Article by Heather Walden

Heather is a regular podium finisher with a half marathon PB of 91 minutes, a Marathon PB of 3 hours 5 minutes and a Comrades Marathon PB of 8 hours 4 minutes. Heather’s 3 children often accompany her to races to support and second and her two youngest plan to follow her footsteps by completing the Comrades Marathon. Completing 3 Comrades while juggling a full-time job and kids has taught her that we are all capable of so much more than we think, and that there is always time in the day for the things that matter to you.

June 1 is Global Running Day, a day for people around the world to celebrate the joys of running and to inspire those around them to get moving. Part of Global Running day is the “Million Kid Run”. An initiative to encourage kids to be active and inspire them to embrace running as a way to get healthy and fit by showing them that fitness can be fun.

To celebrate Global Running Day and the Million Kid Run, we asked Heather Walden a mom of three, three times Comrades Finisher and regular podium placer to share how her family has made running and active living a fun family activity.

How to encourge kids to be active
Heather and Jason Walden with their kids, Bradley, Amy and Connor (source: Heather Walden)

When my kids were younger, a friend asked me “how do you make your kids read?”

As two working parents, I can’t say that we sat with the children and read to them every day. Then I realised that both Jason and I always had books or magazines next to our bed. We both read before bed, and we both love getting stuck in to a book on holidays or over a weekend.

This leads me to the question

“How do you get your kids to be active?”

I truly believe that if kids see their parents being active and loving their activities, they will just assume that is just a normal way to be. Kids learn a lot more from how their parents behave, than from being instructed what to do.

“Kids learn a lot more from how their parents behave, than from being instructed what to do “

Both Jason and I have always enjoyed the outdoors. Jason was a Springbok Scout and spent many hours hiking with his dad in the Berg. In fact, his father ran 12 Comrades Marathons and one of those was a silver.

As a newlywed couple, we hiked on Table Mountain, ran races and took part in Adventure Races and small triathlons. After our first child – Brad – was born, we took turns. We each focused more on one sport, than lots of sports, like we did before Brad was born.

I can’t say that we kept up all the running and mountain biking after child number two – Amy! Life was just too crazy with a baby and a toddler and two hectic jobs. But by the time each child reached 2 years old, they had gone camping and had certainly been pushed in a jogging pram over many kilometres of forest or road.

I have learnt that you can’t force a child to be active or to do a sport. I always ache for those kids who are pushed to do lots of competitive sport, but their parents do nothing themselves. I’m sure that most of those children will stop enjoying sport or exercise very soon, if they don’t get there by their own drive or interest.

How to encourage kids to be active
Heather with Amy and Connor running in a local Parkrun (source: Born2Run)


How We Make Active Living Fun

With our children, we make camping fun! We include them in the planning of a trip. If we are planning some hikes, we encourage them to look up the area before we go, or to pack their own snacks. Brad has a set of climbing ropes and he makes rope slides and climbing walls for Connor’s friends to play on.

It isn’t always easy but we try not to rush them when we are hiking. We try to make it feel fun rather than just exercise. And encourage them to bring a friend, so it’s not just another occasion with just the family. Somehow when they have a friend or a cousin with them, it seems much cooler.

It also helps that things like Parkrun are family oriented and that they see or hear about friends taking part.  Good old “crowd mentality”.

But most importantly I think they see how much I love my running, and Jason, his mountain biking. I don’t complain about my training or racing, because I choose to do it. I don’t ever want my daughter to think that I run to be thin. I talk about running as time with my friends, because that is what it is for me. I believe they see all the great friends we have made through our running and mountain biking, and that is very appealing to kids too.

“Nothing great happens without effort and determination”

Mostly, I hope that somewhere deep down, they see that even when things are tough, in training and in racing, we stick it out. I hope they realise that nothing great happens without effort and determination. They see how we handle missing our goals in a race, or dealing with an injury, and once again, I think they learn from the example set.

So how do you encourage kids to be Active?

In summary, kids actually like being active. Girls will dance around the house from a young age, and boys just love running around. But if they see their parents loving lying on the couch, being a spectator, and then expecting the children to be sporty, I believe the kids will just rebel and also prefer to be lazy.

If parents can show their kids that running, hiking, swimming, cycling etc. make them happy, the kids will naturally want to join in. At the end of the day everybody wants to be happy!

What do you think?

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