Helicopter parenting for runners

fear-girl-in-bottle (1)

“STOP, NO, be careful, get down …… Just GET Off him”…….. These were the words that characterised the first couple of days of my new role as House daddy. I hovered and floated in the background. There was no climbing; all play was to be “nice and supervised”. Wrestling was banned and jumping on the couch was only for the weekends. I wasn’t keen on making a trip to Crumlin A+E in my first week. I had the fear. I knew people were watching, assessing my ability to manage this new post. I couldn’t risk causing serious physical injury to the kids or mental wounds to myself. The mornings ran to a strict timeline. So I started to over parent in response to what I perceived to be the expectations of others. But two days in there was a massive revolt. They’d been caged for too long, Molly (4) wanted a row and Paddy (11 months), even though heavily outweighed, was more than happy to oblige. And to be honest I was too tired from hovering to stop them. In hindsight I can now look back and say I had an acute bout of “helicopterus parentus”. So I reverted to my natural parenting inclination and let things unfold. Since then, Molly has learned to push the edge of “too rough” and Paddy can now defend himself with a finger to the eye or pulling hair. I rarely have to get involved, unless Paddy pulls out the big guns and attacks with a well placed bite or Molly pops a cushion over his head – I haven’t gone totally “free range”.

But I had changed my behaviour, even if only for a short period, because of fear.  When starting to run for the first time some people – relatives and friends – will put barriers of fear in the way. Warnings running will ruin knees and lead to arthritic and stiff joints ……. well it won’t! In fact, studies prove that runners are less likely to develop knee osteoarthritis (Chakravarty et al., 2008; Williams, 2013).  Regular runners have been shown to have almost half the rate of arthritis as regular walkers and the runners with the greatest mileage had the lowest occurrence of joint degeneration (Williams, 2013). Knee pain experienced by runners is often caused by weakness or tightness in other areas of the body.

Having disregarded the threat of walking sticks and the risk of stiff painful knees the next obstacle thrown in the way by naysayers is age. “It’s too late, you’re too old and you’ll wear yourself out”.  However, in marathons twenty five percent of 65–69 year-old runners tend to be quicker than half of the 20-54 year-old runners. The same study also revealed that more than quarter of theses 50-69 year-old runners had only taken up running in the previous 5 years (Leyk et al., 2010).This large group of older “newcomers”  running marathons demonstrate that even at an advanced age, high levels of performance can be realized through committed training. These improvements can be maintained well into old age with significant decline in running performance only seen at 75 years old! (Wright & Perricelli, 2008)

So provided knees remain healthy and ageism doesn’t cause discouragement from starting and running consistently, personal bests will get quicker and longer distances will be ran. What about joining a running club? But again fear makes the decision because running clubs are only for overly-healthy, fanatical, type-A, pioneers with bad knees who never take a day’s rest. Well actually no, again preconceived notions create fear and paralysis. Not only does running in a group initiate great improvements in performance, like any team sport it creates camaraderie and lasting memories. On wet, cold mornings after drinking too much wine the night before the commitment to running with a group will force the donning of lycra. For some it may get the competitive juices flowing again. Many will unearth previously hidden talent and realise their potential.  They will have opportunity to compete against and run with runners of similar ability or better. Others will enjoy easy group jogs and chats. The truth is that running has never been healthier or more popular (Knechtle et al., 2015), club runners can be found at the front middle and back of most races, so there should be no anxiety in relation to being “slow”.


Running is a natural thing to do, we do from a young age and it’s instinctive (Lieberman & Bramble, 2007). Children love to run, they have no idea it’s a workout, until we tell them. They’re the quickest, the fastest and the “bestest”. Until they start hearing stop running, slow down, don’t climb, sit down ……….  So they will grow up associating running with correction from authority and this fear is further manifested as they grow, and it becomes more intrinsic – What if I fail? What will someone think of me? What if I’m not good enough? What if it hurts? – And they will hide behind excuses. Fear will always be present, it has to be it promotes protection and safety, but it shouldn’t make decisions. So take fear by the hand, pop a pair of runners on it and bring it for a run.



Chakravarty EF, Hubert HB, Lingala VB, Zatarain E & Fries JF. (2008). Long distance running and knee osteoarthritis. A prospective study. Am J Prev Med 35, 133-138.


Knechtle B, Rosemann T, Zingg MA & Rust CA. (2015). Increase in participation but decrease in performance in age group mountain marathoners in the ‘Jungfrau Marathon’: a Swiss phenomenon? Springerplus 4, 523.


Leyk D, Ruther T, Wunderlich M, Sievert A, Essfeld D, Witzki A, Erley O, Kuchmeister G, Piekarski C & Lollgen H. (2010). Physical performance in middle age and old age: good news for our sedentary and aging society. Dtsch Arztebl Int 107, 809-816.


Lieberman DE & Bramble DM. (2007). The evolution of marathon running : capabilities in humans. Sports Med 37, 288-290.


Williams PT. (2013). Effects of running and walking on osteoarthritis and hip replacement risk. Med Sci Sports Exerc 45, 1292-1297.


Wright VJ & Perricelli BC. (2008). Age-related rates of decline in performance among elite senior athletes. Am J Sports Med 36, 443-450.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s