There’s a burgeoning movement (excuse the pun!) of running initiatives for kids appearing in the Inner West – from superstar athletes of the future taking their marks, to children regularly pounding the track for the sheer love of it.

Nowhere more evident is this than on a Saturday morning in summer, when King George Oval in Rozelle becomes home to Balmain Little Athletics Club, the largest and fastest growing club in NSW. More than 800 children aged from four to 18 gather there each week, to have a go and improve on their performances, with the goal of achieving their personal best. It’s run like clockwork, and there’s every opportunity to test out a range of track and field activities while meeting new friends or catching up with old ones.

But it’s not only on the athletics circuit that you’ll see kids going for it. Orange Grove Public School has been starting its students’ day with a junior (Grades K-2) and senior (Grades 3-6) running club for more than three years. Hosted by local parent Jonathan Fletcher of Running Science, and now joined by New Zealand Olympian Nina Rillstone, it’s grown in popularity and is the perfect way for the kids to burn off some energy before the day’s learning activities begin.  

While running comes naturally for some, many parents with kids who have caught the running bug are unsure where to start. So, in the lead up to the Balmain Fun Run, which Canada Bay Club is proud to sponsor, we asked some of the Inner West’s leading kids’ running coaches to share their story and top tips to start little people out on their running journey. Here’s what they had to say…

Bolt Runners

Bolt Runners is an Inner West running group designed specifically for kids, the main aim being to help kids get faster, fitter and stronger by providing a training platform for kids of all ages and abilities to train together and have fun. In doing so many will foster a lifetime love of sport. Cath believes that whatever sport you do it should be a joy, not a chore.

“We have kids of all different abilities – from those running at a state level and beyond to those wanting to speed up on the soccer field or simply just wanting to run with their friends. My only rule is that you have to want to be there yourself, not for your mum or dad!”

What is your greatest running achievement?
It may not be the greatest but it was certainly the most surprising – winning the Canberra Half Marathon a few years ago after a very last-minute decision to enter!

What do you love about kids and inspiring them to take up running?
I just love how kids are up for anything and throw themselves into training without fear and with total enthusiasm. And I absolutely love it when I see kids working and training hard and then achieve their goals as a result. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

Your top 3 tips for kids starting out running:
1. Start slow and start easy. And build gently from there.
2. Run on grass wherever you can: grass is your friend when it comes to avoiding injury.
3. Find a run buddy, or even better, a group of run buddies to train with. Running and run training should be enjoyable and it’s exactly that when you’re working with a friend or a group.

Your favourite place in the Inner West for kids to run and/or train?
I can’t go past what is on our doorstep with the Bay, all those sporting grounds with the lovely grass (big fan of grass!) and the hills of Callan Park. We are so fortunate living where we live, and from a running perspective it’s an area just begging to be run.

Kids on the Run

Kids on the Run is headed up by Melanie Warman, a running coach of more than 15 years’ experience, who qualified with England Athletics. When Mel became a mum, she didn’t want to go back to a corporate job, so she started Boobs on the Run (women only and raising funds for breast cancer research) and after that, Kids on the Run (teaching grassroots recreational running).

Kids on the Run teaches kids between five and 12 years old recreational running to survive some of the longer distances. In February 2020, they’ll extend the program to include 13 to 18 year-olds.

What’s your greatest running achievement?
My greatest achievements are always watching the women and children who come through our programs achieving their goals. I would love to run the half marathon at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which runs through the temples, and that’s on the list for 2021.

What do you love about working with kids and inspiring them in their running?
The kids are amazing! They make running look so easy once they have their technique nailed.

Your top 3 tips when kids are running:
1. Keep your head and eyes up (not looking at the ground).
2. Make sure your arms are moving forward and not crossing your body.
3. Smile and relax.

What’s your favourite place in the Inner West for kids to train and/or run?
I love running along the water and, luckily, the Inner West has plenty of safe places!

Run Crew

Gary Howard and Ben St Lawrence of Run Crew are no strangers to the Australian running scene. The two mates founded Run Crew five year ago.  Ben St Lawrence is a two-time Olympian, while Gary Howard (also an Inner West dad) calls himself a jack-of-all-trades: an elite runner who was naturally suited to sprinting (with best performances at 100m to 400m), but his passion for distance running dragged him to a 75-minute half marathon.

Gary has been coaching runners for 16 years, and kids in particular for about 10. These days, he squeezes his own running between commitments as a coach and father of two young boys. “At Run Crew, we coach kids and adults, from beginners through to multiple Australian representatives,” he explains. “Our philosophy is that running is for everyone, and everyone deserves the opportunity for good coaching. So we have created an environment that enables our juniors to transition successfully into seniors.”

What’s your greatest running achievement?
As a coach, training 23 Australian champions, the podium finishes and PBs are all great – including Lauren Carey, who at 15 years of age placed 16th in the U20 World Cross Country Championships; Ella Heeney, who won the World Schools Cross Country; and Tom Do Canto’s 2:14 marathon. But the best achievement is that all the kids are happy and healthy.

Personally, as a runner, winning a silver medal at the 2016 World Masters, and still being able to run sub-2:00 as a 44-year-old.

What do you love about working with kids and inspiring their running?
Run Crew is training kids to be good at life, not just running. Our number-one rule is to have fun (it’s also rule number four!), and our growing squad of awesome kids has certainly nailed that rule.

Your top 3 tips for kids who are starting out running:
1. Don’t do too much early; start slow and smart.
2. Get into good habits.
3. Just have fun.

What’s your favourite place in the Inner West for kids to train and/or run?
King George Oval, Rozelle.