Physical Play: Running a 5K with a 7-Year-Old

23 05 2010

We’ve had a lot of physical activity posts lately, and honestly, we decided to do Cully’s Run today because we thought it was a worthy cause, not because we needed more physical education curriculum. (But really, what 7-year-old kid doesn’t need more physical play?)

Still, I thought it was worth posting about, because when I go to run/walk 5K events, I see a lot of hard-bodied 20 and 30 somethings, and not a lot of people who look like me: no families, no non-athletes. I also don’t see a lot of other groups of people who don’t look like me, but who might enjoy a race: people of various shapes and sizes — especially not people of larger-than-average sizes — people older than 30-something, children, people with visible disabilities. And I think that’s a shame, because on a day like today — sunny and low 80s in New Hampshire — on a course like the one we ran (a gorgeous, shady sojourn around Storrs Pond), a 5K walk-run is nothing but enjoyable.

But I understand why people who are not young and athletic stay away from these events. They sound scary and intimidating to a non-athlete — every time I sign up for one, and I’ve done several, I have to remind myself that it’s OK, I’m welcome to go, I don’t have to worry about what will happen if I come in dead last or get too tired to finish or get bogged down with a kid who has pooped out. And that’s even with some experience as a non-athlete who likes to go out for an occasional short race.

And I promise you, I really am no athlete. I do not have an athlete’s body:

And although I’m smart enough to know that there are lots of women shaped more-or-less like me who are athletes, even Olympic athletes,¬† in my case, the stereotype associated with my body shape tells a basically accurate story: I’m nearly totally sedentary, at work and at play. The physical play documented on this blog is the only exercise of any kind that I get. But if you can walk, you can probably walk a 5K, if you take the pressure off of yourself. And that is as true for children as for adults.

Our first 5K was an Earth Day event sponsored by a park in 2002, and Floppy was not yet born. I don’t remember how we did, but I recall that it was more work than I expected and we came in so late that we missed the big feed these races have for finishers as a reward at the end.

We ran our first 5K as a family in 2007, when Floppy had just barely turned 4. It was a road race through an urban neighborhood, and because he was so little he had to do a fair amount of the race on our shoulders. (No, we didn’t bring a stroller. We wanted him to have the experience of running, and we didn’t own a stroller.) We took turns among making him run or walk and carrying him between the two adults, and we finished the race second-to-last.

This time he could easily outrun us — he’s a fast runner, these days, much faster than me. In fact the most difficult part of today’s race was reigning him in, and making sure he didn’t get lost way out ahead of us on a complicated, hilly route through the woods. Trying to keep up with him we actually finished closer to the middle of the pack; in the last half, definitely, but certainly in time to get plenty of food.

We even had time to take a couple of pictures. Here’s Floppy, looking resentful about smiling because we made him stop running to pose:

If you’d like to try a 5K as a family, or as a single or couple who are non-athletes, locate one that is walker-friendly. You can certainly run as a walker (we usually run or jog at least some of the race), but participating as a walker takes the pressure off of everyone. Ideally, a walker-friendly race will have separate (earlier) start times for walkers versus runners, and may not even time the walkers. A beautiful course is also ideal, and a good cause will help you feel good about participating. Kids love the feast most races put on afterwards, and will be highly excited by the drama of the starting gun or whistle, the cheering along the course at water stations and turns (and the finish line!), and by getting their own t-shirt and race number. Bring lots of water (although most races have water stations along the way, since runners don’t want to carry anything to weigh them down), wear sunscreen, and have fun. Let me know if you try it as a non-athlete or a family, and how it goes for you!

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