How To Ace A Race With Kids – Part II

The other day I discussed the first step in racing with kids – Pick a Race.

Today, we’ll look at the next two steps:  Pick a Place & Pick a Pace

After a mud run...

After a mud run…I thought 3 boys would like this, but they were mostly just cold and didn’t like waiting in line to shower & change before I let them in the car.

Picking a Place
When I talk about “Place” I really mean teaching your kids about race etiquette.  In order for them to really enjoy the experience, I think it’s important for them to have spent some time around races so they know the culture, the crowds, the noise, the expectations.  It helps alleviate the shell shock so when they show up with race day adrenaline pumping through their teeny tiny veins.  They can handle the whole experience better this way.

Potty Talk
One thing I was surprised by (especially as a parent of boys, was the shock of having to stand in line for bathrooms and then…gasp…they smell and are dirty.  Given their propensity to and love for peeing in any bush without question, this was a little surprising.  Also, most racers are willing to let a hippity, hopping, crotch clutching kid cut in line if they really need to go.  Maybe I should bring them to all of my races?

Proof my kids do like each other and get along.  Also at the start of the PCRF 5k Source

Proof my kids do like each other and get along. Also at the start of the PCRF 5k Source

Corral Crowds

By far the most unnerving part is starting in the corral.  In typical fashion, kids just want to go to the front of the line.  This is not the time nor place for you kid to be the line leader (unless it’s a kid’s race or they are running a 14-18 minute 5k).

Yes I know it’s exciting, yes I like being there too, but I usually have a conversation that goes something like this:

“Honey, see that man who looks like a praying mantis he’s so tall and lean and is wearing a pair of shorts that is smaller than most of the diapers you wore? Yes, honey, he’s going to be eyeing the finish line before you even hit mile marker 1, so let’s let him go in front. kthanksbye.”

Vanilla running a kids run

Vanilla running a kids run

It’s also a matter of safety:  the first 1/4 to 1/2 mile of a race is everyone trying to get into their pace, break free from the crowds, etc.  It’s really easy for focused runners to not see the pint-sized competitors and trip over them causing a major safety hazard in a crowded start.

Cool Rules
Also make sure kids know the rules in advance:  stay on the course, don’t dart from side to side tripping up other runners, etc.  By now, I am making this sound like an awful lot of fun, eh?  My writing is probably coming across like Charlie Brown’s teacher, but there are also some other rules I teach my kids as well…

Laguna Hills Marathon Chocolate

Chocolate running a 1k when he was 3

Laugh, Laugh, Laugh – this is fun…make jokes, raise your hands and yell how far you’ve gone at the mile markers (my favorite is to do the Count from Sesame Street at each mile marker….”One! One mile…hah hah hah hah!”)

-Water Days – I’ll never forget the first time my kids each hit a water station and I explained they could take a sip and THROW the cup to the side on the ground.  Then I explained you could even pour the water on your own head (not anyone else’s unless you ask first).  The giggles, smiles and memories that come from the water tables are probably the best of the race (other than the finish line of course).

And now for the last and probably simplest rule:  Pick your Pace.

By nature, kids push boundaries- that’s what they were designed to do.  They will want to go out sprinting and will die about 1/4 of a mile in, and they have a long way to go…ensure that they aren’t going gangbusters too early- especially their first few races.  As Strawberry has gotten more experienced, I’ve noticed he can usually hold his own pace…but sometimes I need to just get him slowed down out of the gate (uh, he clearly gets this from his mother).

Photo courtesy of Heather

Photo courtesy of Heather.  What? You didn’t know there were Team Gab mini-dresses? #mommyneedslongershorts

If you can get another adult to help split kids into groups that run a similar pace – I could not recommend this more.

Push vs. Pull
Now comes the part, I struggle the most with – where do you go from challenging and encouraging your kids to pushing them.  At the PCRF 5k, I was running with two kids who have entirely different abilities.  It was so frustrating.  I was having to hold one back and try not to push the other one too far.  Apparently my “You’re amazing, you can do this, just a little bit further honey’s!” were too much because at mile 2.25 he yells,


At the finish line Source

At the finish line – not annoyed now are we? Source

Each kid is different – some need a little external motivation, others do juuuust fine on their own.  Just remember, at the finish line, you don’t want them to hate you.

Stop vs. Go
Also remember that your kid might want to stop or walk for a few minutes.  Be sure to pull them to the side to do this.  Also, while the event us super memorable, don’t run ahead and stop to take pictures if the course is crowded.  Not only can it annoy some racers, but can actually be very dangerous and create a tripping hazard resulting in a domino effect tripping & falling fiasco.

Do you cheer for kids on the course?

What’s the most amazing kid racing situation you’ve witnessed?

I always like watching kids push it at the end – they truly understand how to give it their all and do it moreso than most adults, so I could watch the last 100 yards of a 5k with kids  I wish I could bottle that tenacity up and pour it in my coffee every morning!


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.

PCRF 5K Race Review & Recap

8 Miles
Coulda Gone on Forever Strides

3.1 Miles
5k Dominating, Kid Wrangling Strides

This morning was the perfect morning to run a long distance race.  Mid-50’s, overcast with a slight mist and slight winds.  But I got to have the awesome experience of not having my physical endurance tried, just my emotional patience as I tried to wrangle 3 kids to the early start line of the PCRF 5k.

IMG_3501After an early wakeup call, and the realization that one of said children had hit up my waning supply of Nuun tattoos, we parked at the Irvine Spectrum and walked on over to the start line.

You want to know what’s more fun than finding out that there’s no bathroom lines at the Port-a-Potties?

Explaining why you must go to the bathroom to 3 kids between the ages of 6-8 and telling them they will absolutely not die going in to a portable bathroom.  Newsflash:  Everyone survived.


PCRF is a medium-sized, super family friendly race that really is the best of the best if you want your kids to try out a 5k.   It was Vanilla & Chocolate’s first 5k, and Strawberry walked around strutting his stuff trying to figure out if it was his day for a PR (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t, but it wasn’t his fault).

We hit the starting line and caught Heather in the corral and set off.  Right away we split into two teams (one adult with Vanilla and Chocolate and Strawberry decided to try the “fast race” with me).  By the mile mark we realized that this was not Chocolate’s day and we were going far slower than his fleet footed brother’s patience could bear.  I spent the entire race trying to keep them from killing one another.  More on this later this week when I talk about how to race with small children.

It’s a relatively flat, quick course (maybe I’ve been running too many longer races, I have no idea what a good 5k course is anymore so correct me if I’m wrong) and with a half mile left I realized there was virtually no crowd support and I was watching kid after kid between the ages of 8-10 blow past us, so I let Strawberry take the wheels out for a little spin and told him to wait by the medal hander outer at the finish line until I got there.

Strawberry finished in 29 minutes and change.  Chocolate in 30:05 and Vanilla in 35 and change.  They had a great time running….but then the real fun began.


Jump around...jump up, jump and get down!

Jump around…jump up, jump and get down!

The expo after is pretty much every 5k running kid’s dream.  Despite the protests that the legs were too tired to walk/run on the course, they suddenly found renewed strength and stamina to tackle fun things like: trampoline jumping, waiting in line to get Jamba Juice, Juice it Up, popcorn, free hot dogs, free corn dogs, photo booths, caricature drawings, etc.  We stayed for several hours and probably could have lasted longer had the winds not picked up and I hadn’t started freezing.  #socalweenie

Corndogs at 8am?  Why not?!

Corndogs at 8am? Why not?!

I have to say that this race is so family friendly.  My grandmother was in town visiting and the parking was so far away from the post-race area and she has a hard time walking around.  I stopped by the solutions tent and within minutes they had me in a van driving to the Spectrum Center to pick her up….that’s taking family friendly to a whole ‘nother level.


Family bonding over the first 5k!

Overall, if you’re looking for a super family friend race or if your bambinos are wanting to take the 5k plunge, I couldn’t recommend this race any more highly.  It’s enough people to be exciting, not enough to worry about them getting chucked off the course like a person in Pamplona…the after race festivities are beyond fabulous and even the “inefficiencies” (craptastic parking) can provide a workaround if you need it.

Do you ever race with your kids?

What’s your favorite post-race activity?