Molding Runners at an Early Age

Elmhurst 4 on the 4th Race (7/4)

If you know any toddlers, you also know that as soon as they can run, they will try to run everywhere. Pre-school aged kids never seem to walk unless reprimanded firmly by adults; primary grade kids (grades first through third) are similar – running continuously through recess or play time. But by the upper elementary years, kids run less and less. By high school, if we haven’t regularly encouraged kids to run, they may rarely ever run again. So how can we help our kids to maintain their toddler enthusiasm with this rewarding, life-long fitness activity?

Healthy running programs for elementary aged (and older) kids are invaluable as opportunities to promote a life-long love of running. Fortunately, programs like these are booming in the Chicago region. Some elementary physical education teachers offer after school running clubs and reward cumulative miles or minutes run over the course of the year. Girls on the Run (GOTR Chicago) coordinates volunteer coaches who lead girls through 10-week running programs throughout the Chicago area and surrounding counties (currently in 100+ locations). GOTR offers two levels: one for third through fifth grade girls and another for sixth through eighth grade girls.

Chicagoland is also home to many thriving youth running teams with a long history of success. USA Track and Field offers a list of Illinois registered clubs at There, you can find clubs like the Windy City Hammers, practicing year-round at Whitney Young High School and Jackson Park. There’s also the University of Chicago Titans Track Club, which offers free track meets throughout the summer. World Sport Chicago Summer Track Program sponsors several independent teams and three track meets in Chicago each year for kids ages six to 16. The Zephyrs Track Club in Maywood offers track workouts and competitions to kids ages four and up. The Saints Track Club exposes kids ages seven and older to track and field in the Jackson Park neighborhood and assists kids in the college selection and scholarship application process.

The suburbs also offer many great youth running programs. The Chicago Flyers practices in the near west suburbs and offers cross country as well as track and field
seasons. The Elgin Sharks have flourished for years in the city of Elgin; the Accelerators Running Club operates year-round in the Batavia/Geneva/St. Charles area with practices, numerous free cross country races, all-comers track meets and a summer mile run series; the Aurora Flyers has earned fame for producing great track sprinters in Aurora as well as for offering practices throughout the year in the Aurora and Oswego area.

Most middle schools now offer fall cross country programs and area high school programs are as competitive as any in the country. The Illinois High School State XC Meet in Peoria each November is a truly impressive showcase of outstanding high school running.

If you have kids, keep them in running by involving them in groups that carefully nurture a love for the sport at an age appropriate level. If they keep running through
their school years, they will likely be forever runners.

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Chris Palmquist is an USA Triathlon Elite Coach, USA Cycling Elite Coach and Youth/Junior Coach with 19 years of coaching experience. She has written for Chicago Athlete Magazine for more than 20 years. As a Team MPI Head Coach, she has coached athletes to regional, national and world class success. She is a USA Paratriathlon National Team Coach and Team USA Coach at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, ITU World Paratriathlon Series and High Performance Camps at the Olympic Training Centers. Chris coaches youth and junior triathletes as Head Coach for the MMTT Youth Triathlon Team and for USAT at national Junior Skills Camps. In 33 years as an athlete, she has raced several sports including triathlon (13 Ironman), collegiate rowing (Cornell 83-87), canoe/kayak, cross country skiing (20 Birkebeiner) and road bike racing. Chris is married with two kids. Favorite Quote: “Do Simple Better” ~Joe Maddon


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