Running Together as a Family

Ruth Cogswell and Grace Steinberg happily crossing the finish line

More than 30,000 runners filled the streets of Chicago for the 35th anniversary Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K. “It was a great day to kick off the outdoor running season in Chicago,” sayes Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski. “Given the historic winter we’ve had, the large turnout is a testament to the commitment of the Chicago running community.”

The cool weather on race day still brought families and kids of all ages out to participate. In fact, according to race officials, 359 of the total finishers were children ages 8 to 14 and 922 between 8 and 19. It is so sweet seeing families participate together; reminding us that fitness is a family activity too. “Kids will get into running on their own if their parents lead by example. There is a great energy that surrounds road racing and if their parents are out there running them, the kids will catch the bug and want to be a part of it,” says Wendy Jaehn, Chicago Area Running Associations (CARA) executive director.

With the large amount of participation in a race like Shamrock it’s not necessarily the best ‘first’ race for children in my opinion, but Ms. Jaehn has advice for if you opt to try. “If the kid have run similar distances, they should be able to handle it even if it means frequent breaks. I would recommend that parents start in the later corrals and make sure they let their child set the pace and watch how they respond. Given the larger races, parents should stay with their kids and not let them race on their own. With a race like Shamrock, you can make it more fun with dressing in a costume, wearing green and things like that to add to the child’s experience. The more fun they have, the more they will want to do it.”

Running in costumes most definitely makes it fun like how the mother daughter duo Ruth and Grace from Arlington Heights ran (see photo above!). My own daughter, who just started Girls on the Run this year, enjoys the program because of the encouragement and goal setting of training to run a 5k in May. Our girls have grown up with parents who drag them around to races on weekends and now they are participating, which is, wonderful and gets us moving as a family.

I’m usually worried about injury, given my own knee issues but Ms. Jaehn says kids are natural runners. “As long as they are enjoying it and not being pushed into it, they will be fine. As for the distance, each kid is different. I would recommend getting kids into shorter races (dashes, mile races, 5ks) first to see how they do. My oldest who is almost 9 wanted to run Shamrock but I want to wait another year before having him run that distance.”

CARA is offering options for kids. “One of the reasons why CARA started our youth racing circuit is to allow kids under the age of 12 to compete against each other at age-appropriate distances,” explains Ms. Jaehn, that “Parents need to encourage their kids. Just tell your kid that you just love to watch them run. They need to know that their parents will be proud no matter if they come in first or last.”

Now that spring is officially here, you’ll find a ton of great races in the city and suburbs. According to Ms. Jaehn, “There are a lot of great races out there (look for the CARA certification of course!), and I encourage to look for races that also have a charity component so kids can learn about how the races gives back. I also would encourage parents to let their kids know that any time they want to run for fun, even it is just around the block, that they make themselves available to their kids to do so.” And you’ll likely create some memories along the way. “Some of my best conversations with my oldest son is when we go for a run together,” she adds.

CARA offers a youth Racing Circuit for shorter races, which is a way to get kids running and competing with kids their own ages (age groups are 8 and under, 9-10, 11-12) and not just lumped into the 14 & under standard age group for most races. By joining CARA you’ll receive discounts. Youth memberships start at $15, or join as a family for $65 be sure to click here to learn more about the memberships and races that are available.

Christine Bachman

About Christine Bachman

Christine Bachman is founder and president of Plan It PR, a public relations and marketing firm. The mother of five shares tips and survival stories in “Play Dates and Power Lunches.” Ms. Bachman started working public relations after a long career in broadcast journalism, which included work as a television anchor, reporter and producer.