Trail

11 Ways Busy Parents Can Make Time for Trail Running this Summer

Busy parents can still trail run during a summer of COVID-19—here's how.

The mountains may be calling you, but so are your kids. In this summer of COVID-19, with most summer camps canceled and parents working from home, it can seem impossible to escape for a trail run because of the logistics and potential extra time involved to make it happen. Yes, sneaking out for a quick road-from-home run is more doable, but some of us just crave the natural experience that only trail running provides.

The good news: The answer isn’t only more screen time.

We surveyed a handful of busy parents and put together this list of 11 creative ways to make trail running possible this summer.

Go early or late.

This one seems obvious, but if you have a partner at home or older child who can be responsible for sleeping younger siblings, set that alarm…or run in the evening. Getting out early or late has another upside: The trails tend to be less crowded than they are midday, and in the summer, they’re much cooler.

They ride, you run.

It may be tough to run the rugged, mountainous terrain you may be craving, but having a kid or kids riding bikes next to you while you run a wide, dirt path—or ahead of you on not-too-technical singletrack trails—can be a win-win as you both get exercise. Tip: Put a water bottle cage and full bottle on kids’ bikes, be prepared to go at their pace and make frequent stops, and consider carrying snacks (aka, bribes) for encouragement.

Do laps from home.

Triathlete and trail runner Elise Steiner Winter says she runs loops on short trails near her house in Penryn, California, so she’s never far from home and her two kids, ages 10 and 14. “While I’m gone, they’re either still asleep, or doing some kind of physical activity, taking care of our chickens or horses, or reading, playing an instrument, or doing art,” she says. “When they’re done with all that, then they’re allowed some video games.”

Do laps at a park or field.

“I’ve run a lot of laps on the grass around soccer fields,” says Manhattan Beach, California–based Peter Dericks. “Doing that allows me to run and watch practice at the same time.” Adds Atlanta-based dad Sean Clancy: “When my daughter was in a stroller, her mom would push her on a one-mile dirt loop along the Chatahoochee River. I’d bust out a few laps and wave at them as I’d run by.”

Mother and son race on trail
Photo: Courtesy Sara Yoder

Race them.

Some kids will only run if there’s a race involved. Boulder, Colorado–based runner Sara Yoder got creative with a race on a 1-mile trail loop near her house. The competitors? Her husband, her 9-year-old son, her 12-year-old son, and herself. “The thing that was fun about this race in particular was that we started back-to-back, meaning, the parents and kids ran opposite directions and whoever got back to the start first won,” she says. Result: The kids won! “They picked which direction they wanted to go, which was obviously why they beat us…haha.”

Get an off-road jogger.

If you have toddlers and young kids who ride in baby joggers, know that off-road strollers make it possible to hit the dirt safely. Models like the Tike Tech All Terrain X3 Sport Single Stroller and Mountain Buggy Terrain can handle moderate trails, with tires made to grip dirt and shock-absorbing systems to keep your little one safe and comfortable.

Carry that baby.

“The minute I could put them into one of those backpacks, I did it,” says Dericks, whose sons are now 7 and 10. “It was the best thing ever. I felt super engaged with my son because he was right behind me. He loved it because he could see everything and was like, ‘I’m the tallest!’” Carrying a child while hiking may not be running, but it’s great strength training and gets your heart rate up, especially up hills. Dericks’ tips: Bring a hiking pole for stability on challenging terrain.

Tag team.

Teaming up with your spouse or partner and heading to a trailhead can be a fun activity for all. One adult can start a trail run as soon as the car is parked, while the other gets the kids out to the trail for a kid-friendly hike, or to splash in a creek, or to have a picnic. The first adult can return and relieve the second, who can get in their trail run while the others hike and play.

Create a basecamp.

In the same vein as hitting a trailhead together, finding a park or playground (if the playgrounds aren’t closed near you, due to COVID) to use as basecamp can keep littles entertained. Adults can switch off running trails nearby. “Make it a relay, where you pass the baby as a baton,” jokes Clancy.

Camp and run.

For families that car camp in the summer, heading out on a trail run from camp can be a great way to not only get some exercise, but also a fantastic way to discover new trails. Check out this story for more on camping and trail running.

Run with them!

Older kids can make great running partners, and can surprise you as to how far they can go. Recruiting a child to run a trail can open up a whole new world to them. Just be prepared to go at their pace, take more rest breaks than you would alone (or not), and go with the flow.