A total of 644 children took part in a series of specially tailored running events at Sunday's annual AXA Raheny 5-Mile Road Race promotion – ample evidence that there is a great desire by many of the younger generation to embrace the fitness challenge.
There were three children's events for boys and girls in Raheny – a 400m race for five to seven year olds, an 800m event for those aged eight to 12, and a mile race for 13 to 16 year olds. All three events were well supported and greatly added to the village atmosphere that is special to the Raheny event.
There are not many Irish road race promotions that I know of where the promoters incorporate events suitable for children, and more's the pity that this is so.
The SPAR Great Ireland Run has included very successful children's events over the past several years and, last November, the annual Simon Community 5-Mile Race in the Phoenix Park saw one-third of the entry of over 3,000 come from local schools – all because several teachers in schools close to the park saw value in encouraging students to complete the race.
At the recent European Athletics Health and Well-Being Conference in Marseille, France, there was general agreement among delegates from 48 countries of the long-term health values of getting children involved in recreational running from an early age.
National athletic federations in Europe were slow to embrace the mass-participation running movement, but those like Athletics Ireland, UK Athletics, and in Denmark, France and Germany are now fully focused on the long-term health and social values of recreational running.
Last year alone, there were over 800 road races in Ireland licensed by Athletics Ireland. Just imagine the impact that could be made on the younger generation if even 20pc of these events were to include children's events as part of their promotion.
There is an abundance of appropriate and well-organised competition for children who are competitive, but there is a gap to be filled in the recreational area. Every weekend in Ireland, we see young couples with children arriving at road races –with one parent minding the children, while the other takes part. Perhaps this will be the year when we see some events of broader vision promotions that will be more family-focused.
When you look at photos of young children participating in events, you can see clearly the joy and sense of achievement on many of the faces.
Add on running events for children to a road race and you also get the parents involved and create a carnival atmosphere laced with fun and high-spirited achievement.
When I see children going full tilt towards the finish line at a promotion like the one in Raheny, I am reminded of some of the wisdom that the great US running philosopher Dr George Sheehan shared in his book, Running and Being. Sheehan wrote: "Our failure to see life for the great playful game that it is has resulted in serious physical, psychological and spiritual disease. The world, since my day in school, has passed through three periods the psychiatrists are now calling the Age of Repression, the Age of Anxiety and our present era, the Age of Boredom.
"If all the words spoken between psychiatrists and the patients afflicted with these ailments were laid end to end, they would reach to the outermost galaxy. But not quite to their Creator. To reach Him and cure ourselves, we must return to the wonder of childhood; to the intensity of play; to the love of ourselves and our bodies, to growth and creation and self- discovery. We must return to school and leisure."
My good friend Dr Sheehan's words always have a ring of truth – well worth heeding.