Sonia O’Sullivan: Daily Mile of 15 minutes should be in every school

Simple 15 minute run of huge benefit to the health, fitness and wellbeing of our children

Sonia O’Sullivan taking part in The Daily Mile with children from Milford National School in Castletroy, Co Limerick.

Sonia O’Sullivan taking part in The Daily Mile with children from Milford National School in Castletroy, Co Limerick.


One of the things to strike me most since being back home in Ireland these past few weeks is the sense of community sporting spirit. Australia may be a sporting mad nation, only here at home the importance of fitness and sport at that local and grassroots level seems even more prevalent.

There is no better example of that than The Daily Mile. It’s never too early to instil the importance of general health, fitness and wellbeing in young children. So much has been written and discussed in this area in recent times, and it’s only when you experience a school in operation that you see what is possible to achieve in a short amount of time.

Just 15 minutes of activity a day is all it takes to kick-start the endorphins and adrenalin, to wake up the muscles and fibres that can become dormant throughout the day sitting in a classroom.

This is the exact aim of The Daily Mile. Most children can probably cover a mile in the allocated 15 minutes, or at least fill 15 minutes with active movement, even if not everyone is built to run a mile straight out the door.

Last week I was in Limerick to visit my long-term physical therapist Gerard Hartmann. During my racing career, Gerard often got me back on track, helped me to overcome injuries through his intense treatment and positive outlook.

The aim was always to focus on what we can do, as opposed to being weighed down by limitations due to injury, illness or life.

Gerard arranged for me to call in to Milford National School in Castletroy, just alongside the University of Limerick. It’s already a familiar place to me, where I often parked my car and spent hours in the swimming pool, gym and treatment rooms at UL, while sidelined from running.

Gerard also happens to be lead therapist with the INEOS-sponsored America’s Cup team, the same company that supports promoting The Daily Mile throughout primary schools in the UK and now Ireland, in conjunction with Athletics Ireland.

This time would be different. I wasn’t just going to walk around and show off some shiny medals, this time I wanted to join in and see what The Daily Mile was all about. It started with just one primary school in Stirling in Scotland in 2012, and is now inclusive of some 8,364 schools worldwide, including some 763 primary schools in Ireland.

I was welcomed by the school principal Diarmuid Moore, and led to the playground. What I visualised for the The Daily Mile was everyone lining up and running laps and laps of the playground, only this was so much more than that.

Positive effect

I always believe actions speak so much louder than words, so I quickly jumped in and ran a few laps. There was no distance or destination just running around and round, children talking and laughing, the positive vibes and energy was infectious.

Next up was three small circles of younger children each taking a turn to do their favourite exercise, skipping, hopping, jumping jacks, scissor kicks, the cold morning air was soon forgotten. A few games of tag and change direction and before we knew it, the 15 minutes was up, everyone piled into the school hall full of energy and excitement.

Immediately I could see the positive effect on the children; they were all happy to sit and listen as I was asked a few questions and tried to share my love of sport, health and fitness at every level.

It’s easy to look at sports stars across the sports pages and think how lucky they are to be so fit, fast and strong. Each and every sports star started in a school playground and found their passion. It does not have to be sport, we also heard a recital by the school band and also the children were involved in asking me questions that they wrote out themselves and a well researched project on my life.

The school was buzzing with energy on a cold and clear spring morning. When the muscles are warm, it’s so much easier to focus and concentrate, like the energy burner in the body is kick-started to set up the day.

The Daily Mile of 15 minutes activity is a like revolution already happening. It’s fast catching on around Ireland, but I think it should be in every school in the country. There doesn’t need to be time set aside or big plans; just when the time is right get out and run or move about for 15 minutes. Then occasionally look up the local heroes and invite them in to remind them where it all began and help inspire a new generation.

I can remember running from one end of my school to the other, hoping not to get spotted by a teacher. Just the buzz of running along the school corridor, breathless and smiling as I returned to the classroom, was sometimes enough for me.

It’s nothing new; in fact it’s something that many parents have grown up with and will reflect and recall from their own school days. Walking to school and home again, it was a natural form of daily activity. We all hear stories of the elite Kenyan athletes running to and from school each day, and I’m sure many Irish children also followed this path.

There is a need for a huge cultural change back to what we once knew and took for granted. These 15 minutes of daily activity in primary school can be among the most beneficial life skills that we can impart to our children. It should slot right in with, sleeping eating and breathing.

Then set some targets to aim for as we all need a tangible reason for doing something. For example, 26 days in a row of The Daily Mile and you’ll have completed a marathon.

Perfect tactics

There is also now the junior parkrun, a 2km on a Sunday morning across 19 locations in Ireland, to go with senior 5km version that takes place on Saturday mornings. That’s become a proper phenomenon, from 86 parkrun locations now in Ireland, and 1,801 worldwide.

I also dropped in to the Tralee junior parkrun last weekend, and was met by 125 eager runners all warming up in the Tralee town park. I had the rare opportunity to run along as junior parkrun is limited to children aged 4 -14.

In Tralee, the 2km route took in two laps of the park, after one lap I had a group of boys and girls hovering around, and one young girl was very keen not to let me get too far ahead: aged just seven years old and already she has completed 40 junior parkruns, Caoimhe seemed more mature than her years, only because she got me talking. Her tactics worked as we rounded to the finish Caoimhe had saved the best to last with a big sprint finish duly rewarded with her fastest time ever. Task complete with the perfect tactics.

We can all move and be active when we want to, but the ability to ingrain that desire to be active for just a minimum 15 minutes every day from a young age is a skill for life. It’s something we all need to grasp and share and never let go of.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

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