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
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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…
-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).
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,
“STOP MOM YOU’RE BEING ANNOYING!”
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 all.day.long. I wish I could bottle that tenacity up and pour it in my coffee every morning!