Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Introducing Children to Running

Alex ran his first race when he was 20 months old. He could barely shuffle back then, and I had to hold him up as he race, but he finished his first 60 meters with a smile on his face. The race series was held by my running club and included a 60 meter course for the little guys, a 400 meter run for older kids and longer distances for the older or braver. The video of Alex running his first race is featured on our website (www.babyalexfoundation.com). The following week, we took Alex back to the track for his second race. This time, he refused to hold my hand, no matter how many times he fell during the race, and when he stumbled across the finish line, he kept going. We used to call him Forest Gump. Alex is not physiologically designed to run. He has cerebral palsy, suffers from uneven leg lengths, has hip pain and lower back pain, and can barely raise his left foot to clear the ground. But, he is a natural born runner. He runs, and runs and runs and runs, and sometimes we have to pull him off a running path and make him take a break. So, how did we introduce Alex to running? We started with circles around the island in our kitchen. I ran with the kids and we made it into a game. We pretended we were cars or motorcycles or animals. We counted our laps in English and Italian and Japanese. I gave out award and rewards for laps run. We made everything fun. If you have kids who need to run, for whatever reason, I recommend the following: 1) Start them young (Izzy started running at 18 months). 2) Run in a safe location so you don't really have any rules; let them run freely. 3) Turn the running into a game: count laps, pretend to be cars or animals, give prizes. 4) And finally, the most important point: RUN WITH YOUR KIDS. You will get into shape, have fun and share time. Once you get them running, you can move them outdoors. I will write more on that in the next blog.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Running with Jurek

For the past week, I've been running with ultramarathon legend, Scott Jurek. Not literally, but I've been reading his book Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, and I can't get his story, or his training, out of my head. Erik thinks he must be a long lost cousin because of the similarities in our personalities, the fact that as children we were both inducted into our family low-bush wild blueberry picking and endless fly fishing trips, both of which included swarms of mosquitoes and unsympathetic grandparents, his dream of going to Dartmouth, and his use of running to solve everything. He eats healthier than I could ever dream to, as I am madly in love and married to ice cream and chocolate and the occasional mojito. His book is amazing, whether you are a runner or not, because it is not just about running, but as he states, about finding your way out of a rut. For Jurek, and for me and for most people who run long distances, the answer to all of life's problems is running. And it seems, for most of us, our distances increase and our destinations become more remote and challenging as we age, or as in my case, an my children age. I have recently been asked to be a contributing writer for an amazing website called All Thing Healing (www.allthingshealing.com). My articles this year are about the benefits of running, of going longer and farther than you might have thought your body capable of going, of introducing your children to running, and of the benefits of running on the brain. In one of them, I write about being the parent of a child with disabilities, and how that stress can wear on the body and brain. My solution has been to run. Whether during Alex's time in the hospital or today, when our day-to-day challenges include meltdowns (for both of us) over getting dressed in the morning, I run. Running lowers the levels of Cortisol in the brain, which when produced in large amounts over long periods of time, wears at the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain and causes long-term negative effects. There are myriad other benefits that running brings to the brain. For me, lowering my stress and elevating my mood are the most immediate and observable benefits that I gain from running every day. Recently, I have noticed that Alex has started to use running the way I do. When he gets really frustrated, particularly with his fine motor skills, he often tells me that he needs to take a break and go for a run, and then return to his task. I have introduced my children to the idea that running makes you smarter (by increasing brain derived neurotrophic factor, which is miracle grow on your synapses) and calms you down (by regulating the neurotransmitters Serotonin, Norepinephrine and Dopamine, which affect mood, anger control, attention, motivation), and they have begun to put their running to use when they realize their brains are not behaving. This month, I am going to include a running plan for anyone who wants to begin running with children, even as young as 3 years old. In the meantime, I recommend that everyone read Jurek's book. A good read and great motivation.