5 Fun Family and Kid-Friendly Races Across the U.S.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 and more than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese. Parents can help prevent the spread of obesity by teaching children healthy habits early in life. One way to do this is by being a firsthand example and showing our kids how to exercise. While getting up off the couch, making time in our daily schedules, and being consistent in including exercise in our lives isn’t always easy, it can be done.
So before I get started, let me share with you my truths. Before I began running over 12 years ago, I could not even make it from our driveway to the end of the street less than a hundred yards away. I am not exaggerating in the least bit. Despite growing up as a competitive figure skater, playing club soccer, and being part of a very physically active family, the realities of finishing graduate school and working full time behind a desk were putting a dent on my fitness and overall health. It didn’t help that I was never a runner, never the fastest kid, never the long distance kid, never the long-twitch muscle type of athlete.
In soccer, I was a winger. I could sprint fast, but not for long, and on the ice, the free skate long program was only a grueling 3 to 4 minutes of short-twitch pain. It wasn’t until late 2003 when my husband challenged me to run the Cooper River Bridge Run with him in Charleston, South Carolina that I ever ran more than one or two miles at a time.
After the Bridge Run was over, life kept happening and I found myself not making it to the gym as often anymore. I know many of you understand and can empathize with me on how that happens. The following year, we found ourselves living in Germany and together with a group of friends created a dare to run the Paris Marathon. Maybe it was all the drinks we were consuming while making the dare and providing bets, but it seemed like a great idea at the time. Two days later, training commenced and I once again found myself barely able to make it to the end of our street without thinking I was literally going to die.
So, if you’ve never been physically active, never considered yourself an athlete — much less a runner — or have fallen off the exercise bandwagon, I feel you. I get it and I understand. But today, more than 11 years after completing three full marathons and half-marathons plus countless 10K and 5K races, I can confidently say that if I can do it, anyone can do it.
While I am no Olympian and Runners World will never feature me in the pages of their magazine, I am a runner. Am I fast? Not really. But I run to finish races, not win them. Do I love to run? Not always. But I do always love drinking craft beers, enjoying delicious food, and most of all, being an example to my girls about living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
So if you’ve never run a mile in your life or if you are already a runner like I am now, here is a list of my family’s 5 favorite running races that include options geared directly towards children ages 13 and under. I encourage you to explore these fun races for kids and hopefully consider participating sometime in the future.
5 Fun Races for Kids and Families
1. THE PAPA JOHN’S 10 MILER in LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
Our family’s favorite race is the Papa John’s series of races in Louisville, Kentucky. The highlight of this race weekend is the Papa John’s 10 Miler but they also have a series of three kid fun runs targeted to little ones ages 3-10. The kid races, sponsored by Chick-Fil-A and aptly named after pizza ingredients are “The Pepperoni Race” (50-yard dash for those age 3-5), “The Cheese Race” (100 yard dash for those age 6-8), and “The Tomato Sauce Race” (200 yard dash for those age 9-10). They begin immediately following the completion of the 10 miler and are all run inside the University of Louisville football stadium.
Not many people can ever say they’ve run a race on an expertly manicured college football field in front of a large audience. For only $5, kids get to run and receive a performance race t-shirt, a personalized race bib, and a swag bag filled with additional goodies like free Chick-Fil-A kid’s meals (in past years).
Plus, kids who participate in the races get to be part of the awesome post-race party in the stadium featuring hot Papa Johns pizza, Gatorade, fresh fruit, and other goodies provided by the race sponsors. Our daughters have run this race multiple times and look forward to it each year.
>> Find Hilton hotels in Louisville
2. DALLAS YMCA TURKEY TROT in DALLAS, TEXAS
Dallas, Texas is home to the largest Thanksgiving Day race in the U.S. The Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot has two races benefiting the Dallas YMCA including a family- and pet-friendly 5K. The competitive 8-mile race starts at the same time as the untimed 5K, but if you choose to be a timed runner, you get to start in a timed corral.
Towards the finish line for the 5K race, those continuing on to run the 8 miler follow a split in the road and continue running along the streets of downtown Dallas for 4.9 more miles. This is an absolutely fun and Thanksgiving costume-filled race, and you will always see multi-generation families, including infants in strollers and pets on leashes, running, jogging, walking and talking their way through downtown Dallas along the 5K course. We typically have a dozen or more family members who run this race with us to have fun and also burn off some of the excess calories we inhale later in the day.
The Turkey Trot’s registration is so family friendly that it even has a specific registration category for strollers called the “Tot Trot.” The “Tot Trot” is for kids ages 6 and under and it allows them to “officially” participate even though they are being pushed in a stroller. The Tot Trot is a reduced registration fee of $15 and provides youngins with a race t-shirt and their own race bib. This Turkey Trot race is so popular and successful that it will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2017. Expect a record crowd as there are usually over 30,000 participants! This family race lives up to its moniker, “The way to begin Thanksgiving Day.”
>> Find Hilton hotels in Dallas
3. THE MERMAID HALF MARATHON in SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
If you live on the west coast, you should check out the mother-daughter and father-daughter friendly Mermaid Series of races. The Mermaid Half Marathon in San Diego includes a 1.5-mile Mermaid Dash for girls ages 6-12. The fun run/walk allows girls to participate and experience the joy of crossing the finish line in a safe and supportive environment. All Mermaid Dashers receive a finisher necklace and yummy post-race food.
For the mothers and fathers, you can run either a 5K, 10K or half-marathon, and all of these races start and should finish before the younger girls’ Mermaid Dash races. And if you have kiddos younger than 6 and you wish to push them in a jogging stroller, this is a stroller-friendly race. You just have to start in the back so as to not get in the way of those running sans the addition of 3 or 4 wheels of fabric, metal, rubber, and dead weight.
As a side note, men are fully welcome to participate, but it is primarily a women’s event, so men are not eligible for awards and they must run amongst 97-98% of the runners being women.
Not that you need an excuse to visit San Diego, but this should help motivate all mothers and/or fathers and daughters to get outside and run together. And if you are coming from out of town to run or are even a local and wish to have a race staycation, Hilton San Diego Resort and Spa offers a fantastic Mermaid Run discounted room rate.
4. COOPER RIVER BRIDGE RUN in CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
Switching to the east coast, Charleston, South Carolina hosts the Cooper River Bridge Run every year on the Saturday before Easter weekend. This race offers an entirely free Kids Run and Wonderfest; you only pay if your kids want a race t-shirt.
The Kids Run and Wonderfest has three races: a Toddler Waddler for kids under 3, a quarter-mile dash, and a 1-mile race for older kids. Parents are encouraged to run with their kids and strollers are allowed for siblings too young to participate. Another bonus is that the races don’t start until 2 pm, which means no early morning wake-up for this race series!
>> Find Hilton hotels in Charleston
5. runDISNEY KIDS RACES
This would not be a kid- or family-friendly article without a Disney entry. Running races at Disney World is pretty much like everything else Disney does: perfectly planned and executed and full of fun characters and costumes. Walt Disney has become so good at hosting races around the world that they even have a dedicated race division and unique website, runDisney.
We have not run any races at Disneyland in California but have run over 10 races at Walt Disney World in Florida. For every race offered at Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and the Disneyland Resort, there are also Disney-themed kids races to participate in over the race weekends. So, every time we run in a runDisney distance race, our girls run in the kids races too.
Every race weekend, runDisney hosts kids races over 2 to 3 days for kids 13 and under, including Kids’ 100-, 200-, and 400-yard dashes and a one-mile run. For those not yet able to walk, there’s even a Diaper Dash for crawlers 12 months and under! Race participants receive commemorative Run Disney Kids Race t-shirts, a finisher medallion, and a personalized race bib.
And like the runners in the distance races, kids are welcome to dress up in their favorite Disney costumes for their race (for kids 13 and under, masks just can’t cover the whole face and eyes must be visible). And if a one-mile race is too short for your kids, every Disney race weekend offers a 5K distance.
Our 8-year old daughter is training to run her first 5K this November, so encourage your kids to go farther than a mile if they are willing and capable of doing so. Disney puts on a world-class event whether you are running a challenge race over multiple days, a full marathon, a 5K, or your kids are toddling in a 100-yard dash.
Hopefully I’ve listed a family race near enough for you and your kids to participate in together. If you don’t live near these locales or don’t care to do race vacations like we do, I highly encourage you to explore local races near your hometown to get you and your family outside and pounding the pavement. Don’t let the time of year, weather or distance stop you. I always tell everyone that the best part of any race is the feeling you have once you cross the finish line. It’s that feeling that will have you signing up and registering to run more.
You may also enjoy:
- Tips to Plan a runDisney Vacation
- 3 Family-Friendly Themed 5K Runs
- Tips for Traveling with an Endurance Athlete
- How to Fit in Exercise on Vacation Without Going to the Gym
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Amy grew up in Southern California but has lived all over the globe. Her latest move brought her to Panama City, Florida, where she lives with her…