About five weeks ago, I reached a new running mom milestone. I decided to give running next to my six year old on his bike a shot. Running with kids is that are beyond jogging stroller age requires some planning and consideration. For my son, I took into account that he’s been riding a bike since he was about three years old, and pushing himself around on a strider since he was two. So, he’s what I would consider a strong bike rider for an elementary aged kid (Dave Mira doesn’t need to start sweating just yet).
I’ve been considering running with him for a little while now. We’ve had a couple of bike rides together, so I know he’s conscientious and careful, but I have to admit I was a little nervous about whether this was going to be a good experience for both of us. I tend to be short on patience when I’m trying to do something (like run and not get hit by a car), and he’s a six year old boy, so he can be lacking in the attention department.
Never the less, one fateful day I woke up for my scheduled eight mile run, and it was storming. Lighting, thunder, all of it. I said a prayer and drank my coffee, hoping the storm would pass. After about 30 minutes it moved on, so I decided to split my eight miler up and get four miles before work and four miles after. Not ideal, but better than nothing.
What I forgot to account for was the fact that my husband had a networking event that same afternoon, so I was on solo-parent duty. I was determined to at least try to finish up my mileage, because I’m type-A and stubborn. I thought about how this was so much easier when our son was small enough to push in a jogging stroller, and I realized I could solo-parent and run if my son could just ride his bike with me. There was a chance that we would make it down the street before my patience ran out, it’s happened a time or two, but I figured it was my best shot.
I laid out the plan to the kid, and he quickly responded that he was not in the mood to ride his bike. Ugh. So I bribed with ice cream, because it’s something I am not above, and we were back in the game. I explained that he would need to ride ahead of me, but be mindful not to get too far out in front, and we’d be stopping at every street crossing. He agreed, donned his helmet, and off we went.
After about a mile, I was surprised at how well he kept his speed under control and kept checking to make sure I was still behind him. We stopped, I offered a water break, and asked if he felt good enough to keep going, or if we should turn around. He gave me a full face smile and said he wanted to keep going, and we were back at it. We finished another mile, had another water break, snapped an obligatory halfway picture for daddy, and headed back for home.
Against all odds, we were successful in covering 4 miles together; not bad for a kid whose never been further than around the block. Not one single cuss word was uttered. No one crashed. We both had a great time. Not only was it a parenting win for me to be able supervise and run simultaneously, it got him out of the house for a good 40 minutes, and I could tell he felt really accomplished. He’s asked to join me for part of several runs since then, and I can say that it’s actually been really enjoyable.
No one would accuse me of being a sentimental mom, I throw away art work and gladly allow daddy to handle bedtime duty any time he wants. Despite this, pushing my baby all over Austin in our beloved BOB was one of the few times I felt like I was maybe ok at parenting. I remembered the wipes, packed all the drinks and snacks, and always applied plenty of sun screen. I talked to our little boy and told him about the trees, the lake, and how I couldn’t wait until he was old enough to run around WITH me. It firmly rooted my decision to make sure my son had lots of outside time, as we all know that kids growing up in the digital age are so prone to miss out on the simply joys of playing outside. Running behind my cycling kindergartner brought back all those memories, and gave me the opportunity to once again share something I love so much with my only child. It has been really special for both of us.
If you have a kiddo that you think you’d like to share the side walk with, I highly encourage you to give it a shot. If you’re a little apprehensive like I was, here’s a few pointers that I hope might make you feel a little more prepared.
Running With Kids on Bikes
- Be very honest about the kid’s athletic abilities and temperament. If you have a kiddo whose not usually very interested in riding a bike, or who complains about being tired/bored after 10 minutes, be realistic. Don’t go further away from home than the distance you are willing to endure whining, as it is absolutely a possibility that you could be dealing with it for the duration of the run back. You’re not allowed to leave young kids alone on the street anymore, so you’re stuck with them, and whatever attitude they have.
- Have a conversation about expectations before you get started. If you want to be followed, make sure to remind them to keep their eyes on you. There is no pain like being clipped in the calve by a kid on a bike whose not paying attention; I’ve been there and there were cuss words that day. Wherever you want them to ride (in front, behind, or next to you), tell them before you get going. Give them some guidelines around pacing and approaching intersections. I set the expectation that I would tell him when we needed to turn, but if I didn’t say anything he could plan on going straight. I can’t tell you if my son really remembered our conversation the whole ride, but I can tell you I would have been less than thrilled trying to shout directions during the entire run.
- Let go of any pacing plans. Parts of our run I was cruising a little faster than normal because he was cruising faster than my normal pace. Parts of our run I was much slower because he had to navigate around a dog, take a turn slow, or was just being overly cautious about biking in an unfamiliar area. We stopped at EVERY intersection, which is not something I do during normal runs if traffic is light and I can hear what’s going on around me. I also had to account for being able to talk when I needed to, and generally that means I’m not doing anything speed-oriented. All that to say, had I been determined to run a specific pace, I would have been highly frustrated. There is no pacing when you are running with kids on bikes, don’t even try.
- Do all the things you know you should do because you’re the adult. Bring enough water for both of you. Throw some sunscreen on them if you’re going to be out longer than 30 minutes. Consider sunglasses. Leave your earbuds at home. Try not to cuss too much. Just be mindful of all the things you may not have to be considerate of when you’re running solo.
- Set a reasonable distance goal, and be willing to cut it short. I was fully prepared to turn around one mile in. Hell, I would have turned around a quarter mile in if he was not feeling it. Because the only person I know who is more stubborn than myself is my kid, and if he has his mind set on having a bad time, we’re all having a bad time. I was pleasantly surprised that he was good for another few miles, but I was not expecting him to hang for four miles. At this point in time, he’s made it to about a 10k with me during nice weather without an issue, but I would not have set out with a 10k in mind. I think it’s important to remember that kids get tired, but also riding a bike slow enough for someone to run with you probably requires less energy expenditure than an hour at a trampoline park.
- Be prepared to abort mission. While we haven’t had any abandoned runs so far, I’m sure it is only a matter of time. Kids are fickle and moody, and so are moms most times. If they’re having a hard time following instructions, or just having a bad day in general, it is not worth it to be miserable outside for an extended period of time. You’ll be annoyed and frustrated, they’ll be annoyed and frustrated, and it might take more than an ice cream bribe to get them interested in another ride any time in the near future. Kids hold grudges. At least mine sure can.
If you keep all of these things in mind, and have reasonable (meaning no) expectations, there’s a good chance you might enjoy running with your mini-me as much as I did.