She ran one lap around (400 meters) and we just stopped and watched her. Whaaaa? Look at her—-she looks like some kind of…runner. Wow, Stretch—good job! You ran all the way around the track! Whoa, what is she doing? She’s going around a second time? Nah, don’t worry—she’s wearing a dress and sandals–her feet are going to start hurting. She’ll get tired—she doesn’t realize how long it is. Um. I think she’s going all the way around again. Look at the expression on her face—it’s like when she’s swinging really high at the park. Look–twice around. What is that, a half mile?
This week, I was reminded of the first time I saw Stretch run around a track. A few years back, there was a traveling Jackie Robinson exhibit on the Bryant University campus. We had brought Stretch, then four years old, and LittleMan (Jackie Robinson’s namesake), then eighteen months, to see the exhibit, and we also figured that it would be a nice place to let the kids safely run amok for a little while on a beautiful June day. Well, run amok they did. We had no idea that Stretch would be drawn straight to the track, skipping the dandelions to pick and the bleachers to climb, and not even noticing the lemonade truck (at least not until it was pulling away–oh, the humanity).
She has since experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The Fun Run for Kids, the Open Meet at the local track club, and her first 5K race. She has been followed by her little brother, who loves a good race–and whose Toddler Marches turned into sprints, and whose sprints have now turned into half miles. She has been hot, lukewarm, and cold, but she always comes back to running. This summer she spent a week at track camp, where likeminded kids are trying out the various track events in a non-competitive environment.
Over the years, our family has found running to be one of the purest, easiest, and funnest fitness activities for kids. Families can run (any distance, any speed) together, or parents can stand in the center of a track and just watch the kids go. Kids can run to compete or just run for fun. They can learn to compete against themselves, setting goals and striving to beat their own records (and resourceful parents can sneak a lot of math into the record-keeping). They can watch older children and adults run, and catch the spirit of the race as they cheer on complete strangers in awe of what they have accomplished.
Race season is here again. At many of the local road races for adults, you will find kids’ races of varying lengths and competitive levels. Distances are determined by the individual race, but they are fairly consistent and age appropriate, as well as (mostly) broken down by age, so that kids are racing against same aged peers.
A few of our family’s favorite must-run local races for kids (and their adults!) include:
– The Miriam Hospital/JCC 5K Charity Road Race (Elmgrove Ave., Providence). This is a terrific family/community event where kids can race and watch their friends and parents race before heading to the field behind the JCC. There, they can dance to music, play in the playground, and climb the rock wall that is brought in for the event each year. A great early fall event, heavily attended by children and families.
– CVS Caremark Downtown 5K (Francis St., downtown, parallel to the Providence Place Mall). It’s a cruel finish (uphill) and the starting line can be a crime scene (a lot of kids squeezing in, a lot of stepping in front of smaller, rule-following racers, a lot of false starts, not much adult correction of these issues)–but the children are broken down by school grade and gender, and they get announced by a very enthusiastic commentator as they cross the finish line. Kids’ race results are recorded and posted online. For many kids, this race counts–but for the majority, it is all about doing your best and having fun. Often used as the 5K National Championship course, this is a great opportunity to see some of the world’s most elite runners, as well as kids representing track clubs from all over New England. I wish I could bottle the enthusiasm in the air at this race.
– The Rhody 5K (Twin River, Lincoln, RI). Held in late spring, this race also serves as the New England Grand Prix Championship (and has one of the best post-race BBQ tents around–let’s get our priorities straight). This is a fun event in which children of all ages run around the Twin River greyhound track. Low-key and fun for children.
– Ali’s Run (Jamestown, RI). In memory of Ali Dunn Packer, this is an extremely well produced and well attended race, with an 800-meter race for kids under ten. There is just one kids’ race, so ages are mixed and there is little chance for a five-year-old to place or win (unlike races where kids are separated by age)—-but it’s a flat, fun race in which every child gets a trophy. This race holds a special place in my heart because it was where Stretch ran her first 5k last spring and also where LittleMan, normally a short distance sprinter, ran his first half-mile race.
– The Little Compton Road Race (Town Green, Little Compton, RI). At 4.8 miles, this is one of the most scenic and enjoyable race courses I have ever run (and I know from scenery—I ran so slowly that the speedwalkers were passing me). A fun and not overly competitive race for children is held just before the adults’ race, and the post-race Summer Fair is a fantastic, very old-school event for families. More than worth the trip for even the most schlep-averse Rhode Islanders.
Here are a few other upcoming races with kids’ events, which we have not participated in firsthand, but which I have heard are a lot of fun: the Ronald McDonald House Women’s 5K, the East Providence Firefighters’ Freaky 5K (in costume!), the Westerly Track Club’s Tom McCoy Summer Fun Run Series, which includes kids’ races, and also their Misquamicut “On the Beach” Run on September 3. Check Cool Running for a complete list of upcoming local race events.
If your child loves to run and is ready for some competition, camaraderie, and coaching (in no particular order), check out the Providence Cobras Track Club–a great local resource for young runners.
Our family is looking forward to a busy and fun race season–now if I could just get their feet to stop growing faster than we can buy running shoes…
Home Plate: Reflections of a Sportsparent: Melissa lives in Pawtucket, RI, with SportsDad, daughter Stretch, 10, and the Little Man, 7. She spends her time fund-raising for the nonprofit Pawtucket Day Child Development Center, schlepping her children to one or another sports practice or game, freelance commercial writing, cooking and baking, and trying valiantly to keep up with domestic tasks. She can be reached at MBwritenow@gmail.com.
Photo Credit: Up close runner by Deb Montalto, At the track by Melissa Brusso, Mother and daughter at the Jamestown Race by Priscilla Brusso (Grammy)