Lin Skinner shares her own ups and downs of supporting with young kids, and the lessons she’s learned along the way…
This article comes from the heart, as I have been supporting my husband in long events since before our first baby. I’ve supported pregnant, with a toddler, pregnant (again) with a toddler in tow, with two pre-school kiddies, and beyond.
When they all come to support me at a race I know how great it is to see them all shouting and cheering. But from experience on the other side of the fence, I know that it often takes military planning and extreme toughness to make it happen. As the kids get older it gets easier, but it is still an effort and definitely an act of love to bring kids along to support mummy or daddy in long events.
This articles celebrates family supporting, with stories from the coal-face and top tips for those of you with an event on the horizon.
Get The Timing Right
There are times in life when it will be very difficult to come and support an event. For example, when heavily pregnant, in the early stages of weaning, or in that first week of potty training. Try to avoid planning going to an event at these times, or if need be put potty training back a week to avoid ending up in a panicky mess when your LO sails past in the event.
Of course some things are unavoidable. I remember doing a pregnancy test the morning of my husband’s second London Marathon, and realising that I would need to tell him at the end that our second child was due. In a tricky twist of fate, I was also working on a Scout-manned water station that year, on my own with my not-quite-two-year-old in tow. I tried to say I was tired after the event, but I didn’t get much sympathy!
Don’t Attempt The Impossible
Think about the event logistics, and your family situation, and work out what you can and can’t do.
As an example, I am a fairly hardy supporter, but have never taken my young children to meet a runner at the end of the London Marathon, because it involves a tricky journey across London with disrupted tube service. Then there is a rather long wait scanning the crowds for your LO, because it turns out that everyone had the same idea of meeting at Z because it is an unusual starting letter for a surname. Eventually you get back a LO, but far from them being a helping hand to look after two bored kids, they are in fact exhausted and needing you to help them get back to the tube and home, or to the hotel.
So I would look at the event and work out the busiest places to avoid, and find somewhere to base yourself that’s easy with kids, such as near to a park.
Tell Everyone What to Expect
Most kids like to know the plan. With really young children, you can never tell them too many times what to expect. However, it’s not always helpful to tell them too far in advance! Hopefully you won’t need to explain all the details, but make sure you tell the children exactly what will happen: e.g. daddy will run past very fast, but he will be trying his hardest so he can’t stop to look at your stick/drawing/toy etc. Our job is to shout “go on daddy!”
I learnt this one the hard way. My husband took up triathlon and did his first one (at Dorney Lake) when my first child was nearly two. It was such a nice venue and near to family, so we all went along, even though I was several months pregnant.
Things went very well from our point of view during the swim and the first transition. We got to have a good laugh at daddy not being able to find his bike, and stopping to towel off his hair while all the pros rushed past.
Then there were 4 laps of the bike. It was just a bit much for a two year old to understand. Every time he went past there was incredulity that daddy was still doing another lap and that he didn’t stop for a bit. There were tears and tantrums and just as we recovered from that he would come past again and set it all off.
By the run stage we were both in bits, and he ended up having to stop and pick her up and carry her for the last 100m of the race over the line.
It was all avoidable though, with a bit of better planning we could have popped on the bouncy castle for a bit and had an ice cream and then popped over to see daddy come past, but we tried to watch too much.
Get The Kids Involved
Children of any age enjoy things more if they can be part of it.
Some events include fun runs or mini miles, which lots of kids enjoy taking part in.
Young kids might enjoy a bit of play acting in the garden, which can help them to understand the event. And if you’re super keen you could get them making pom-poms, banners or costumes to get them involved.
Having a big sign the kids have made themselves is a great way to get them involved at the race, to encourage daddy/mummy or even all the runners. It depends on the age how much they can understand the event, but try to explain the challenge so that they can understand and any activities that they can do will help.
If your children are a bit older, see my “Ten Fun Ways to Amuse Yourself While Supporting” article, which gives a few more ideas of things to do while waiting for a LO to come past.
Plan Your Day
If planned right supporting can be not only an act of love, but also an enjoyable (if rather tiring) day out. Find out about the event and plan ahead – here are questions that you need to know the answer to as part of your plan:
Where will you stay?
If the event is not near home, will you need to stay over somewhere? Can your LO do an event near to family or friends who can put you up and help you out a bit? If not, what about a family-friendly hotel? Or is it better to travel back home the same day?
What are the timings?
When is the event, and what is the start time? Do you need to travel together, or can you bring the kids later so as to work around your own routine, nap times etc?
When will your LO come past each point? Get them to work out their likely pace and tell you the range of possible times they will go past your cheering point(s).
How will you spot each other?
Plan this all out together.
Allow extra time for toilet breaks and walking with kids. Know what you are doing for meals, as children who are well-fed make much better supporters!
How will you get around?
There is often a lot of walking or standing involved in supporting longer events, and even adults can feel tired. If your little one is just starting to go out and about without a buggy, it might still be worth taking it for when they feel tired, or even as a means to carry the survival gear you need to get through the day without tears and tantrums!
If you want to cheer at more than one point, be realistic. Everything will take you four times as long as normal, with the challenging combination of small kids in crowds.
What should you take with you?
Food. Some water to drink. More food.
Yes obviously you need to prepare for the weather and take clothes to keep everyone warm and whatever you need for your children (change bags, etc). However, don’t underestimate the calorie requirements of walking, standing and cheering and actually being out for a fairly long day. I mean plenty of snacks to keep the kids going, but also for you, as your energy levels are really key to everyone enjoying the event.
Also take a means of communication and “the plan,” preferably written somewhere that is easy to access (a phone perhaps?).
Where and when will you meet after the event?
This is really important with young children. Neither of you wants to be hanging around for a long time waiting for the other one, and neither of you wants lots of extra walking.
Depending on the size of the event, it might be nice and easy to meet at the finish line, especially when you know the other person’s timings. But sometimes in the larger events this is very tricky, and you need to pick a landmark or place that is easy to wait at with children. You might be able to find an area where they have something for kids to do, or where you can spread out a rug or be in a café. Just make sure you both know where the meeting point is, and what time you will aim to be there. This is especially important if your LO does not run with a phone.
When will you aim to leave and what will you be doing about dinner?
Having planned dinner in advance can avoid end-of-day meltdowns for all concerned. Hanging around after the event might be nice for the person who has run it, but the others might be ready to go sooner. If it is chilly everyone might need to make a fairly swift exit. The team will need to refuel and it might be a long way home, so think about dinner on the way.
Plan a very simple meal with minimal effort which no one is going to refuse. The last thing you want is to get back with two exhausted parents and grumpy kids and then think, what shall we have for dinner? You might have to flex this plan, as sometimes it takes a while to leave an event – you can have emergency snacks for the way home, or stop for something to eat out.
Why Should We Even Go?
Having read all this you might be forgiven for wondering why on earth you’d want to do it! Do you really need to support and couldn’t you just arrange a play date and leave your LO to do the event alone and then come back home? Absolutely you can, and if your LO enters multiple events then going to all of them might well not be the best thing for the family.
However, I would absolutely recommend that you go for the really big events whenever you can. It is good for everyone. Your LO will get a real boost from seeing you all and knowing that you are supporting. Your relationship will strengthen through the shared experience that you can talk about. The example that you both set to your children will be so important as they grow up knowing the benefits of exercise, the joy of working towards a goal or doing something amazing for charity, and the importance of family love and support.
With good preparation and a plan, it’s worth the effort.