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I use to run during my free time, preparing for some races, and my 3-year-old daughter often asks me if she could go with me. She says that she'd like to run, too, and participate in contests (she saw me some times doing so), even if she doesn't really realise what is it for.

So, I'm wondering how I could initiate her at running, knowing that it's quite not playful and that she could easily give up? My wish is to show her the best part of this sport, not necessarily to transform her into a champion, but at least to make her participate at a kids race and first of all give her a lot of fun.

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I started running with my dad and he did usually do some warm up with me and then run around the block with me. When we were back again I got a glass of water and a sandwich, while he went out again running his real training.

I think just spending time with her, and telling her that you enjoy running with her is a good start at her age.

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I run with my four year old, and have for some time (though not since he was three). We treat it fairly seriously.

He has three options for using running time with me.

  • Constant run - usually at about a 12 minute mile pace for up to a mile or mile and a half
  • Constant jog - usually at about a 18 minute mile pace for up to two miles
  • "Races"

Races is most commonly his choice. These are basically short distance sprints to particular mileposts - such as a car, or the stop sign/end of street - where he sprints with an appropriate head start and then I run full sprint speed after him. We do a few in a row usually (say a block or two, so maybe 1/8 mile to 1/4 mile), then walk some, then do some more. We can usually keep that up for between one and two miles.

I time the head start so that he can win about half of them, and adjust it on days where he's doing well - telling him so (that he's doing well so I'm adjusting it down). That can become a point of pride for him.

Now that it's warmer, we can do this along with a park visit. One mile or so of running, then go to the park, where I can run on the track while he plays (within sight and hearing) to get a better workout.

My three year old we don't do this with, because he's much slower; partly from physical nature (he's shorter and stockier legs) and partly undoubtedly from age. We do races sometimes, though, just not while I'm trying to exercise.

Finally - I would recommend finding children's races around you. This weekend for example, I'm doing a 5k that has a Junior Dash alongside; after the 5k is over, kids 2-5 can do a 200m-400m race depending on age, with parents or solo. It's a great way to get your child(ren) into running!

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    Your four year old can run for 36 minutes straight? That's insane in terms of attention span! – corsiKa Apr 6 '16 at 20:17
  • @corsiKa Oh, he can run all day. We've walked long distances since he was able to walk - in the summer we walk home from daycare every day, 1.5 miles. We talk while we run, so the attention issue isn't really there. And the occasional brief stop to check out an interesting car model... – Joe Apr 6 '16 at 21:54
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    My youngest was the same, and then did her first half marathon at age 8. Her own idea - to raise money for a charity who were helping a friend of hers - as she had seen me and my wife run marathons for charity. Some kids can just keep going forever – Rory Alsop Apr 7 '16 at 8:54
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Turn it into a play run, by doing things like side skips, run to a tree. stop and do hops. You get a good bit of interval training, she gets a bit of fun play (in her mind). Just be aware that if you're going to do this, you'll have to do it to her agenda and make it her time to join you training.

I tried when my daughter was 4 1/2. It was a bit frustrating at first as kids have short attention spans, tire easily and are easily distracted. Start by scheduling a block of time in which to do this, start gently, build it up over time and try to instigate it as a habit. This is particularly good as she'll definitely get one-on-one time with you. If you treat it as an active game, then she may really want to participate, but you won't know the best approach until you try.

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If you're in the UK, there's this - http://www.parkrun.org.uk/events/juniorevents/ weekly 2k runs for 4-14 year olds. Grown-ups can accompany up to the last little stretch. Mine (4 and 7) have been to one with their grandparents, and I plan to take them to another more locally soon. There were a range of children of all ages and abilities, and some of the older kids were cheering on the younger ones by name as they were finishing (even if they'd just met that day).

If you're not in the UK, there may be something else similar near you (Parkrun in particular has this page: http://www.parkrun.com/countries/).

(just noticed that the question asks about a 3-year-old, but there may be similar for that age group... besides, 3-year-olds aren't 3 forever)

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