This is a difficult task but with two successes under my belt, I feel I am the perfect person to give advise. Obviously, you must start with a child, preferably your own. Next step is to make sure to get them running. Always push hard. When they cry, remind them how much of a girl they look like (even if they are a girl) and how terrible it is to cry. Withhold toys, food, family fun time, whatever it takes. Once they are ready (or before, no big deal) make them race. Make sure you see them along the course. Yell splits, (is that important in ultras?) tell them they are being beat, maybe even consume some terrible treats you wont let them have as you and your lazy ass don’t participate. Now when they finish, if they didn’t have a podium finish, be sure to berate them in front of everyone. Don’t let that little shit get away with sucking! What parents would? Be sure to always make them believe your love for them is dependent on how well they perform, but also make sure to never let them feel good enough.
The reality is, for all you negative Nancy’s out there, you can not force anyone to run an ultra. Short of threatening their life, there is a passion involved in ultra running, a burning desire in one’s self to push beyond your limits. A desire to hit that wall that most people would use as a stopping point but instead to disregard pain and continue on. All commom sense tells you to stop, but an ultra runner learns to not listen and instead takes it as a challenge from their own body. Its not something that can be forced, even in children.
My oldest, Tajh, did his first triathlon at six years old. Despite my love for swimming, I could never sit through another triathlon after that. Running became our thing, and it has taken off from there. After some 5k’s here and there, we decided it was time for something real for Tajh. At eight, he decided to do his first 24-hour event at Across the Years. Never having done one myself, I knew I did not want to send him out alone. Although it is a one-mile loop, the idea of my son feeling the ups and downs of running great distances alone felt evil. If he felt pain, I sure as hell was going to too. It was a great learning experience for us all. As adults, most of us can handle the ebbs and flows with some grace. We can understand the pain is going to go away and keep trucking. For kids it is harder. Push through the pain? But why would I do that when I can go into my comfy tent and sleep? Although he did sleep, Tajh ended up completing 33 miles, and hasn’t stopped running since. Today his training is only when he wants, although he does swim and if there is a race coming up we do push a little more. This kids loves mountains and says yes to any run where he gets to get up high and explore. He has the passion for exploring of every great ulra runner.
Tea is her mother’s daughter. She jumped into the Silverton 12 hour race last year and spent the day begging people to do laps with her (although it was a looped course, at seven, we felt she needed an adult at all times). After 11 hours she had run 20 miles. I was floored, and she decided to call it a day. I had never thought of her as my possible ultra runner, but she showed me. She is now on her brother’s heels at all times. This girl puts her head down and takes care of business. Complaining is rare for her except when daddy is there (he’s a sucker). She hears about others children’s records and makes goals for herself, that’s just her. This girl has the heart of an ultra runner, no question, and some pretty amazing natural talent.
Little Tay has pushed his limits to a half marathon in 24 hours. He is a super fast kid, but hasn’t yet found the drive to push beyond, put all other life aside whether it be playing with friends or just hanging out, and just run. Will he get there one day? Who knows really, and honestly it doesn’t matter at this point. My children will always be encouraged to follow their passion. Risk and reward will be a constant conversation between their father and I, and, as parents, we will decide what is best for them. Never allowing children to follow what they love deprives them the joy, bliss, and learning experience it provides. Blah blah blah they have plenty of time when they grow up to follow their passion, I get it, but why make them wait? Is tomorrow promised? Is the possibility of missing valuable life lessons that could help them grow into an even more amazing adult worth it? Whatever their passion is, weigh the risk, think about the reward in the experience, and support them.