On Sunday, my five year old ran his first race – the Staten Island Father’s Day 5k. I honestly had no intention of him or me running this race. Just recently, he has shown an interest in running – and we’ve begun doing some short runs together here and there when he’s up for it or asks me. Most runs are anywhere from 1-2 miles with some short walk breaks in the middle.
The Father’s Day 5k race has become one of my favorite local races. It’s as local as you can get. We live less than a block from the main road on Staten Island – and the race is an out and back on that main road with the start/finish being one block away from our house (inside an area called Mt. Loretto). It’s that close. It’s well organized, a fun, but challenging route and the logistics make it just too easy to pass up.
I had casually asked him earlier in the week if he wanted to do the race with me but he said he wanted to next year when he was older. So I left it at that. I won’t push either of my boys into anything that they don’t 100% want to do.
Since he didn’t want to do the run and I wasn’t really up to racing, I planned on heading down to cheer on the runners with the boys. (I’m really starting to feel better the last couple of weeks and the last thing I want is to push too hard and end up in the red again.)
But, while we were going for a morning walk, I figured I’d mention it to him again and see if his interest changed at all. At first he said no – that he couldn’t run that far But, I told him that we could walk whenever he wanted. And just like that, his face lit up and he said yes!
The next hour was spent rushing – we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, had to get dressed and still have time to head over to the start and register. But we fit it in and were at the registration desk by 9:35 (the race started at 10am).
I had no expectations on pace or even running for him – my goal was to ensure he had fun, didn’t feel pressure to run and was happy with how he did. That was it.
There truly are no words to describe the 40 or so minutes we ran. I don’t know if I have ever been more proud of him. And it has absolutely nothing to do with his pace. And all to do with how he handled himself.
It was 85 degrees – sunny and hot. The course is not easy – it has gradual hills in both directions – including a pretty steep incline the last .2 miles of the race.
He was pretty nervous before the race started. He gets really quiet and shy when he’s nervous and while we were waiting to start, I could see him fidgeting with his fingers.
He never told me he was tired. Never complained about how much he was sweating (which he was). Never told me that his legs hurt. Or that he wanted to stop.
He was so incredibly focused on finishing.
I carried a water bottle and every 2 minutes or so, he’d ask me for a sip of water. So we’d stop running and he’d take a big sip and then he’d start running again.
We broke up the race into two – the first half then the turnaround, then the second half. It helped that my sister’s home is basically two blocks before the turnaround, so he was focused on getting to the turnaround so he could see her and his cousin, Jake!
The truly amazing part of the run was that his last mile was his fastest. We passed mile 2 at 29:00 and I thought that maaaaaybe we could squeak in under 45 min if he kept up the same pace. We ended up finishing in 41:3x!
My younger son joined us in the finisher’s chute and helped us cross the finish line. And then did the kids race later that morning (and was just as focused as my oldest!).
I’ve been asked by a few people how I knew he was ready to run a 5k. I don’t know if I have a good answer here. I don’t think there is an age or distance limit or a precise time when a 5 year old or 6 year old or whatever age is ready to run a 5k.
I knew he could physically run/walk the distance. My sons spend hours – literally hours – playing soccer and basketball in the backyard – running around nonstop (they don’t have any sort of electronic toys/iPads/tablets nor are they allowed to watch tv during the day). They are physically active kids. I’ve joked about putting my activity tracker on the boys because I am 99% sure that they are moving more than 5-6 miles a day.
I also think running a bit with him the last couple of months has helped. The first time we went out he started sprinting and we spent most of the run talking about “pacing” and how to save energy for the end. There were a handful of times on Sunday where I had to tell him to slow down, but for the most part, he was pacing himself and was not phased by what anyone else around him was doing.
So I think it ends up being a judgment call for parents. He has asked over the last few months if he could run a race with me. Most local races are 5k with a kids run of about 100m. I would have preferred his first race to be somewhere in the middle – maybe a 1k or even 1 miler. But I don’t know if there are even any of that distance for kids!
In my heart, I believed he was ready – physically and mentally. He’s exceptionally determined at everything he does – from sports to school work to games. And so I knew that he wouldn’t quit in the middle and want to walk home or be carried or anything like that. So why not give him a chance?
And then we spent the rest of the day in the pool celebrating Father’s Day!