Kids and running–like a box of chocolates…

How to cultivate a running familyYou never know what you’re going to get. Yesterday, my daughter picked the wrong piece of candy, let me tell you! I’ve been running races with both kids off and on for several years now. We’ve run side by side on trails and roads, been relay partners, and I’ve cheered both of them on from the sidelines in local track and cross-country events, as well as triathlons. The one thing I’ve learned from these experiences is that the highs can be really high, and the lows can be really low. Trouble is, you don’t know until you are in the midst of it which race your child is going to have.

Yesterday my daughter and I ran her school’s 5k race together. She’s been training fairly consistently for this between weekly cross-country practice and usually one run per week with me at her side. Sometimes those runs are a mile, sometimes two. I always let her set the pace and pick the distance on the given day we “train.” She’s had plenty of good 5ks in the past and she was pretty excited about this one, too. But…it was one of those down days. (translation-misery for mom!)

Very early on in the race, one of her shoes came untied (I know–rookie mistake, mom). We stopped to tie it and in the mean time, lots of people got a way from us. We moved on though and at that point, she was still in a decent mood. Then the shoe came undone again–and so did she.

The final mile and a half and the demon was unleashed. I was” mean.” I dared to run one inch in front of her (her reaction was to stop dead until I got behind her). I told her how much we had left in the race. I pointed out a cute Halloween decoration in a yard!Β The list of abuses I doled out continued. Finally, mercifully, we were finished.

I think that when kids run distance events at this age (she’s almost nine), you have to give into the fact that their maturity levels aren’t always equivalent to their physical abilities. They may indeed want to run a race, but that doesn’t mean that the experience is going to live up to their expectations. We all know that feeling and it’s no fun. But we’re adults and we have better coping mechanisms.

I did all the things I think a supportive parent should after the race: I told her I was proud of her; I told her it’s not about the time but about completion; and gave her some space to cool down. After we had been back home for a couple of hours, she came out of her room and asked me if we could start training at an eight-minute pace. I told her that was too fast right now, but that we could do some things to help her run faster races, if that was what she wanted.Β She smiled and said yes and asked when we could next run a 5k together. I think Thanksgiving may be our target, but no matter what, I will go in with my coat of armor ready and my fingers crossed. Because you never know what you’re going to get.

Anyone else ever have that negative race experience with their kids? I welcome any wisdom you have for avoiding those bad race days!


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  1. says

    I tried managing my almost 8.5 year old and my 6 year old in the same race (and they have two VERY different paces). Despite my Pollyanna voice encouraging just how great everyone was doing and how there was just a little left I had one hysterically crying and one hysterically whining. Too fast, too slow…Goldilocks was nowhere to be found :(
    Sheila recently posted..True Confession Thursday: Random Running MusingsMy Profile

  2. Stephanie says

    I have 3 boys and we run together al.the time. What do you recommend to do with your kids to help them get faster? (that’s if they are interested :)

  3. says

    My boys are only four so I have yet to run a real race with them. I hear stories like this A LOT so I’m hoping to be somewhat prepared but…as it usually goes with kids, you just don’t know what’s going to happen until it does! Good job saying and doing all the right things mom!!! It has to be SO very hard!!
    Allie recently posted..My MeltdownMy Profile

      • bob says

        Yeah, pretty snarky. I just think it’s funny that it seems to take going out and running a mile and a half with your daughter to see the “demon” unleashed. I’m certain that many parents see the demon just trying to get their kids clothed, fed and out the door (maybe you do too, sometimes). Just ribbing you a little.

  4. says

    I have a ‘bucket list’ item to get EITHER of my boys to run a race with me … even a 5k! And they are 17 and 15.5 … :)

    A good friend at work has hip issues so she can no longer really run, but does little one mile or 5k things for her daughter’s school … and she sent pictures from near the finish of the last one and said her 6-year old daughter was mad at her the whole mile and calling her mean and the tears were starting and all of it … so I think it just goes along with growth!
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  5. Kaylynne says

    Love that you run with your kids! Just found this blog after it was linked from Olivetorun. I laughed when you mentioned all the reasons you were ‘mean’ because on a bad run, I bet most adults would find the same reasons to be grumpy with a running partner…they just might not be as vocal about it! I’ve definitely had bad runs that made me hate every single thing my running buddy said or did haha!

    • MissZippy says

      Glad to have you over here! Yes, pointing out Halloween decorations can be a slippery slope with a grumpy runner!

  6. says

    I had never thought about this side of racing with your little ones. Such good points. Racing is tough mentally, and that can be especially tough for a kid.

    One day I would LOVE to have a little running family, but this is definitely some food for thought. You gotta work hard to keep it fun. Thanks for sharing this side of racing.
    Krysten Siba Bishop (@darwinianfail) recently posted..Race Recap: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half MarathonMy Profile

  7. says

    Oh, no!! I’m so glad that later in the same day she was already planning another race!!! My youngest son wants to run a half marathon in late April or early May to celebrate turning 13 in April. I told him we could do it but I’m a little worried about that distance – he has only run about 3.5 miles so far. I told him he will have to train!!!
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  8. says

    Yeah I had one with my daughter in 2012. Canada Day 5K here. She wanted to run it, her third 5K that summer. I didn’t really want her to, because she hadn’t been training and I knew she’d have a hard time. Well it was super hot and she struggled. I had to push to get her to finish, telling her if she started, she finishes, even if it’s slowly. Well it wasn’t pretty. I told her after that, no more races unless she planned on preparing for them in some way. I think she learned the lesson though, that it’s not as easy as it seems.
    Robin recently posted..Marathon #10 Completed – The Race of My LifeMy Profile

  9. says

    :) This post is a good reminder of the reality of working with kiddos. My daughter has ramped up in sports this year, she’s got two different sports going at once, (keeping me a bit busier than usual), and these highs and lows I see are common. I’ve seen meltdowns of children who didn’t do as well as they thought they would going into a sporting event to kids just taking it all casually as it comes. I think it’s important to let the kids experience the feelings and frustrations – after all, they must get used to the lows as well as the highs. Glad to read she rebounded with renewed enthusiasm later!

  10. says

    I haven’t been able to run *with* my kids in years. My oldest beat me at his first 5K when he was in 4th grade. My younger son ran with me one time, though, and it was awesome. I told him at the starting line that I was NOT going to run with him, that I would be far ahead of him running my own race. Wouldn’t you know it, that stubborn little monkey ran with me the whole time and earned a good 3-minute PR! Ever since he realized he could run that fast, though, I’ve been the slowpoke in the family. LOL!

  11. says

    I ran a 5 miler called “beat the bridge” with my oldest a couple years ago. You try to beat the bridge before it rises. If you don’t then you have to wait until it comes back down to continue the race. You run 2 miles to get to the bridge and my son really wanted to beat it, but he was complaining and almost to the point of tears. I kept on him like a drill sergeant while onlookers gave me dirty looks like I was a horrible mom;) He ended up beating the bridge. Afterwards he thanked me for helping him beat the bridge. He said there was no way he would have without me pushing him on. It made me feel so good even though he was mad at me during the race;) We raced it together again last May and he PR’d by 10 minutes with me right by his side. So awesome!!
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  12. says

    It’s hard to be Mom, coach and pacer. You manage to have to wear all the abuse when it doesn’t go well. But at least they generally don’t hold a grudge for all the sins we’ve committed (seriously, what were you thinking pointing out cute Halloween decorations to distract her??).

    I used to coach my sons in discus and it was often the most stressful thing of the week.
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  13. says

    I was just talking to my son this morning about running a kids fun run and it’s such a fine line between encouraging/pushing and making sure that it’s truly something that they want to do. I also find that I often assume that my kids are more mature than their age because they tend to act more mature than their age. But I have to remind myself that they are just kids and their emotions and reactions are often raw and right at the surface. I’m glad that your daughter was able to bounce back after the race and you did a great job being their for her!
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  14. says

    This is going to be something I will need to come back and read in a few years :) My 6 year old loves to run but has only done a 1 mile race and a couple fun runs. I look forward to the day we can run a 5k together, but I’ll need to remember it won’t always be fun for us both!
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    • MissZippy says

      I think it’s smart to let them run their own races, as you did. I just love to run with her (unless I’m being verbally abused of course!) and so I never give up those chances. Our CC is actually a club program, a jr. version of my adult club. We don’t middle school sports here at all, so clubs pick up all of the slack and start young.

  15. Katie O says

    I have run 5ks with my son since he was about 8. As soon as he could run without me we would try and ‘beat the spread’ – taking our best recent 5k times. At first the spread was in his favor, but got smaller and smaller as he got faster and faster. (This way, even if I ran faster than he did he could still ‘beat the spread’ and feel like he beat me). We evened out about 2 years ago and now he is a high school freshman who ran a 3 mile race in 17:20 last week, I am a 47 year old who is not getting much faster and thus the spread will just continue to get larger and larger in my favor!!
    Enjoy running with your kids – it is such a blast!!

  16. says

    I think it’s incredibly awesome that you two run together – good days and (especially) bad days. I didn’t find running until after college and I often find myself wishing that it was something that I shared with my parents. I love seeing parents and their kids running together. It just seems like such a great way to bond and spend time together. Much better than sitting in front of a TV with everyone on their own computer/mobile phone/tablet and not speaking to one another!
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