Taking the Family to the Trails

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Trail time and family time need not be mutually exclusive

A trail-running group in Okinawa recently enjoyed taking their spouses and kids to the woods for a day of adventure. Photo courtesy of Jannine Myers.

In a recent article on Huffington Post, Carolyn Gregoire suggested that many of us are not using the weekends to rest and recharge as we should, but are instead using that time to work and get a jump-start on the next, busy week ahead. In her article, Gregoire cited blogger Laura Vanderkam, who had this to say about the sixty hours between 6 p.m. on Fridays and 6 a.m. on Mondays: “That’s plenty of time for fun, relaxation and more importantly, recharging the batteries.”

I’m not a “worker” in the sense that I get up each Monday and go to an office, but I do work from home and often feel stressed trying to juggle work and home/parenting commitments, especially as I try to minimize the amount of work I do on weekends.  Her words, and those of Gregoire’s, inspired me to make more of an effort to not only enjoy my weekends, but to enjoy them with my family.

Since I love my Saturday morning trail runs, I was thrilled when our trail-group leader here in Okinawa organized a weekend “family” hike. Trail running is one of my favorite weekly activities, but it’s an activity which excludes my family members and therefore takes time away from them. I usually justify my time out on the trails by insisting that my husband and daughters are asleep anyway. My husband and daughters have never complained about my absences on weekend mornings, but a little guilt often lingers—so the family hike would be an opportunity to share my love of the trails with him, as well as our nine- and 19-year-old daughters.

Though he’s not a runner, my husband shares my passion for being outdoors, and was particularly keen for our youngest daughter to join us on the hike. “She needs to experience the outdoors, get away from the urban build-up and see Mother Nature up close,” he said.

His comment brought to mind a couple of incidents I witnessed earlier this summer. One involved a group of kids at a beachside camping site watching movies in their parent’s minivan, and the other involved a friend’s teenage son who sat fuming by the side of a public swimming pool, because his parents had forced him to take a break from his video games. Today’s generation of kids seem to prefer the lure of indoor entertainment over outdoor activities, and both my husband and I are dead set against letting that happen to our daughters.

The author and her daughters on family hike day.

Despite the appeal of a lazy weekend morning spent indoors, relaxing in air conditioning to watch TV or surf the Internet, our oldest daughter, Chantal, really loved the experience of our family hike. Afterward, she said, “I’ve never enjoyed a workout as much as I did exploring those trails. The high I got from climbing steep hills, balancing on rocks through rivers and reaching the top of the mountain was the best feeling ever!”

She’s never enjoyed running, but she’s always wanted to run. Seeing how beautiful the trails were made her feel like running. “It was a whole different feeling from being out on local streets,” she said. “I wish we had gone out there to run rather than hike, which says a lot, because I have a hard time enjoying my runs!”

My nine-year-old daughter wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as her sister, but she said she enjoyed several parts of the hike—playing on a makeshift tree swing, discovering unusual-looking stick spiders and climbing up and over rocks as we made our way down the mountain. I remember doing these things often as a child, back when indoor play was not encouraged. These days, you have to create outdoor experiences for your children if you want them to be more active and explore nature’s backyard.

The challenging aspects of the hike—having to hold onto ropes and carefully scale our way over rocks and slippery terrain—also added value to the experience. As difficult as it was at times for my younger daughter, she felt a strong sense of accomplishment at the end of the hike.

Outdoor adventures offer so many rewards for everyone in the family; we plan to incorporate them into our weekend schedule whenever possible. And, as trail runners, there’s no better way to introduce our loved ones to the outdoors than by taking them out to the trails and sharing with them something that we are already so familiar with, and passionate about.

Tips for Sharing the Trails with Your Kids

  • Organize trail expeditions with other family friends who have kids the same age as your child/children. My younger daughter was not keen at all when we first pitched the idea of a family hike, but as soon as she learned that one of her friends was also going, that was enough to get her to change her mind.
  • My husband and I have never done this as a family, but we have a few friends who take their kids out geocaching, and many of their geocache adventures take them out to the hiking trails. I think this might be a great way to entice kids out on a trail adventure, as it involves “clue-finding.”
  • Take your kids out to some of your trail races and let them experience the camaraderie and excitement. Consider volunteering together at one.
  • Offer an incentive: let them choose, for example, where to go for a family breakfast after the trail run or hike.
  • Compromise–take them out trail running or hiking one weekend, and let them choose a family activity the following weekend.
  • Create a summer challenge–see how many trails and miles you can cover as a family over the summer break (and have rewards available along the way!)

Jannine Myers lives in Okinawa, Japan, where she works as a running coach, weight management consultant and freelance writer. She blogs at www.runwithwoot.com.

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