After several years running the summer 15K in my northern Michigan hometown’s annual National Cherry Festival, I switched over to the 5K. It’s typically sweltering on race day—it takes place the final day of the weeklong festival in early July—so I welcomed the shorter distance event. It also marked the first time my family of five ran a race all together. This was a year ago, and this past week we again got up early, pinned on race bibs, and toed the race start line together. I’d like to think we’ve created a new family tradition, complete with cheesy-fun matching race shirts and silly pre- and post-race photos.
Based on the many adults with kids we saw participating in our local 5K, and the responses received earlier this week on the AMR Facebook page about this topic, making races a family affair appears to be pretty popular. With so many races, particularly 5Ks, taking place nearly every weekend throughout summer and fall in communities across the country, there’s plenty of opportunities for families to get out there and run together. As mother runner Mary Frances shared with the tribe, “Running is a wonderful sport for families! All five of our kids run and all love racing … especially when we bring home bling!”
Whether you’ve run several races as a family, or it’s something you’re considering trying, BAMRs offered lots of sage advice for ensuring the experience is a fun one for everyone. Here’s a sampling of what’s worked (and not gone over so well) when it comes to racing with kids:
Start Small. Short races—one mile or less—can introduce your child to the “race” experience without being too overwhelming. Melissa’s twin boys, 3, participate in these kinds of events. “They get their own bibs and practice for weeks by looping the kitchen/living room,” she says. Mother runner Kristin says her oldest, age 5, is doing 1-mile fun runs for now. “Training” consists of playing outside and running around the playground, she says. “We follow his lead with the fun runs—run when he wants to, and walk when he wants to. I do a lot of reminding him that we are all winners and we aren’t trying to beat everyone else. As long as we do our best, we all win.” (Though she acknowledges he’s still learning this last part.) Melissa T., whose 5-year-old just ran her first one-mile race, now wants to move onto a 5K. “I think it’s best to start with a short distance, make it positive, and then move onto bigger distances,” she says.
Pre-race runs together help a lot. Beth, who ran her first 5K two years ago with her then-9-year-old daughter, says they followed a couch-to-5K program together. “Since then my whole family has become runners and my daughter, who is now 11, is signed up for her first sprint triathlon.” The family runs together to get ready for races: “We do most of our training runs at three miles so they are used to the distance and we stress that they listen to their bodies and not start too fast.” Several mother runners shared they follow a training plan such as ones used for a Girls on the Run 5K.
Manage expectations (theirs and yours). Long before the start gun goes off, talk through what’ll happen race day. In other words, discuss whether everyone will be running, walking, or doing a combination of both. Will everyone stay together the entire way, or is it OK for, say, older kids to go ahead? This year we all started together but eventually our 13-year-old and 11-year-old took off together, which we knew would likely happen. This meant Joe and I stayed with Alex, 7, and while we mostly ran, we also knew we’d take a few walk breaks with him along the way. We also had talked ahead of time about where we’d all meet in the finish area. Several mother runners also shared stories about emphasizing the importance of pacing to their kids. “I give them a little advice about starting off slow,” says Kimberly.
Inject some fun into it. Donning costumes can add even more excitement to the race, several mother runners shared. “My entire family—two adults and the four kids, ages 10, 6, 5, and 20 months—participated in a Superhero 5K,” says Melanie, “and things that made it successful were costumes and that is was for a family-friendly cause.” (The race helped benefit child abuse prevention). Pam offers this suggestion for race-wear: “We let them wear funky socks and tutus to make the race extra fun.” Laura suggests having your kids invite a buddy or two: “Adding some friends to the mix makes the race more fun for them. We also play “I Spy” and guessing games, and if they whine too much I threaten to sing. Family races are about having fun—throw out ideas about running at your normal pace.”
Bring extra water & goodies. Even with aid stations along the race route, mother runners know having a little extra something can come in handy. “I carry water and extra energy chews for her, which seemed to help with encouragement when needed,” says Krista, who ran a 5K earlier this month with her 6-year-old daughter. Kelly says she “felt funny carrying water in a 5K with my kids,” but wanted to be prepared. “Sure enough, they always want water when we are no where near the water station. It can also be used as a distractor if they start complaining.”
Have you run a race with your kids? As a family? What helped make your experience a memorable one?