A LONG time ago I ran my first 5K. I wish I could remember the exact year but I believe I was 6 or 7 years old. I had done zero training and was not involved in any organized sports. I was just a typical kid who played and ran around outside at recess and after school. My sister who was a year younger than me ran in the 5K as well and we jog/ walked it together. I just remember thinking that it took FOREVER but when we received trophies in our age divisions (we were probably the only two even in our age group) it was totally worth it.
Between the ages of 6-14 I only competed in three 5K’s. I probably would have participated in more but we had 5 kids in our family and a lot going on during those years. I never really asked my parents about running them and they never made me feel like I had to race. It wasn’t until 8th grade that I really got into running.
A few years ago my oldest daughter ran her first 5K. She was 5. I had no idea what to expect but she had been to several of my races and wanted to run one herself. My husband ran the entire way with her, holding her hand 95% of the time. If he let go, Abi would reach up and grab it again.
Abi was thrilled to receive a medal for 3rd place in her age group when she finished. I really can’t remember what her time was for this race. (Upper 30’s, maybe?) She didn’t care about time and had no idea what that even meant. This race was just about doing it.
It’s been three years now and since that time she has probably run in another ten races or so. She knows what things mean like course, pace and time. She lives with a competitive runner so naturally she is around running and races more than the average kid.
My son who recently turned 7 has run in two 5K’s and while I think he has a ton of untapped athletic potential he is really not all the interested in it right now. He ran his first 5K just because Abi was doing it and the only reason he ran the second was because it was a glow in the dark race and he would get to wear a lot of glo rings. (He actually really liked that one so he may want to do it again. Who knows!)
I think the biggest thing to keep in mind with kids and racing is it really depends on the child. You cannot force them to enjoy them or even to do them. One child may love them and your next could care less. As I mentioned in my last post, Abi ran in a 10K yesterday. She initiated it all on her own and really wanted to try it. Will my son want to run a 10K next year when he’s 8? Probably not. (Honestly, I don’t see him ever wanting to run a 10K!)
I put together a few helpful suggestions (in no particular order) for kids and racing. You may have some of your own and please feel free to leave those as well in a comment.
1. Above all- remember they are a KID and any 5K or 1 Mile fun run should be FUN. They should not feel any pressure to compete or run a certain “time.” (Most won’t even know what that means if they are new to running.) Our only racing “rule” is that if they say they want to sign up for a race and we register them then they ARE going to do it. Before I register Abi for a race I ask her a few times is she sure she wants to run it. This is her chance to back out if she isn’t sure she wants to do it. She knows that if we pay for it she’s going to follow through and do it. Most kids entry fees range from $10-25 which is not a lot but it’s the principle more than anything. She has had a few Friday nights when pre-race nerves have made her question her decision. This is normal. I just remind her it doesn’t matter how fast she is. All she can do is her best and it doesn’t matter how she does next to anyone else.
|Abi LOVED collecting beads at Race for the Cure|
|We dressed up a little for this Christmas run together.|
|Kicking it in and beating her pregnant mama!|
|The Glo Run was a lot of fun for the kids|
2. Race locally! Local 5K’s are a great opportunity to introduce your kids to running. You do not have to wake up too early or travel. You know the race environment and maybe many of the participants. Local races tend to be smaller, low key and not as crowded. Smaller races are also nice because there is more of a chance that your child might win an age group award. I’ll be honest, while I love placing overall or in an age group myself I would MUCH rather Abi win something at a race than me. She knows she is not going to win anything overall but winning something in her age group is definitely a great confidence booster. I’m not implying that we need to inflate our kids egos with trophies but why not give them the opportunity to succeed at something and feel good about themselves.
Everyone knows that running is such a mental sport and it is just as much for kids as it is for adults. Kids need to know that they are good at something. A trophy or medal after a race provides an immediate reward for working hard physically and mentally. Kids need this. A 5K to a 5 year old might feel like a half marathon or marathon to an adult. I think that every child that participates in a race should receive a medal for competing- regardless if they place in their age group or not.
3. Run with them. Obviously, safety is a big issue and while most races have traffic controlled there is still the risk of a car not seeing someone so little as well many other things that could go wrong. Kids do not know which side of the road to run on and could also get lost. Once I was at a race and heard an announcement over the loudspeaker about a child who was halfway on the course and had just stopped. Apparently they were trying to locate the parents of this child who was running the 5K on their own. For whatever reason the child couldn’t finish the race and simply stopped on the side of the road until they came to pick them up. So sad!
John and I have both raced with the kids at times. He does it more than me because usually I am racing competitively but we make sure someone is with them. If I am racing myself I always jog to meet them during my cool-down so I can do the last part with them. Some others who have raced with them include their grandparents or Sarah, our college age friend/ babysitter.
4. Light “training” is not necessary but it does help. Again, this is for FUN and I’m not suggesting you start making them log miles or run mile repeats. But just like your kids might practice for soccer or tee-ball they could do a little practice for a 5K. This might consist of running around the block a few times a few days a week at least a week or two leading up to the race. Again, this is not necessary but it will help them and make the overall race experience much better. Plus, it’s just good for them!
My kids have something called the 100 Mile Club at their school. (I know I’ve mentioned this once or twice.) Basically they have from August until school ends in May to run 100 miles to earn their 100 mile pin. Along the way they have a few milestone pins they also receive: 10 miles, 25 miles, 50 miles and 75 miles. They can get their mile in before school if they get to the gym 20 minutes before school starts. The PE teacher runs this program and keeps track of all the miles that they run at school. Students can also log “outside” miles- basically anything run outside of school. Parents need to keep track of all the outside miles and turn them in periodically.
This was the first year that my kids participated in this program and I think it was really good for both my kids but especially my son. He has a lot of energy and while he would prefer to come home from school and jump on the couches this gave him a little physical outlet. It didn’t take long- just 10-12 minutes but he could get his mile in without much trouble. He is not into 5K’s like Abi but he can handle one mile at a time. My kids know that 20 times around our house OR 3 1/2 times around the block equals one mile.
|Running around the block with Anthony|
|April 4, 2013|
While I would love it if my kids someday run cross country and track in school the choice is ultimately theirs. They are still so young and my main goal right now is to make it fun and enjoyable. I want them to know that being healthy isn’t something that is limited to the young or the old. I want them to see how much John and I enjoy being active and they can too. I want my kids to learn that getting better at something takes time and practice. Getting better any anything takes hard work. They know I “practice” running everyday, usually while they are still asleep in the morning. They know I do not always win but I do my best. I want them to see an example of a mom who dreams big and shoots for the stars. I know they might not understand now or even when they are in high school or college but someday they will be 34 years old with a family of their own. I want them to know that you are never too old to have a goal.