Racing with Wheels: Advice for Racing with a Running Stroller

A woman runner races with a double stroller
2016 Crystal City 5K Fridays, race #1 produced by Pacers Running. Friday, 1 April, 2016. Photo by Brian W. Knight/Swim Bike Run Photo.

There was a low-key race series I wanted to do that used the same 5K course every Friday night for a month, followed by happy hour specials and drink tickets! With my husband out of town all three weeks, instead of getting a babysitter, I decided to bring the kids with me. They say necessity is the mother of invention and they would be correct. While I’ve trained with the stroller since having my first child over four years ago, it was time to race with one.

After racing the same 5k over three weeks with the stroller, I experimented at each and learned so much about how to have the best race experience with the kids.

My goal for this race series was mostly just to participate in the race experience, but I did want to get a workout in as well. For reference, I ran the race series the year before, winning several of the races running in the low to mid 18s. I have a teammate who regularly races pushing her daughter, and runs roughly two minutes slower for 5k than she normally does. Since I wasn’t planning on racing all out, and was also running with a double-wide, I had little expectations or idea of what time to run, so I threw out all my expectations and experimented.

Line up by pace

The first race, I went out conservatively, starting in the back with the majority of the stroller runners. I didn’t want to be “that person” butting up front getting in the way of fast runners with my big running stroller. This turned out to be a mistake. The first mile was so slow and congested with people walking from the start, I felt trapped, running over 10 minutes for the mile. I could barely run, and had no space to make a move. The second mile opened up, so I took off and used the space to run fast, dipping well under 7 minutes for the mile. The third mile got more congested again, so it was somewhat stop and go. Overall, my race looked like a warmup jog, followed by a tempo, followed by fartleks.

The second race, I started near the front of the middle pack, ahead of all the other strollers, but more where I thought my pace would be. Yes, I got a lot of looks from people wondering what I was doing up there with a double wide. But, we started at a comfortable pace, and we pretty much kept our position for the duration of the race. Starting closer to my pace group led to a much more even race, between seven to eight minutes per mile. Surprisingly, all of my finish times ended up very close to each other, around 25 minutes, despite the very different races.

My advice: no matter whether you want to run a steady-pace or pass as many people as possible, line up at the start based on how you want to pace your first mile.

While I think lining up appropriately is the most important tip for enjoying a race with a stroller, there many other things to consider.

Be extra aware of your space

Obviously, the stroller takes up a lot of room, and people are focused on their own race, not necessarily who’s behind or next to them. Make sure you don’t run too closely behind anyone, and leave extra space when passing or running turns.

Take the turns wide

While everyone else will be cutting the tangent, go to the outside and you’ll be able to maintain your pace without having to worry about tripping people. Under normal circumstances, always take the tangents! But when racing with a stroller always take the outside of the road for turns. Otherwise you’ll cause a choke point and slow not only yourself, but everyone else down.

Collage of stroller racers
Photos by Brian W. Knight/Swim Bike Run Photo.

Choose your course wisely

Look at the course route ahead of time noting any hills, turns, narrow areas, etc. While the course I raced was very flat, there were a lot of turns and funnel points, which made maneuvering a stroller difficult. The middle mile, an out and back section, was really the only stretch where I could run a fast steady pace. Otherwise the course was very difficult to navigate with a stroller.  On the other hand, if you’re looking for an extra challenge, pick a course that’s hilly!

Let your kids participate in the race experience

My kids were thrilled to get cups of water at the water stop! They were excited to cheer for the lead runners when we saw them coming back on the out-and-back mile. And at every race, I pulled over to the side and let my oldest out to run the last .1 in to the finish. She loved the cheers from the crowd, so much so that during our normal runs throughout the week, she started asking to get out to train for the upcoming race!

Share your stroller racing stories and tips!

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. I raced one race with a stroller and it also happened to be the double. And it was a crowded hilly race and I thought it best to line up in the back. Oh boy. The first mile was so frustrating as I dodged and weaved and then when the course finally opened up I would make headway, until it would narrow again and I’d get stuck again. The worst was when people would run right in front of you as you’re passing – you have so much less reaction time with a stroller. Hills were kinda fun – so slow up, but sooooo fast down! Weeeee! But I can’t say I loved the experience. I found it pretty frustrating, but I think if I lined up more appropriately and picked a race with either less people or a more stroller-friendly wider course, it could be really fun.

  2. Congrats! I have only run 1 5k with the stroller when my daughter was 15 months. I ended up leaving my non-stroller pushing hubby in my dust! Those race pics are some of my all time faves

      1. You saw them in person? That must have been exciting! I know, his time is so impressive- and it’s impressive his 4 y/o sat in the stroller for that long!