In the last week or so I learned that I might have the opportunity to work with a middle school runner who is excited to run cross country and track in high school. Just thinking about working with a middle school runner got me excited. So I spent some time reading my books about teenagers and remembering my own start to organized running.
I have been in a number of fortunate situations in my running career as well as being told by a coach that running barefoot is bad for me. I have spent thousands of dollars on shoes I should have never bought. I didn't understand training for running until 2006 after running for years. If I could do it over again would I do anything differently? Absolutely! But the past is the past and every mistake I made in my running has taught me things which I am sure I can pass on to the next generation.
As I often say:
1. Stay motivated
2. Stay healthy
3. Train hard
As I was researching kids running I read from the Lore of Running by Dr. Noakes and Better Training for Distance Runners by Dr. Martin and Peter Coe (Seb's dad). Basically you can not take full advantage of training until you are a teenager and have hormones to develop the cellular changes desired to run faster longer. In other words, you can screw up a runner while they are young by working them too hard and taking the fun out of it. (#1. Stay motivated)
Secondly, good habits are easy to build the first time instead of breaking old habits then building good ones. Knowing what I know now about injury and setbacks would have contributed months of running to my body instead of spending time on the elliptical and stationary bike. To prevent most injuries spend a little time running barefoot and most of the time running in shoes with a low heel, like racing flats. To prevent even more injuries spend time strengthening your weaker smaller muscles. You can do drills (my favorite because they are the quickest), go swimming, play basketball, play tag, go rock climbing, or work in a green house. There are other exercises and activities to help you stay healthy, but that would take many pages and pictures. In short, when it comes to kids, keep them healthy. As they grow older they will get faster because of their physical development, as long as they are not perpetually injured.
As far as train hard, well you have to be motivated and healthy first. I feel that below age 20 most competitive runners do not have what it takes to do all of the work necessary to be really good. For many runners they do not reach their optimal training level until late in their 20s. Since, the late 20s and early 30s are when most runners peak it is important to keep the training at a manageable level until the individual athlete wants to up the training load. I feel that holds true for every level of running. In other words moving a 35 miles per week sophomore to 40 miles per week should happen when the runner is ready. To gives examples from my own life, I have failed to finish workouts when my older classmates have finished the workouts. I have also done workouts, then added on more to the workout on days that I did not feel like I had had enough. Forcing me to do more than I am able is a sure way to exhaust a runner.
In summary, when "training" kids keep the motivation there and teach good habits. The training will come. My freshman year of high school track we ran five miles the first day. I had never run fives miles before. Neither had my two friends. We sat in the locker room after in a daze with blistered feet. My goal for the season was just to run six miles. Now I go on 20 mile runs almost weekly at a much faster pace than that day. Running development is a long process.