Should You Bring Your Kids to an Important Race?

imageAny parent with a big race on the calendar has faced the question of whether or not to leave the kids at home on the big day. On one hand, we want our kids to be a part of our lives and share in our experiences. On the other hand, we want to arrive at the starting line having had some sleep and not having to worry about whether we adequately packed the diaper bag.

After qualifying for the Olympic Trials, I wrestled with whether to bring my one- and three-year-old to L.A. It would obviously be much easier to travel by myself or with just my husband. My youngest, especially, doesn’t travel well, and the logistical jungle and additional expense of bringing them made it seem like a bad choice.

Ultimately, though, I wanted it to be a family experience. My girls are my training buddies. I ran more miles with them than with anyone else, including by myself! They were part of the process to get there in the first place. And I wanted them to be included. Not that a one- and three-year-old would remember much of the experience, but one day they can at least say, “I watched my mom run in the Olympic Trials!”

I thought I’d share a little about the experience to help you decide whether to take your kids to your next big destination race. 

The Flight and Hotel

Traveling to L.A. from D.C. meant flying to the race. Since the airline was apparently unable to give us four seats together, my husband took the unprecedented hit for the team and sat with the girls by himself, and I got six hours of direct flight solitude. Things were off to a great start! The two days before the race he did his best to be the main parent in charge, while I conserved my energy as much as possible. We brought a white noise machine that helped baby sleep better at night in the hotel, which worked out so well. Not only did the baby sleep more soundly, but it also helped drown out my husband’s snoring! The white noise machine is now on our travel must-have list.

Race Morning

In the hours we had to sit around and wait for the 10:22 start, we read books and played games. I was so glad I brought them; they were a good distraction that kept me from getting nervous or obsessing about the race. Kids clearly change your outlook on running, as your priorities and energy are naturally diverted to them. Literally having them there race morning was a welcome reminder to put things in perspective.

Seeing my kids was one of the few times I smiled during a miserable race.

During the Race

During the race though, I began to question my decision to bring them. The first 2.2-mile loop ran directly in front of where we were staying, and my family planned to cheer for me out the front door. As we neared the building, I was on the inside of the pack and on the opposite side of the street. In those first miles it was still mostly a gaggle of 200 women, so I knew it would be impossible for my family to see me through the crowd. Ignoring any kind of sound race tactic, I weaved my way outside, contradictory to cutting a tangent. But the time I lost was inconsequential to being able to see my family, or for my kids to see me running!

I saw them again few miles later, making their way down the long straightaway. Now that they were out of the shade of the tall buildings downtown, they would be out in the sun for the rest of the marathon. I noticed they weren’t wearing their sun hats. They were too far away for me to yell over to them, but the thought consumed my mind for the next six miles of the race, until I would see my husband again to ask him to run back to the hotel to get their hats. Is that really what I should be focusing on in the middle of the Olympic Trials marathon?!

The next time I saw them they were having a picnic on a grassy spot near the end of the loop. My three-year-old jumped up and down yelling, “Go Mommy! Go Mommy! Go!” I could hear my one year old screaming, “Mama!” running down the street long after I passed them. This was the highlight of the race for me. To see their excitement and happiness, completely unaware that I was having a horrible race and that it wouldn’t even matter to them how I did, made my day.

I felt grateful after the race that they were there.

Turns out I was mentally out of it the entire race. As it sometimes happens, my competitive state of mind was completely missing. Maybe it was the pre-race disappointment about the weather preventing my goal of running fast or the fact that physically I felt off from the first mile, but I unfortunately did not have the competitive fire I needed to perform well. So while at first I worried my kids would distract me and prevent me from being race-focused, they ended up being a welcome distraction to a disappointing race result. I was so grateful they were there, and seeing them every lap is really what kept me going.

How do you feel about bringing your kids to a destination race? Share your stories of bringing your kids to your races with us! 



I have fun trying to sprint, enjoy long runs in the mountains, and everything in between. Former competitive runner (3 x marathon OTQ & trail marathon national champion) currently working through a lingering injury. I write about trying to stay competitive while raising young kids and moving into a new post-competitive stage.

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  1. Parsley: Sort of a reverse idea: my husband and I attend our sons more important races (e.g., Athens Marathon, NYC Marathon, Boston Marathon, half marathon in LA): they seem to like us being there. In Athens, we walked around the cities for days before race day so I’m sure my son’s legs were heavier than normal during the race. BUT it’s still a great family opportunity–which is what you found here. And for us parents, being able to cheer as they come into Olympic Stadium or through Central Park or at the sharp right corner near the firehouse in Boston is thrilling and an opportunity not to miss.

    1. That’s great, Patricia! I know your son must appreciate the support. I don’t think we’re ever too old to still want our parents to cheer us on! My parents have made it to all my Trials and try to be at whatever races they can, and I love having them there. Now it’s extra nice because they can divide and conquer helping with the kids and cheering!

  2. While I don’t have kiddos I can totally see making race experiences as family time as well. Allowing your kids to see you working hard, overcoming obstacles, and keep going even if it’s tough is setting such a good example. Not to mention, like you said- having them there can be a great distraction and give you something to look forward to even if you’re having an off day. I remember running with my sister for her first half after her oldest son was born, I just kept telling her to get to the finish to see her little man and it definitely helped keep her going!

    I could also see the case to not have kiddos at EVERY race(as some people race far more often than others). Logistics, finance, whatever the case may be. It might not always be feasible.

    1. It’s funny, I actually don’t bring my kids to most of the local races I do, even though the travel/logistics would be much easier! They’re so young they have more fun going to the playground at this point. But now I’m starting to turn destination races into family vacations, which seems to be working out well!

        1. It’s great- helps justify the expense, gives you something to look forward to after the race, takes some of the pressure off b/c you’re not just there for a race, and really gives you all around bang for your buck! Living in Europe…you should have plenty of fun, relatively close locations to choose from!

  3. Great post! I struggled with the decision whether or not to bring my kiddos to Minneapolis when I ran my very first marathon. They were young- 1 1/2 and 4 and NOT great travelers, so ultimately I decided to leave them behind with grandma. I was so nervous for my first marathon and trying to remember everything I needed for my race that I didn’t want to worry about packing for the children or dealing with bad hotel sleeping conditions! I have done a couple of other races when they were with, and it wasn’t terrible. 🙂

  4. Such a hard decision sometimes! That is so cool you made it work for the Olympic Trials and they will certainly appreciate having experienced that!! I just wanted to add that for me the weather can be a big factor – I usually even tell my (adult) family members to stay away if the weather’s terrible. 🙂

    Related: when JB was 9 months I had to bring him to Indianapolis for my marathon. Husband stayed home but my dad came with me. JB woke up 3 times that night and I ended up DNF’ing the marathon after 21+ miles. Got home and my husband complained about how tired he was…?!

  5. Since I had my second, I rarely bring mine to local races! The thought of traveling with my kids is so exhausting. They take so much mental energy. I think I’d be a basket case between parenting and focusing on a race performance. Maybe with enough other adult help along I could do it. Or maybe I’m just a wuss 🙂

  6. Timely post, as I have been pondering bringing my family to my big race in May.

    When I ran my first marathon three years ago, I went to there the day before by myself. I was able to concentrate on the race and I got a fairly good sleep despite my nerves. My husband surprised me by driving up with the kids at meeting me at the halfway mark of the race. I was stunned and in tears when I saw them with their signs that read, “Run Mom, Run!” It nearly made my heart burst and gave me an incredible charge. My son still tells the story of when I first spotted them on the sidelines and he makes his hilarious version of my contorted-ugly-mom-crying face. It was an emotional, wonderful highlight of that event..

    I’d love to have them cheer me on again, so I’m thinking of getting two rooms this time. That way I can have some space and some quiet when I need it, but still have their support.

    I can’t believe your husband forgot the sun hats in LA and you had to stress about their little heads getting burned! Maybe it was a good distraction for a bit???

    1. That is such a great story Amy!
      Great plan- have them there at the race to cheer you on, but give yourself a little space/alone time beforehand to rest up and mentally prep.

      I think I probably burned up some energy with my stress/anger those miles, but it didn’t really matter in the long run! And he found them one of the few shady spots along the course to make their base camp, so it all worked out.

  7. It gets easier as they age. Being divorced, I strategically plan my races when they are with their dad but I have loved the times they have been able to watch me in a big race. The biggest disappointment to my first Boston marathon in 2014 was not seeing them on the course. With heightened security, they closed entrances to Boylston early (1230-ish). We live blocks away from the finish and they (6 and 11 at time) could not wait in tight crowds for 2 hours. But, they made signs and found me after and still were my biggest fans (and consolers after a disappointing finish). The expo, the energy, living in the middle of it, they experience the magic of Boston every year now. I’m sending them to their dads the night before this year, but I’m hoping they find a way to the course in Newton. I think if you have support, great, but bringing kids to races should be a positive not an additional stressor.

  8. I’ve taken the kids to Chicago and Boston. They certainly didn’t add to my sleep the night before, but it is so wonderful having them there during and after the race. My girls are still pretty little right now (3 and 6) so traveling with them is a bit more of a challenge and certainly more of an expense. I look forward to taking them to more and more as they get older. My 50 state journey has taken me to a lot of interesting places and I hope to share those adventures with my family.

  9. Mine stay at home. Everyone is different, but I feel like it’s kind of selfish to make them stand outside for hours just to catch a glimpse me for a few seconds. I also feel like it’s unfair to my husband to try to entertain them in a strange place vs just staying at home with them. But my kids have really short attention spans and aren’t entertained by watching a race. My husband brought them once to a short local race, and I was so excited that I would get to see them – but the kids spotted a playground and ran over to it and didn’t bother watching me run. So for me, the reality nowhere matched the fantasy in my head.

    I’m running Boston this year for the first time, and the kids are staying home with grandparents. The main reason is that I can’t justify the added cost (2 extra plane tickets, extra meals) when they won’t get much out of it. I also want to be able to focus on myself, and not have to be in Mom mode.

  10. I have taken my kids to all of my triathlons ( I did my first one with a 2 years old and a 8 months old).
    I love having them with me to “destress” before the start, seing them at transition, and at the finish line.
    They were even able to run the last 100m with me in my last triathlon, cross the finish line with me and the nice volunteers got them a finisher medal. the medals are in their bedroom and my 4 years old daughter wants to train and “tri” now !!!
    They see me train and I love to show them that they can do anything they want!