Distance Running Legend Melody Fairchild’s Tips for Helping Kids Learn to Love Running

Distance Running Legend Melody Fairchild’s Tips for Helping Kids Learn to Love Running

“When we meet to run, I make it about what are we learning about ourselves today.”

melody fairchild
Melody Fairchild

Melody Fairchild grew up running Boulder, Colorado’s steep mountain trails. By the time she finished high school, Melody had won eight state titles between cross country and track, and came in third in the World Junior Cross Country Championships, earning a scholarship to the University of Oregon. Now Melody runs something else – her club Boulder Mountain Warriors brings new kids to the sport and trains more serious runners for a lifetime of competition and fitness. For Global Running Day, we caught up with Melody to chat about one of the sport’s major challenges, namely how to introduce kids to the sport in a way that makes them want to run.

“When we meet to run, I make that meeting mostly about what are we learning about ourselves today – who are we when we show up to run, and who are we when we’re done running, and helping kids be tuned into how running changes them from the inside out,” she says.

For example, Melody suggests helping young athletes feel how running affects their bodies.

“We stop and have them feel their heartbeat to help them notice how their heartrate rises when they run. When we do our warmup jog, they feel how they start to break a sweat, and we help them tune into those little things in their body,” Melody says.

She also helps her young runners notice what physical activity does to their minds.

“Talk to any runner and they’ll say they totally fix problems, calm their nervous system, and tap into their joy every time they run, whether it’s 10 minutes or two hours,” Melody says.

In addition to getting in touch with their own minds and bodies, Melody makes running about relationships. For example, “We celebrate every child’s birthday,” she says. “We bring a big cake and candles, and we all gather around to sing. Some of my favorite moments and when we do that!”

If you have a group, games like relay races, capture the flag, and “sharks and minnows” can be useful, but Melody says games aren’t her strong suit, and that while she uses games at times, she prefers to help kids find joy in the activity of running itself.

“It’s about striking a balance between pure fun and some structure with small attainable goals that keep kids motivated and gives them a chance to feel good about themselves,” she says.

Only when kids get to age 11 or 12 does Melody start to help them think about competitions. And even then, the most important goal remains about a runner’s character and not their results.

“My biggest challenge is how do I help kids look beyond themselves? It’s an interesting paradox: Looking outside ourselves, being selfless – when a kid can do that, they value themselves enough to see they have something to offer. If kid that can look another kid in the eye on the start line and say Good luck, that’s my dream for my team – that my kids will be the ones with the character and the confidence to do that,” she says.

Whether running with a team, with friends, with the adults in their lives, or by themselves, Melody hopes that kids will create the same memories of joy and challenge that she remembers growing up.

“My favorite runs I can still go to and it brings back memories and makes me feel like a champion,” she says. “My heart has never been more gratified than when kids feel confident and competent enough to chart their own course.”