7 Tips for the Family Mile Challenge

Lizzie Lee out running with her family

Ahead of this month’s Irish Life Health Family Mile Challenge, Olympic marathon runner Lizzie Lee shares some brilliant tips around keeping a young family active.

“We have three daughters – Lucy (six), Alison (about to turn four) and Jess (17 months) – and a sign in our kitchen that says: ‘Excuse the mess – we’re busy having a life!’ I think parents sometimes feel it’s selfish to exercise, but it really isn’t. In fact, it makes you a better parent. If you’re happier and healthier, your children will be too. Win-win!

1. Monkey See, Monkey Do as They Say

One study found that kids are around six times more likely to be active if their parents support their physical activity pursuits. That absolutely makes sense to me because of my childhood. My dad is 70 and cycles upwards of 100 miles a week. My mother does loads of walking, plays golf, and has a spinning bike upstairs. Growing up, we always had Sunday dinner at six o’clock because my mom was out running, my dad was cycling and myself and my siblings were away doing a variety of sports.

2. Be Organised

If you have small children, the trick is to plan things with military precision. Myself and my husband Paul sit down on a Sunday night, look at our work schedules, decide whether we’ll need a babysitter at any point and then plan out our week. I particularly love our Saturdays. Paul goes off for a run at dawn, and when he returns, everything is ready for the kids’ GAA. I even fill their water bottles on Friday night!
 He drops the baby to my mom and takes the other two to GAA, where he also coaches. I go to training, and we all converge back here at 12 o’clock for showers and baths. Everyone is in a good mood because we’ve exercised and had fun.

3. Allow Time for Delays

With smallies, you still can’t plan perfectly. Jess will inevitably need a nappy change right as we’re going out the door, so I always give myself a little time buffer. If you want to leave at a quarter to, plan to leave at half!

4. A Mile is Simply Perfect

Running complements every sport your child will do. The Irish Life Health Family Mile Challenge is an ideal fun activity. The distance is achievable for any age and will give your kids such a sense of achievement. My eldest daughter was five around the first Lockdown. Not knowing when she would get back to her GAA, gymnastics and swimming, I started doing a daily mile with her, something she was already familiar with from school. Just start off, like we did, with a quarter of a mile. Within a few weeks we were up to a mile and, to suit her, never faster than a 13 or 14-minute pace.

5. Make it Fun

Lizzie Lee jumping for joy with her family

We’d time Lucy, play a game during our mile or run past my mom’s house (she was teed up to be in the garden waving). The three-year-old would wait in the driveway with the water bottle and run the last 100m-200m. When I asked Lucy what she wanted for her sixth birthday, it was: ‘Mummy, can I get running gear like you?’ Fun is always key for kids.

6. Stay Dry

They don’t, understandably, enjoy cold or rain, so always check the weather forecast to find just 20 dry minutes. That’s all you need.

7. Nothing Beats Family Time

One of my big takeaways from Lockdown is that small kids don’t necessarily want to be carted around to 75 million different activities; they love doing simple activities with you. So, I’ll be running the Family Mile Challenge with Lucy and Paul, Alison will be on her little scooter and Jess in her buggy, and we’ll have a ball. As parents, it’s the best possible example we can give them.”

Irish Life Health has launched the Family Mile Challenge with Athletics Ireland, to encourage families to run a mile together on June 26/27. Entry is free, and you can sign up here.