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Do’s and don’ts for running a Turkey Trot with your kid

Claire Zulkey wonders when she'll ever get used to the idea that she has two boys. She is the author of two books for young people, An Off Year and Best Frenemies. She and her filmmaker husband live in Evanston, IL. You can find out more...

Running a Thanksgiving 5K is hard enough — experts advise on how to do it with kids

A Thanksgiving fun run is a great, healthy way to spend family time over the holiday, but just like anything in a parents’ life, running a race with kids involves its own particular considerations. I spoke with Washington DC-area running coaches (and moms) Lisa Reichmann and Julie Sapper about how to make it the best experience possible for adults and kids.

Do: Be realistic about your kid’s likelihood or ability to run a 5K

If parents and kids go into a Turkey Trot just hoping to have fun and finish, there is less likelihood of frustration (and then tears). Based on the kids she’s coached, Sapper says that roughly around second and third grade is when kids can reasonably run a mile, and that fourth and fifth grade and up is when kids can more reasonably handle a 5K. Many Thanksgiving races have a shorter kid race, and if you’re not sure what your kid can handle, then sign up for the shorter one. “You want them to come out of the race feeling accomplished and feeling proud of themselves and feeling positive about the experience of running a race,” says Sapper.

Don’t: Forget it’s a fun run

There should be no pressure on kids to finish a Thanksgiving race within a certain time, say the coaches. Reichmann has observed parents chiding kids who stop to walk by saying things like, “Hurry up; we’re going to lose.” This, she says, is how kids “get turned off by running and have bad memories.” Instead, let kids take walk breaks when they want, utilize step counting and visual cues, which she says are often effective motivators: “Let’s take five steps and then run to that garbage can over there!”

Don’t: Let kids carb-load right before the race

Often, Reichmann says, parents let kids eat right before a race, which results in stomach cramps. Instead, give your kids something easily digestible (toast with peanut butter, for instance) no less than two hours before the race.

Do: Have the one piece of gear that matters

While not every parent has the bandwidth to get kids fitted for shoes at a local running store, at the very least, the kids’ shoes should be made for running. “I wouldn’t want my kid running in their stylish converse or sketchers,” says Sapper.

Don’t: Be scared of inclement weather

You don’t need perfect weather in order to run a Turkey Trot. In fact, Reichmann says, “The kids can tolerate weather better than we can.” Just bring the right gear and plan accordingly. Wait indoors or in your car if you can before the start time and make sure to have warm, dry clothes for the kids after the run. “Gloves and a hat are the most important for keeping their extremities warm,” says Sapper. For rain, she adds, bring a hat with a brim to keep water out of the eyes. And make sure to be extra careful of slippery spots during snowy Thanksgiving runs.

Do: Find the right stroller if running with an infant

Good news! You can take a baby on a Turkey Trot, and you don’t need to buy a special stroller to do so. As long as your baby can easily hold her head up, she’s ready to roll. If you don’t have a stroller with large tires (it doesn’t have to be a jogging stroller specifically, but an umbrella stroller, for instance, would not work well), Reichmann recommends asking at your local runners club or parents community if they have one you can borrow. Practice ahead of time, she advises, to make sure both you and baby are comfortable with it. Don’t forget to pack a bottle for race day!

Do: Hang back

The coaches’ main piece advice? If you’ve got a stroller or a kid running with you, hang back. If you stay to the right, faster runners can more easily pass — and assume most runners will be faster than you. “It’s really tricky when kids line up in the front of the elite runners,” says Reichmann. Even though Turkey Trots are fun races, there are runners who take them seriously. It’s great to have enthusiastic kids, but in order to avoid getting trampled, Reichmann says, “Make sure you’re running alongside people of similar pace.” 

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