Any 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.
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.
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.
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!