It was four years of endless tweaking, of back-to-the-drawing-board frustration, of testing and re-testing, of behind-the-scenes grinding that was both exhausting and exciting. In just 33 minutes and 20 seconds, those four years of efforts were validated for the KidRunner team.
That was the time it took for professional runner Max King to cross the finish line in first place at the BigFoot 10K last September. His 2-year-old daughter, Hazel, was a fraction of a second behind him, sitting in an egg-shaped jogging stroller unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
“It was super exciting,” said Will Warne, one of the brand’s founders.
Warne is one of three partners for KidRunner, a Bend, Ore., start-up looking to change the way parents run with their children. Many jogging stroller companies have made bringing the kid along—a necessity for many runner parents—easy to do, but in a less-than-perfect scenario. At least one hand needs to be pushing on the jogging stroller’s handlebars at all times, which results in awkward running form, a slower pace and a less-than-optimal running economy. (Yes, it still beats sitting at home, but it doesn’t allow runners to mimic the way they typically run.)
KidRunner is trying to fix that. They’ve designed a product that allows runners to pull their children behind them, attached to a harness that goes around the runner’s waist. Think a bicycle trailer for runners.
KidRunner’s new jogging stroller, which weighs only 20 pounds, is now accepting pre-orders on its website, with expected delivery this winter. Demo events will take place this fall in cities like Seattle and San Francisco.
Warne sees it as a product that brings proper running form back to parents.
“You’re not leaning over and pushing. Your whole upper body is back, and you’re driving from your hips,” he said. As part of their research, the KidRunner team also met with noted University of Colorado researcher Rodger Kram, who had released a study on the negative impact of running without swinging your arms.
The concept for KidRunner came about four years ago when Warne was pushing his 6-month-old daughter in a stroller. He thought there should be a better way to bring your child along for runs without sacrificing form. He joined forces with Mauricio Mejia and Andre Caradec to conceptualize and build several prototypes for a stroller you pull rather than push.
“The first rig, I built from hardware store parts and three strollers that I took apart,” Warne said.
In all, the research and development process took nearly four years. Most of the time was spent on two issues:
- Comfort: Is the child comfortable in the rig, and is the waist harness comfortable on the runner?
- Safety: Is the stroller stable and secure? And does it bounce too much for a child, some less than 20 pounds?
Five prototypes and three patents later, Warne thinks they’ve got it.
“A lot of geometry, center of gravity, material science goes into keeping it stable and safe,” Warne said. “The seat is designed like a cockpit. It’s a totally protected shell, and the kid sits in a 5-point harness.
“The center of gravity is incredibly low. The kid sits well below the wheel axle. It is a piece of sports equipment. We’re not claiming that somebody can’t do something that would cause them or their kid injury, but it’s very much designed to be safe.”
Warne also cites two factors that will keep kids happy for runs that can exceed a toddler’s typical attention span. One, the stroller sways subtly with the runner’s motion, which testers have said that young children like (the stroller is designed for children weighing between 12 and 35 pounds). The other is that the child can see their parent, which many toddlers prefer.
In the midst of R&D, KidRunner signed on King as an ambassador to lend a different perspective. With the fourth prototype in hand, the stroller was put into action at the BigFoot 10K in Bend last September.
King was merely supposed to put the stroller to use during a 6.2-mile event with his daughter inside. But he ended up winning the small race in 33:20.
“We had no expectation that he was going to win,” Warne said. “We wanted him to race a good race and prove he could do it. When the gun went off, I didn’t realize his goal was to beat 200 people.”
King ran at a 5:22/mile pace, far from his PR for that distance on the roads. Still, he claims that the stroller definitely solves a problem in the market.
“It really does make running with a stroller and with kids much easier,” King said. “The thing I notice most is the improved form and arm movement. There are things I was worried about like the amount of motion in the cockpit, but with the new prototype, it’s a much smoother ride for the kids. Each prototype keeps getting better and better.”
KidRunner is expected to sell for $1,200, which could be a deal-breaker for some parents. Comparatively, a single stroller from industry leaders like BOB can go for anywhere from $400 to $700. KidRunner counters by claiming that its stroller will have components for use in cycling and Nordic skiing, making it more valuable.
To what extent it takes off is to be determined, but one thing’s for sure: KidRunner is at least attempting to turn the jogging stroller industry inside out—from a push to a pull.
“There’s been no real change in the relationship between the way a person runs and what they’re pushing,” Warne claims. “We think we’re solving a problem. Like all things, it was more challenging and more exciting than we thought.”