here's the thing - running is hard. Even running at a comfortable pace is hard and if you want to see how fast you can run and not be DFL in a race, you are going to have to fun a lot faster than a comfortable pace.

You don't want to race every time you go out. You'll injure yourself. But if you are doing a race and you finish the race and your legs aren't too tired and you aren't wheezing and red-faced then you probably didn't run "as fast as you could". You ran "as fast as you felt comfortable running". Not the same thing.

None of that really matters, however, because the way to get faster at running is to run more. Running can be kind of boring, so you can mix it up by doing both slow and fast pace running at different times (fartlek). This helps your lungs and your legs which is good.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:39 PM on August 9, 2018

DOT, Jr. is nine. I just asked him to describe his running style and he said it was "Part-running, part-leaping, and sort of tilting to one side, with slight Muppet arm flailing."

Part of me wants him to run that exact way FOREVER. But I cannot argue with his conclusion that it is not an efficient style.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:22 PM on August 9, 2018 [49 favorites]

"Running" is an activity with quite a bit of variation. There's distance running, there's trail running, there's sprinting, there's racewalking. There's even competitive backwards running. Being bad at one doesn't at all imply being bad at the others. While there are definitely coaches who can work with him (google "pose method" for some technique stuff), what I would suggest first is to have him try different disciplines to see if he feels more comfortable at certain ones. For example, I'm a terrible distance runner. Even now, at 37 years old, I still don't think I've ever run a mile in under 12 minutes. But when I was in seventh grade, I had a neighbor who ran sprints on the track team, so I tried that. I was still terrible, and I still finished last in every race, but I absolutely loved it. 25 years later, I still do sprints every time I have access to a track, 3-4 times a year. I've tried all sorts of distance running in that time, and nothing holds my attention, but just thinking about sprinting gets me excited to run.

The reason I say this is because the technique and coaching will vary depending on what kind of running he wants to do. I'm of the opinion that it's easier to be coached at something you enjoy doing.

As for coaching, it's not a substitute for a professional, but you'd be surprised how much you can learn about running (or really, anything) just by watching Youtube. If you're looking for marginal improvement, you can watch some videos and coach him up yourself.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:41 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

For adults, a lot of recreational runners work with a running coach. You should be able to find one in your area. In addition to running form, they will help with training plans and nutrition and all that stuff. Also I wish to second soren_lorenson’s notion of finding some kind of running club.

But for a nine year-old? I don’t know. In a few years, your kid can do track and field or cross country in a school program. Meanwhile, yeah, just run. He’ll probably get more efficient just from practice. Also maybe watch some running events on TV? Athletes can learn a lot just from mirror neurons and I would guess that that effect is even stronger in kids. Plus I can think of no better way to get a kid into the sport of running, or to bore them to tears as the case may be!
posted by chrchr at 6:42 PM on August 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

I do feel you on this though because I don't know how many of you other answerers have tried to go running with a kid lately, but I have (Soren Jr. is 6 and he recently got in trouble at camp and part of his punishment was having to go to work with me one day and go on my lunchtime run with me) and the struggle is real. Tear-assing across a playground comes naturally, but running in such a way as to conserve energy and only make the movements you need to make to propel yourself forward, and pacing yourself is a learned skill. I spent a lot of our 1.5 mile run telling Soren Jr. to keep his arms closer to his body, not flail them around, to pick his feet up (but not too much!) instead of shuffling, to pump his arms instead of just letting them flop around at his sides, to not go too fast because we had another 4 laps around the plaza to get through etc etc etc....

So yeah, have him start running with someone who has the knowledge and patience to correct his form. If you don't know any runners willing to take him on, find a running club that has mentors/coaches and group runs (you can often find such groups that meet at local tracks so you could go and keep an eye on him and not have to run yourself). Believe me, runners LOVE IT when other people start running. If he's a kid who's enthused about learning to run, he'll be the most popular newbie there.

But if he doesn't have them already, get him some good shoes. It's legitimately important.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:54 PM on August 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

There's a youth program in some communities called Let Me Run - it's a boys' companion to Girls On The Run. If you have a chapter nearby, maybe that would be a fun, low-key way to get him some coaching and more experience?
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:20 PM on August 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Reluctantly linking wrist weights, to reduce muppet flail; he could also try holding hand weights or filled water bottles to help tuck his arms closer to his body.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:38 PM on August 9, 2018

As the only person I know who was given running *homework* in third grade (by a gym teacher [mean, horrible perm] who was as baffled by my incompetence as she was unable to help), do I ever feel him on this. (What a great attitude he’s got, by the way! Am impressed by little DOT.)

Where I live, there’s a chain of running shoe stores - The Running Room - that also hold running clinics, for adults and kids, not sure if you have it or something like it. Nth proper shoes, as well. A physiotherapist could assess his biomechanics and make some suggestions for exercises if there are any issues there, no doubt. (Or they might advise keeping running to a minimum if, like me, your kid just wasn’t made for running. I hope he’s like most people and *is*, but I know I’d have appreciated a heads up before tearing my feet to bits trying. Some people can’t just run, and others could definitely benefit from assistance. Good on your kid for asking!)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:44 PM on August 9, 2018

Yeah there are tonnes. Look for certified coaches in your area by asking on Facebook running groups in your area, but at that age I'd look at youth athletic orgs. Here in Australia it's called "Little Athletics". You'll have the equivalent, I'm sure. That way you get coaches that have experience with kids. Nine seems way too young for wrist weights.
posted by smoke at 7:45 PM on August 9, 2018

If you’re having trouble finding a kids running coach, you could try looking into kids triathlon training.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 8:55 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

My son, now in the military, was actually really fast as a young child, but he wanted to learn to be more efficient and to move laterally. I am the opposite of running. I contacted the high school track coach and the local gym where the football team works out in the offseason. We found a person who was extremely helpful in two ways. One, she worked on his form such as what to do with his arms. Two, she worked on his confidence. As I said, he was fast, fast like a scared bunny, but he did not realize it.

I agree he has to run to get better at running, but practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. That is, practicing the incorrect or inefficient form will not improve his skill set.

As an aside, when I was 22 and playing hockey, I took lessons to improve my speed skating. I could skate well, do crossovers, front and back, but I just was not as fast as I thought I could be. After 5 lessons and a practice routine for on my own, I improved from slow to pretty fast. (Funny how years later, i have regressed to very slow.)
posted by AugustWest at 8:57 PM on August 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Honestly, if I were tackling this my first stop would be my gym trainers. They could work with someone on the small indoor track and/or on treadmills/ellipticals, and they're used to working with people one-on-one and improving time and form as a goal. Are you a member of a gym?

Also, your son's description of his running reminds me of Phoebe on Friends.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:16 PM on August 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hmm most gym trainers are barely qualified and have little to no experience with running, or children. I reckon you can get someone with both.
posted by smoke at 10:24 PM on August 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Shoes! Shoes make a big difference. I am a fool who likes to run in flats because I hate proper running shoes for stupid reasons but when I actually wear them my gait and speed is so much better. I pronate as well, which I haven't addressed because there are only so many things a person can fix about themselves, but that impacted my running a bit as a child, too.

I share your glee over his description of his running style, though. All my best dance moves I learned from the Muppets. They are excellent role models on that regard.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:53 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

What about finding a track/ cross country high school student who is good with kids?
posted by oceano at 6:12 AM on August 10, 2018

Someone upthread suggested a high school coach. My high school track coach had a little side freelance coaching business where he did exactly this - trained young athletes from other schools or wherever who wanted to get better at a specific thing he was knowledgeable about (weight lifting, vertical jump, a certain track or field event, etc). I would definitely check with local middle school and high school coaches and see if they want to make a little money on the side.
posted by raspberrE at 11:55 AM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

My kids used to go to Parisi Speed Schools. They have programs for running and sports performance. They loved it. Locations are here. If there isn't one near you, you can investigate other types of youth sports performance programs like it.
posted by ceejaytee at 1:49 PM on August 10, 2018

When I started running (as an adult), I learned form from YouTube videos. I think I watched ten minutes total and it helped a lot. Have you tried this?
posted by momus_window at 3:50 PM on August 10, 2018

Yes, I think there’s hope for a group experience where he isn’t the slowest one, and I do recommend group experience because having someone next to you challenges you to go faster!

Many youth track clubs focus on challleging fast kids and letting them compete. I’d probably stay away from these, esp the USATF ones, which are more focused on age group training & racing.

You want one of the programs that focus on getting kids moving, period. Many are tied to schools, may target lower SES kids, sometimes are about fighting obesity or increasing self esteem, etc. The idea is that they teach kids to run, to have a goal, to be strong, and as a result they’re healthier & happier & do better in school, etc. The focus is team & support & growth rather than competition. Some examples are Marathon Kids, Students Run LA, Just Run. Where do you live?

I’d ask your local running specialty store (Fleet Feet as mentioned, Road Runner Sports is another good one) or your local high school track coach to recommend an org. A backup could be an all-ages running club, where you’ll truly have all levels (but maybe less fun for him).

Get him actual running shoes at that running specialty store, whatever feels comfy (no running in Converse! Barefoot on the grass is great). Please stay away from wrist weights.

I also disagree with the “perfect practice” comment. I’m a serious fancy runner who raced at an elite level for a long time and made money doing it. I too was once a gawky mess. I can also cite many Olympic runners with imperfect “ideal” form. His body will naturally get more efficient. Promise.

The thing that will MOST help him get fast is just to PRACTICE RUNNING CONSISTENTLY, PROGRESSING BIT BY BIT. If he does this, I solemnly swear he will get faster. He can time himself and track his progress. You can be a great parent by helping on the “consistent” and “bit by bit.” Start slowwww but keep.going. There’s different training to go very long vs very fast, but any kind of training will help him get faster. A group helps but a track coach might take on a private client if he wants to start that way.

I admire his resolve at 9!! I send all sorts of speedy good luck!
posted by red_rabbit at 6:09 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was that age, I was also slow. It wasn't until high school (age 14-15) until I got the coordination to actually run at a pace that was a significant improvement (remember the Presidents Fitness Challenge?).

Your son sounds determined to improve, many of the suggestions of running clubs would be good, but he likely needs more individual instruction on his form. This will have slight improvement in the short term, but much more significant improvement as he grows (and maintains good form).

Also, I had friends that played football (I didn't - I was tall and very skinny). They went to Speed Camp in the summer. I don't know if that is a thing anymore, but may be something to investigate.
posted by bonofasitch at 9:31 AM on August 14, 2018

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