How to Ace a Race With Kids – Part I

5 Miles
Sloggy, Soggy Strides

I told you that I’d be back to give you more details on the PCRF 5k...but mostly, this is your somewhat informed guide to surviving a 5k with multiple children.  I’ve raced with Strawberry a handful of times, but Sunday was the first attempt to get 3 kids between 6-8 and to run a 5k.

I *mostly* survived.

Photo courtesy of the fabulous running photog Heather

Photo courtesy of the fabulous running photog Heather

In order to do this effectively, I really think you need to hit all 3 -ace’s:
-Pick your Race
-Pick your Place
-Pick your Pace

Honestly, I think it’s worth a few posts to cover this appropriately, so today I’ll just cover the first one – Picking your Race.

Pick Your Race
First of all, be smart about your race.  Embrace your inner Goldilocks and remember, not too big, not too small…but get that race size juuuuust riiiiight.

The Big Kahuna Perks & Pouts:
Don’t pick a 5k with 8,000 relatively competitive runners all trying to PR.  Last spring I did a Hot Chocolate 5k with Strawberry for his 7th birthday (his race entry was what he actually asked for as a gift…he’s corrupted already).  It was a little chaotic since it was a fairly sizable race, and I spent a lot of time body checking people (don’t mess with mama bear) the first 3/4 of a mile or so as we went around a lot of corners to ensure my little man didn’t get taken out by a rogue, PR-setting adult.

Unbridled, gut wrenching tenacity...

That said, we pretty much forgot about all our woes as the race thinned out, he got a new PR (28:45) and then we dove head first into chocolate, chocolate, chocolate…which I truly think is how every race should end if kids are involved.

The pros of a bigger race – the crowd support and post-race goodies.  At the end of the Hot Chocolate 5k, we hit the last half mile which had a ton of cheers, cowbells and general chaos that kids love. The little man realized he could get a new PR if he broke loose…I’ve never seen a kid kick it into high gear for so long at the end of the race and I attribute this less to eating his Wheaties that morning and more to the hundreds of people screaming for him.

Let’s face it, as a kid, running 3.1 miles is a lot of work, so some sugar, smiles and shout outs from the crowd are always monstrously fun during and after a race.


Teeny Tiny Perks and Pouts:

Strawberry’s first 5k was a really small local race up in the San Fernando Valley and it was just about 120 people or so and was fairly disorganized.  The great news was I didn’t have to drag a crabby, overtired 6 year-old to a chaotic starting line uber early in the morning.

Strawberry's First 5k

Strawberry’s First 5k

And while family was waiting at the finish line, it was pretty anti-climatic along the course and he didn’t get quite the same buzz as he has with medium-to-larger sized races.  In addition, he had total and utter disappointment that he did not get a medal.  Let’s face, it at 6.5 bling is your thing.

That said, it was nice not to worry about craziness, crowds, and parking and to just focus on running….

Other Tips

  • If you can find races with a “Walk” option or that are targeted towards kids or families (like PCRF, a color run, a chocolate run…or basically any gimmick run out there) you’re sure to find a great race that’s large enough to feel like a big freaking deal to a little person, but small enough to not worry about constantly losing your children or them dying of a New Balance & Newton stampede.
  • Also remember that no matter how tired your kids are during the race and how much they complain, you’re literally going to find nothing more fun than free stuff, rides and attention at a killer post-race celebration.
  • I also like to write my kid’s names on their bibs or give them a cutesy t-shirt with something (for Strawberry’s birthday run he wore a shirt that said, “Wish me a Happy 7th birthday” and I wore one that said, “Wish the cute redhead next to me a happy birthday”) so people can cheer for them specifically.
  • For little kids, bling is just as important as it is to Dolly Parton in her stage getups – it matters!  After Strawberry’s first 5k, he didn’t get so much as a piece of paper acknowledging his race.  Though he as pretty high on himself, he was a little bummed to not have a “souvenir” to remember the event.

(In other news he asked me what a souvenir was the other day and I explained, “It’s something you take and/or keep to remember a time and/or place.  Kind of like you’re a souvenir from my 20’s”…sadly my lame joke actually got him to understand the concept)

Any other tips?

I actually am curious at what age you would actually let your kid run a 5k alone…this has been a heated topic in our house lately.

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12 thoughts on “How to Ace a Race With Kids – Part I

  1. I let my oldest run alone when she was… 11? But I probably would have let her do it earlier, if we were into running when she was younger. If it’s a decent sized race, and he has generally good judgement, I’d let him go and just make sure he had clear instructions where to wait for you.

    You should check out Corona del Mar Scenic 5k – AMAZING food at the end, no medals, but great crowd support. We’ll be there, I think my husband is spectating, so he could be a kid catcher at the finish line 😀

  2. My son is 2 years old, and I think he’s probably ready for a 1K already. Thanks for the great info. Looking forward to the next installments. Love the “lame” joke. 🙂

  3. Great tips. I’ve been racing w/ both of my kids (although not at the same time) for several years now. I totally agree about the size of the race–I think a big one would make me a nervous wreck worrying about them!

  4. How could I just now be realizing that you have Neapolitan ice cream living in your house? AWESOME.

    I have never raced with kids. But I’ve raced in races where parent/child combos appear or are encouraged. I don’t even the task of choosing the right starting spot, thought. That task is almost impossible for ME, even – nevermind me + kiddo – especially since kids don’t have the most developed ideas about pacing. But I’m pretty much OK with it – I like seeing kids out and running. [Parents clogging up course flow by STOPPING to take photos of their child, though? Not cool!]

    If I had a hypothetical child, I think the age would depend on the kind of race, the route, the visibility, and how many potential spectators/checker-uppers were available to stand along the course. What about letting them run “alone”, with you still in the race, just a respectful distance away/behind, so you could still keep an eye out?

  5. I lost my daughter during a big city race last year and it was awesome, I mean, scary. She was doing great and I yelled ‘Go ahead, we’ll see you at the finish!’ and went back to motivating the little guy. 1.5kms later we were at the finish line and I couldn’t find her anywhere. Sure enough she was right where she was supposed to be. She never got scared she just assumed we were really slow and hadn’t finished yet. Now we joke about it every time and make better plans.

  6. Pingback: How To Ace A Race With Kids – Part II | Striding Mom

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