Run Club: Wild Dogs

My favourite run of the week this fall was never more then 4 km, which either makes me a super lazy ultra runner, or it means that those 4 km runs were jammed packed full of so much other goodness that I didn’t mind how short they were. Before you get all judge-y…I’m only lazy when it comes to properly loading the dishwasher. The correct answer is, the latter; it’s guaranteed the most fun you’ve ever had in 4 km. For the last few years I have enthusiastically volunteered at my children’s school to help with the after school run club and have forced my own children to come along as well, even if they have sometimes been less then enthusiastic.

The club was first started several years ago by a super fit young teacher who had boundless energy and glowing skin and everyone adored her, myself included. She once told me that she wanted to be as fit as I was when she grew up, which I tried to take as a compliment but I suspect it may have been her backhanded way of reminding me how old I was. She, and whatever other teacher she could convince to run, took the kids on the same route, twice a week, down a wide trail that was easy to access from the school, and I usually brought up the rear, half walking, half jogging with the kids at the back who whined the whole way about being hot/cold/itchy/thirsty/tired. When fresh-faced beauty left for a different school I was worried the remaining teachers, none of whom were passionate runners, would let run club die with her departure, so I stepped in and promised to take the lead as much as they would allow, all I needed was two teachers who would agree to tag along for liability’s sake. They agreed, but cut it back to once a week and only for a few weeks in the fall, citing the need to introduce other after school sports.  I don’t get why anyone would want to do any sport other then run, but fine, I’ll take what I can get. IMG_0581

I suspect administration is seriously questioning the sanity of that decision.

You see, I can be a little reckless sometimes. I tend to dismiss risks as a natural side effect of adventure, and dive head first into whatever lies ahead. So I get a little impatient with arguments around safety and liability when those things are used as excuses to hold back on trying something new. Thankfully, it seemed the teachers who agreed to sign off on run club weren’t too fussed about playing it too safe, they just sort of looked at me strange when I showed up each week, eager to show the kids a new trail and let me lead the way.

And it has been AWESOME.

You have not lived, until you have heard over 40 kids laughing and shrieking in delight as they barrel down muddy single track, jump over fallen trees, and huff and puff up hills. Sure, there are kids who hang back and whine a bit (usually my own kids) but we stop lots to give high fives, cheer and of course, pass out candy. I’ve had kids beg to run hill repeats and sprints across the field, kids run in 5’C and pouring rain with big smiles on their faces, kids volunteer to ‘slinky’ back to run with the slower kids in the group.  We’ve picked up trail litter, talked about trail maintenance and environmental sustainability, run obstacle courses, learned basic strength and stretch exercises and pushed to run farther and faster then any of these kids ever have before.

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This last week, a little girl in grade three stopped to thank me for taking her out to get so much exercise.

I am certainly not a run coach, I am most certainly not a great runner. I just love getting out there and sharing my passion with these kids, the rest has taken care of itself. They bring their own unfiltered enthusiasm to the trails, never holding back, paying no mind to potential risks or liabilities us adults get so hung up on.

There are a million excuses we give ourselves to stay inside, to stay ‘safe’. Lets face it, our climate here in Edmonton, is pretty brutal and this autumn has been particularly nasty. But last week, not one kid complained about having to run in the snow, they only complained when they were told to stop throwing snowballs at the kids still coming up the hill. We think we are keeping our kids safe by driving them everywhere, keeping them busy with activities and arming them with devices so we can stay connected but in reality, what they need, what we all need, is simply to be connected with our bodies and the way we move in nature.

IMG_0558I make it my parenting mission to make my kids fall in love with movement and nature, and believe me, I get a lot of resistance. The Ipad, TV, movie night, Youtube, those are all seemingly far more enticing options, and so I do what every good parent does to manipulate their kids’ behaviour, I bribe them. Straight up, shameless bribing. “If you come for this hike with me I will give you candy” “If you come to bootcamp with me, we will stop for ice cream on the way home” “If we ride our bikes to the store you can pick out a treat.” My kids usually eat more calories in junk food then I do at a races even though I’m the one running for hours on end. Ok, now I can hear all the child psychologists and nutritionists losing their minds that I would so deviously distort my child’s relationship with food but think of it like this; when you are training a dog to respond favourably to a situation (ie. Meeting another dog, or coming when called), you give them treats so that they build a positive association between the situation, and their response to that situation. So that is all I’m doing. Training my children like dogs. Wild dogs who run through the trails while laughing and shrieking and hopping over fallen trees.

If any of you know my dog with his bad behaviour and inability to run, I hope you particularly enjoyed this analogy. Its a good thing he’s cute.IMG_0578

 But back to run club. I often listen to interviews with accomplished runners, and a common question is ‘how did you get into the sport?’ and most of the time the answer will start with something like “Well, I ran track in high school…” I sincerely hope that one day, a great athlete from Edmonton will think way back to that time they were in Elementary school and they got to run through the woods with some giddy parent volunteer who gave them a high five and a piece of candy as they passed. Even more so, I hope that those 40 kids I have had the privilege of taking out on the trails, make a habit of getting outside and moving every single day of their lives, without fear of risk, without excuses, with just a whole lot of laughing and shrieking in delight.

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