Top 5 Family-friendly Marathons

Your kids getting to experience your race weekend: just one way family-friendly marathons are doing it right. Photo courtesy The Quad Cities Marathon

It wasn’t until this past spring—some six or so years into my running journey—when I truly appreciated what my husband has experienced as a spectator and my No. 1 fan at my numerous races. More specifically, I realized exactly what he’d been going through as a spectator with our three kids. It was in May when, coming off running Boston and needing to give my body a break from racing, I sat out a planned half-marathon and instead enthusiastically took on the role of cheerleader for Joe as he ran the 10K event—his first road race in more than a decade. I had known it wasn’t always easy to corral kiddos on the sidelines, but I definitely gained fresh insight into the work involved to include your family in the entire race weekend experience, from finding just the right cheering spots and keeping the troops happy while waiting for Daddy to go by, to making it to the finish line in time and capturing post-race moments. It’s loads of fun, but it can be a lot of work.

Which is why it’s so awesome when you can find family-friendly races—the kinds of events that recognize the significance of catering not only to runners, but to the most important support crew in runners’ lives: their families. Lucky for we mother runners, there are plenty of family-friendly races out there, as evidenced by the dozens of responses we received this summer from the AMR tribe on our Facebook page (remember when we asked about your top family-friendly marathon? Many thanks to those who chimed in!). From those comments, we’ve compiled a list, done some of our own digging into these races, and come up with the top five events—we’ve focused on marathons, but as some of you reminded us, 13.1 miles is an especially popular distance and therefore you’ll see these events also feature half-marathons, too. Without further ado, our Top 5 Family-Friendly Marathons (in no particular order):

Quad Cities Marathon: Held in late September, this 26.2 is fast and flat, and starts and ends in downtown Moline, Ill. Here’s what mother runner Jessica shared about the event that covers five races, four cities, three bridges, two states, and one island, all along the Mississippi River: “This race was so easy for my family to move around and see my run … the kids’ micro-marathon the day before was over the top! Best kids run event I’ve ever seen or been to!” This kids’ event, by the way, includes jump houses, balloons, face painting, pizza, and specially-designed finisher’s medal and goodie bags with a cost of $10 and registration available up until race time.

Pittsburgh Marathon: This race—it takes place May 5, 2013—was mentioned several times by AMR Tribe members. As Stacey described it, “They have a kids’ event with a medal for them and lots of families cheering on the runners.” The 26.2 course runs along the rivers of the city, with a challenging hill that takes you into the university area of Pittsburgh. Bonus: The final five miles are downhill. The event also features a half-marathon, marathon relay, 5K, and Saturday kids “marathon,” a one-mile fun run with finisher’s medal and goodie bag. Lots of sight-seeing possibilities pre- and post-race, too.

Missoula Marathon: This “spectacular full and half,” as mother runner Christi describes it, takes you through neighborhoods and into downtown Missoula, MT. Adds Michelle: “They do a kids marathon where the kids then run the final 1.2 on Saturday before the marathon. This is huge!” Kali also spoke highly of this race, which is slated for July 14, 2013, citing the “tons of family activities … a 5K on Saturday, the day before, for the non-marathon running spouse and a beer run on Friday … and great parks and rivers to play in.”

Disney Marathon: For obvious reasons, these races definitely prove to be favorites for mother runners everywhere. “Six months later and my husband is still talking about how much fun he had spectating,” posted Janelle, whose family stayed in a hotel at Disney, on the race course. “My family got to sit on the balcony and watch the runners. I was able to take a shuttle to the start so that the fam didn’t have to get up early.” Disney offers a slew of race events: marathon, half-marathon, 10-miler, kid events, and more. Expect more crowds, experienced Disney runners say, but overall the experience is well worth the effort. There's simply something for everyone.

Marquette Marathon: A decidedly smaller, lower-key marathon, this late summer event in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula packs a punch for families seeking a quieter yet fulfilling race experience, as AMR Tribe member Cheryl explains. “It’s a beautiful course, there are many kid parks along the route so your support crew can follow you and cheer, it’s not too crowded and there are many hotels.” The course is relatively flat and scenic, taking you past some of Marquette’s most notable locations. These sights include Presque Isle, the Marquette lighthouse, iron ore docks, and miles and miles of Lake Superior shoreline. A kids run is held the night before the main event. Next year’s event is slated for Aug. 31.

We know there are lots­­ of other stellar family-friendly races out there, so let us know: What marathon (or half-marathon) have you run lately that’s been especially great for you and your family?





11 responses to “Top 5 Family-friendly Marathons

  1. Do you all have our minivan bugged? My husband and I just had this talk after my race on Sat. We didn’t feel it was super family friendly in Baltimore. I’m so saving this. I think the next race we would like to find a sitter for the kids and have a nice mom & dad date run. Maybe save smaller races for kids. Yes, I’m still learning. Kids did love seeing the big race.

  2. Fort 4 Fitness in Fort Wayne Indiana. Usually the last weekend in September. They have a children’s event on Friday, a senior citizens event, then a 4 miler, 10 k and 1/2 marathon. They allow strollers on the 4 mile walk/run. It is held in a baseball stadium where family and friends can hang out and then see the finish line. It is our favorite race of the year.

  3. Pittsburgh is a great marathon! I have run the full, the half (numerous times) and the relay. Definitely challenging (hilly), but so much crowd support and just an all around great weekend. Dimity and Sarah, you should check it out in 2013!! (May 5th- already signed up)

  4. I agree with Missoula. The finish is close to a carrousel and one of the coolest playgrounds I’ve seen. There seems to be plenty of space for spectators throughout the course. There’s also a farmer’s market near the finish where my daughter had her face painted, got to pet exhibit bugs, and ate plenty of locally baked cookies (after using sanitizer, of course).

  5. Yes the QC Marathon is fantastic! The kids race is during packet pick-up which is super convenient. Then the race course is great and easy to navigate. Mile 20 is a couple blocks from the finish line, so my family could see me at 20 and then again at 26. Then I met my daughter and fam in the after party and only had to walk two blocks to our car. Easy peasy and not boring for them!

  6. I have to put a huge plug in for the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Marathon. The race is in 9 days and is beautiful. The colors are changing up here and the course is awesome. They have a full, half and relay, plus the day before you can run a 5k or 10k and there are children’s races. Great finish party too.

  7. Definitely the Great Race of Agoura in Los Angeles. It is in the Spring, so not too hot yet. It offers two different half marathon courses – one road/trails and one mostly trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. It also has a 10k, 5k, and kids 1-mile. My kids and I did the 5k last spring and had a blast! The 5k is officially called the ‘Deena Kastor 5k’ as she grew up in the area. We all got a great big medal for finishing. Then, with the medal, the kids get free entry into the amazing finish line festival with lots of bouncy houses, slides, “sumo” wrestling, lots of food, face painting, etc… We stayed at the festival for a few hours. So much fun!

  8. I was so surprised to see the Marquette Marathon mentioned! That’s practically my hometown and it’s definitely a race on my bucket list for when I retire from the Army. Thanks for making my day by mentioning home!

  9. My husband is from Pittsburgh so I have thought about the Pittsburgh marathon in the past,
    especially since I’ve never been there.
    Maybe I should give it another look? Thanks!

    1. I went to college in the ‘burgh, and I looked at the map, it looks like it hits all the fun neighborhoods of the city. If I survive my first marathon in February, I might consider this one for another year.

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