How to pick races that should be fun for the entire family

Would you like to pick a race for your kids and/or yourself, and are you thinking about how to include members of your family who don’t run? Are you browsing through an online race event calendar and unsure of how to choose a family-friendly race? Or just new to racing and want to learn more about what to expect? Based on running more races than I can remember (hundreds?), and now coaching and racing with my two sons, I would like to offer you a few tips that I hope will be helpful. Please leave me feedback about what is important to you and about your experiences. Thanks.

Racing Program:

Something for everyone – Pick races where multiple members of the family can participate. Many races have a program that includes kids fun runs (1/2 to 1 mile) either before or after the adult race, so parents can watch or participate with their kids and then run the adult race (with another member of the family taking care of the child and cheering on the adult).


Road vs. trail – Mix road races and trail or cross country races to give your kids the experience of racing on diverse courses, terrain and surfaces, as well as offer them a change of scenery. Many road races tend to be relatively larger, more competitive events (think PR), while off-road races are often smaller, less formal events (but quickly growing as trail racing gains more fans).

Trail / Cross Country Race (Cook Your Buns 3 mile race, Greenwich, CT)

Road Race (New Canaan Mile, New Canaan, CT)


Go local – Today there are a multitude of races in and around most major cities, so you should be able to find a running event on most weekends within a reasonable driving distance from where you live. Depending on your goals and interests, you should be able to select a race setting which appeals to you, such as in a park, along the beach or in a downtown area.

Beautiful Tod’s Point (Greenwich, CT) on Long Island Sound, location of Cook Your Buns 3 mile race

Start Times:

Don’t drag everyone out of bed at the crack of dawn – Choose a race that combines a reasonable time of day with perhaps a post-race meal (breakfast, lunch and yes, even dinner!). Your family will thank you if you don’t drag them out of bed at 7 am on Sunday morning for a race that serves only Gatorade as post-race refreshments.

Post-Race Refreshments:

Convince your partner she/he doesn’t have to cook – As mentioned above, often races are scheduled before a meal time (you wouldn’t want to run on a full stomach), but will provide refreshments and small sustenance (energy drinks, fruit, bagels are common) for finishers (and sometimes non-running family members). Increasingly, races are serving a hearty brunch, lunch or even dinner. For example, the Cook Your Buns 3M race (Greenwich, CT) is held on a Friday night in summer, followed by a Whole Foods-catered family barbeque of organic hamburgers, hotdogs, sides and watermelon. The Bigelow Tea 5K race (Southport, CT) is held mid-morning on a Sunday and offers an awesome brunch/lunch buffet after the race. And both the New Canaan Mile and All Out For Autism 5K (New Canaan, CT) held on different Friday nights during the summer start and finish in front of the local New Balance store, with runners and families invited to enjoy pizza, sandwiches and wraps from local restaurants.

Post-race breakfast…

or Whole Foods-catered barbeque dinner


It all adds up – To cover the cost of races (and often to raise money for worthwhile causes), race organizers charge fees in the range of $10 to $30 for local races (higher for half-marathons, marathons, big city races, and triathlons). Generous local sponsors also help defray part of the cost. Nonetheless, assuming an average of $15 per race and a race every other month, you would pay $90 in fees annually, and if other family members race as well, it all adds up. Racing with my two sons about once a month would add up to around $500 per year! To keep costs reasonable, we pre-register for races (means lower fees), participate in “summer racing series” that organize races during the summer months for a few dollars entry fee per race, and generally avoid races with high fees. Don’t misunderstand me, I think that races provide good value for the relatively low “admission cost” (especially considering the numerous benefits), and the cost is but one of many things to consider when choosing a race(s).


There are no-frill races where a few dollars entry fee pays for a race number and the cost of organizing the race. However, most races organizers will hand out a goodie bag when you register and/or pick up your race number. The quintessential race T-shirt is the core item, but goodie bags often contain small gifts/samples from sponsors (some more useful than others), including beverages, packaged food, coupons, running accessories, and so on.

Age Groups and Awards:

Kids do care about trophies and medals – Pick some races that have appropriate age groups for kids and age group awards in the form of trophies, medals or gift certificates. This gives them an opportunity to measure themselves against kids of similar ages and reap the rewards for their dedication and commitment during practices. Be aware that there are many races that have 19 & under or 15 & under age groups, which implies that a 9 year old, a 12 year old, and a 15 year old (or even a 19 year old college runner!) should do equally well in a 5K race (which is not reasonable). My younger son enjoys pushing himself and placing in the top 3 of his age group, and receiving a trophy or nice medal. The older son recently collected a merchandise gift certificate to the local New Balance store for a 2nd place finish.

And the winner is … (Bigelow Tea 5K, Southport, CT)


Give back to the community – Some race organizers donate a portion of the race fees to a worthwhile cause. Increasingly, races are organized as fund-raising events for a variety of causes, both national and local. Worth mentioning as wonderful examples are two races organized by the owners of New Balance New Canaan: The All Out For Autism 5K race in its 3 years since inception has raised sufficient funds to build an outdoor fitness facility in Waveny Park to benefit young people with autism and other learning disabilities (but open to the public), and the New Canaan Mile raises funds annually to award two college scholarships to New Canaan High School seniors who have demonstrated outstanding work ethic in the school’s cross country/track programs.


A few other things to think about – Are you driving to the race and is there adequate parking within easy walking distance of the race start? Are there bathroom and/or changing facilities open to the public? Note: most races will only have port-a-johns, and one race I ran this spring had 2 port-a-johns with more than 400 runners, imagine the lines before the start! If you have young kids who don’t plan to run, is there onsite childcare (the Bigelow Tea 5K is probably one of the more family-friendly races in that it offers onsite childcare, outdoor playground and indoor game facility).


One comment

  1. Much appreciated for the information and share!

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