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You've signed up your child to run the Kids Run at your next race and you want it to be fun for the whole family. Here are some ways to prepare so everyone will have a good time.
TRAIN. If your child doesn't run much, make sure you go out a few times in the weeks before the event so they can practice running or walking for up to 5 minutes. Start with a minute of running or walking Then add a minute each you go out.
BRING FOOD TO THE EVENT. Kids Runs usually start late in the morning, after the main event, so have snacks like fresh fruit, bagels, pretzels, and water available while you're waiting. Running on an empty stomach is hard for all of us.
CLOTHING. Make sure your child understands they need to wear sneakers to run in, this is for their safety. Other than that, have some fun with clothes - tutus, sweatbands, costumes, sparkles. Just make sure it's comfortable and is easy to run in.
SCHEDULE. Make sure you know what time the Kids Run starts so you aren't rushing to the start line and you don't miss it. Arrive a few minutes early to warm up and listen to any instructions.
HAVE FUN. Most Kids Runs are not timed or competitive. If your child gets scared or upset during the Kids Run (it happens ALL the time) don't worry - just walk or skip, and cheer on the other runners. Try not to get upset - it'll be better next time.
CELEBRATE. Encourage your child to wear their medal or ribbon all day or bring it to school. Find a special place to display it in their room. Take photos and share them.
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Parents often wonder if they should run along side their child in the Kids Run or wait at the finish line and cheer. I love when parents run with their children at my Run Kids Run events. It always makes me smile to see families enjoying the sport together. I also appreciate those parents who recognize their kids have found their own passion for running and are happy to hang out on the sidelines cheering. Here are some things to consider for your child’s next running event:
Consider the rules. Make sure it’s allowed. Due to space or liability restrictions, some races simply don’t allow non-registered participants on the course. If you really want to run alongside your budding athlete, you might need to register and pay for a race bib too. Check the website or ask the race director for the rules.
Consider the course. A simple out and back course - that starts and finishes in the same place - is better for a child to run without an adult. The child will run right back to where they started. However, if a course is a point to point - where the start and finish are in different places - the child should understand what to do and where to meet family after they finish.
Consider their age. Older children like to run alone and are often faster than their parents. They understand to wait at the finish line (talk to your child before the race to decide where to meet). Younger children may be slower, need to stop on the course, and may get nervous.
Consider their running experience. Children who don’t have much experience with running can have a hard time pacing themselves and can get tired quickly, which can be scary. If your child is new to running, you may want to run alongside them.
Consider siblings. If you have two or more children who run at different paces, you’ll need to choose one to run with. Usually that's the slowest and youngest child, but make sure you have a plan with the older children so they know if you expect them to run with you or where to meet you at the finish line.
Consider their need to be independent. Many parents (especially those of us who run) are so excited when our children want to run races that we just want to be involved too. But many children want to do it themselves. If they don't need you to run with them, you can wait at the finish line taking photos.
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Just like any other area of your event, volunteers are essential for a safe and smooth Kids Run. Below are the roles that I have found the most useful when planning to manage a Kids Run
COORDINATOR – the first and most central appointment you make for the Kids Run is someone to manage it. Ideally this should be a staff person or other key volunteer (board member, long-time volunteer, or community leader) who is familiar to your organization and has no other overlapping commitments on race day.
This role requires someone who works well under pressure, is able to make quick decisions, can be assertive and possesses good management skills, can spot and react quickly to safety hazards, and is well versed on the event as a whole including the expo layout, main event course, security/medical services, chain of command, etc.
*This is the role that is typically held by Run Kids Run staff and begins months before event day.
LEAD RUNNER/CYCLIST – This person (or people if you expect a big group of kids) should be fast enough to stay ahead of the children and lead them along the course. Choose an experienced runner for this role because kids are FAST and they will easily overtake inexperienced runners. A great place to recruit a lead runner is your local run club or high school track team. In case you can’t find a fast runner, recruit a cyclist to stay ahead of the kids (make sure s/he wears a helmet – they are role models) or even a local police officer on a motorcycle. Make sure your “rabbit” arrives early so they can learn the course, warm up, and be properly introduced at the start line.
It’s a good idea to give the pacer a “head start” – meaning they start about 10-15 ft ahead of the start line - and remind the kids to stay behind him/her. Local track teams or sponsors can be invited to wear branded apparel but make sure it’s distinct and easy for the kids to spot – you want your lead runner to stand out from the crowd.
SWEEP – this is another important person at your event. The sweep stays behind the very last participant (this is often a 2 year old toddling along!) When your sweep passes the volunteers and crosses the finish line, they signify the end of the pack. This is a great role for a mascot, sponsor, or other “colorful” person who prefers to walk in the back.
START/FINISH LINE VOLUNTEERS – You’ll need a few people to help manage the start line. Families will begin lining up early so volunteers can help keep them entertained or at least keep them behind the start line. These volunteers can later help with ribbons/medals and water at the finish line. They should be in place when the kids start lining up and should stay in place until the sweep comes through.
COURSE MARSHALS– these volunteers are stationed along the course, at turns or potential “hot spots” - like side streets where children might accidentally make a wrong turn; at active driveways or alleys where cars may appear; at trip hazards like curbs, major pot holes and cracks; and where children potentially merge with main event runners/walkers.
Course marshals should be scheduled to arrive 45 minutes to an hour before the Kids Run start. This gives you plenty of time to walk them all through the course as a group, assign positions, and talk about their roles/responsibilities. An hour may seem like a long time before the start but maneuvering a group of volunteers (who are likely not runners) takes time, and the Kids Run leader needs to be back in time for warm ups and other volunteer placements.
Volunteers should wear clothing that identifies them as a course official (volunteer tshirts are fine) and can be given signs and noise makers to make them more festive. They should be instructed to be in place and ready for the kids run start at least 15 minutes before the start. They should stay there until the sweep passes them. They should also be instructed on what to do if a child gets injured or is having trouble on the course. Lastly, remind them to ditch their headphones and avoid phones during the event.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS:
Designate your volunteers with clothing or other distinguishable gear. By identifying your volunteers, children and parents will be able to ask for help from the right people.
Ask if your volunteers have experience with kids! Volunteers are people who want to help out or get school credit and many don’t like kids! If someone doesn’t like kids, send them elsewhere or give them a low-contact job like stocking the water table. You want people who are enthusiastic on the course and who can also help a child if they are having trouble. Find out if any of your volunteers have childcare, teaching, or babysitting experience – you can use them for the high-contact roles like managing the start line or more complex course sections that require crowd control.
DO NOT PUT ANY VOLUNTEERS INTO A DECISION-MAKING ROLE unless you are absolutely certain they can handle it.
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A virtual option for the Kids Run may be one of those fabled silver linings that came out of a brutal year of shutdowns, canceled events, and screen time overload. Allowing parents to take their child's Kids Run packet home supports parents in their efforts to get their kids moving again, while your event reduces overspending and waste. Without the constraints of timing chips, awards, and measured courses, the Kids Run is the perfect opportunity to let parents take race packets “to-go”.
Parents are notorious for registering their children at the last minute for Kids Runs – usually in the week prior to the race – and even the day-of. It’s not their fault, and it is not yours! Having children means being in a constant state of flux. Kids wake up with sniffles or with a case of the grumps; they get last minute invitations to birthday parties or sports activities; they suddenly decide they hate running after weeks of loving it.
Parents get wise to these mood swings and wait until the last minute to register. By doing so, they avoid potentially losing their registration fee, the stress of pleading with their child to get out of bed and come run with mommy, and the disappointment when emotions explode.
This uncertainty, however, leaves race directors with the guessing game of how many medals and shirts to order and what to do with the inevitable leftovers. And ultimately cursing their Kids Run for losing money and wondering if it’s worth continuing it.
2020 sucked but it taught us the importance of switching gears. It also put a spotlight on the concept of Virtual Runs. A Running USA Race Director Magazine article about the takeaways of a year of virtual racing inspired me to think about an exciting option for engaging more children in our events. What if we give parents the flexibility to have their child participate in our in-person Kids Runs or to take their race packet (including medal) home to create a virtual option in their backyard or park?
Kids Runs are inherently more flexible in this regard because they typically are not timed or measured, and don’t have awards categories (there’s no BQ for Kids Runs yet, I don’t think!). Sure, running with a big group of people on event day has advantages, but some children find it overwhelming and may prefer the comfort of running in their neighborhood with family or a group of friends. Here's why it may work for your event and your participants:
What’s In it for Parents:
What’s In It for Kids:
What’s in it for Race Directors:
Full disclosure, I haven’t had a chance to try this option yet since events are only just reopening here in California. But here are some considerations I thought of based on over a decade of working with running events and families:
Creating opportunities for children to be involved in the running community is an important part of being a race director. Some children naturally gravitate to our events because they love running, being around their peers, or doing the sports their parent loves. But for many children, large scale events like ours are intimidating or inconvenient. Finding creative ways to engage them with your event – with a virtual option - may inspire them to come back next year and is certainly a great way to open the door to the running community.
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When I ask Race Directors why they want to add a Kids Run to their existing or new running event, their answers usually reference childhood obesity and revenue. Great answers, but the benefits of adding a Kids Run go well beyond that and understanding these advantages can help you lean into them in your marketing and outreach.
The benefits of a Kids Run include reaching new audiences, attracting new sponsors and vendors, and taking advantage of new marketing outlets. Let's go into a little more detail:
REACH NEW AUDIENCES – beyond your typical runner scanning the race calendar for a goal race, fast 5K or, BQ, there are lots of families who are looking for something fun and active to do on the weekend with the kids. They may first come across your event through their relationship with another organization but the family activity may be what convinces them to sign up. Organizations where families connect include: