Parents on the Run

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

This month, the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon weekend of events sold out in record time, just about 48 hours from the official start of registration. In addition to Expedition Everest and the Tower of Terror 10-mile events, runDisney, the team responsible for the endurance events in and around the Disney theme parks, hosts five marathon or half-marathon weekends a year. Many parents participate in these events, some planning family trips to coincide or others traveling to Disney theme parks without their children. This week we asked a group of endurance athletes who happen to be parents: How do you figure out the logistics of child care when you train for and participate in runDisney events?

Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock's three boys are now 13, 11, and 8. They've been visiting the Disneyland Resort since they were each just weeks old and Annual Passholders since their 3rd birthdays. Adrienne writes:

I started participating in half-marathons three years ago, inspired by two friends who "ran" before me. I call myself a "back of the packer": After three years, I still barely surpass the minimum pace requirement for runDisney events, which is a 16-minute mile—and I mostly walk. I finish the events and they give me the same beautiful medal as everyone who crosses the finish line before and after me and that is one of my bigger motivators. Naturally, like most other parents pounding the pavement in Anaheim and Orlando, I also try to set a good example for my children and hope I get some health benefits out of the deal.

For me, training is a little easier than managing the events themselves. When I began training for the September 2009 Disneyland Half Marathon, I still had children home during the day. I faced a few challenges:

  • I am not a morning person.
  • My husband leaves for work by 5:15 a.m. on weekdays.
  • I live in a very hilly neighborhood.
  • Pushing a stroller on hills provides more resistance training than I wanted to face.
  • I live on the edge of the desert where summer temperatures rise quickly after sunrise.

My first training solution? A treadmill. We already had a treadmill, so I climbed on board. In fact, for more than three years, I almost exclusively trained on a treadmill. Many runners find this tedious. Indeed, walking on pavement and walking on a treadmill each have such different characteristics that I may have done myself a disservice on some levels. But I became comfortable with having my endless supply of water and a bathroom always available, as well as knowing my children were cared for. In addition, if I had to walk after dark, I felt safer at home on my treadmill than walking outside alone.

For many reasons, child care the day of the events is trickier:

  • Many of my friends also participate in these events, thus limiting my options in the area.
  • Because of the early start time and travel logistics, we stay in local hotels the nights before our runDisney events, again limiting the options I rely on most in my geographical community.
  • The runDisney events begin notoriously early. Last month's Tinker Bell Half and the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend events began as early as 4:45 a.m. and 5 a.m.! I'm a bit reluctant to ask even my closest friends and family to meet me at my hotel room at 3:30 a.m.!

Selfishly, I want to enjoy the weekend with my family, although logistically, my husband and I have both participated in events without our family. In 2010, I finished the Princess Half Marathon and, last month, Kevin finished the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, each of us traveling with a group of friends while the other stayed home with the kids. Traveling without the entire family proved a bit lonely for both of us, but without that option, the trips were cost-prohibitive for our family budget.

The Krock boys cheer for their parents, Adrienne and Kevin Krock, with signs they made at the 2013 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Event Expo, thanks to supplies provided by runDisney. The boys also make sure Kevin and Adrienne have their chocolate milk recovery drinks at the finish line. Photo by Lani Teshima.

For the inaugural Tinker Bell Half Marathon in 2012, we left the boys home with a babysitter while we stayed in Anaheim. I missed the boys. I relish seeing my boys alongside the race course, holding up signs and grabbing quick, albeit sweaty, hugs as we run by. Seeing my babies faces always gives me a boost of energy when I need to push a little harder to the finish line.

So who do I have watch the boys while Kevin and I pound the pavement? Never underestimate the power of the Internet community. Now, let me disclaim here: I do not randomly leave my children with strangers I met on the Internet. But, every single one of my Disney event comrades, from those I met years before my first race to those I met along the way, I met from online communities including MousePlanet's message boards. My husband and I found quite a bit of support in the endurance event community, from training advice and wisdom to support and encouragement. Over time, we met in person at the Disney parks and spent time together, building trust and relationships. One friend has three children exactly the same ages as mine. Her husband watched their children while she raced, so we delivered our children to their hotel room on our way to the start line. He graciously brought them down to the finish line several times.

More recently, I joined a fundraising team that raises money for charity while training for and participating in runDisney events. About two weeks before the Tinker Bell Half Marathon, I posted a question on the team website, asking if anyone had family members who might be available to escort my children from our hotel to the finish line. Sure enough, one of the team members replied and her daughter came to our aid! Add another benefit to participating in a runDisney event with a charity team!

Sure, it takes time to build a relationship of such trust, so I only have one question: What are you waiting for? The feeling of accomplishment, the health benefits, the characters on the race course, the amazing runDisney medals, and the example you can set for your children of creating a goal and achieving it are all waiting for you, too. And we'll be here cheering and supporting you along the way, too. Stop by our Team MousePlanet forum at MousePad.

Team MousePlanet provides support on our MousePad message boards and on the race course. MousePad member and mom, Jodi, sports her 2012 Disneyland Half Marathon "I Did It!" shirt while supporting runners at the 2013 Tinker Bell Half Marathon, here with Adrienne Krock. Photo by Adrienne Krock.

Melissa posts as fairestoneofall on our MousePad message boards. She's a mom to two boys, a wife, a business owner, a charity organization founder, a runner and a lover of Angels baseball and all things Disney. Melissa writes:

How long could it possibly take to run a half-marathon? I mean, it's "just" 13.1 miles, right? Well, for me it takes around three hours. Sure, it's not hard to find 3.5 kid free hours to run a race. The hard part is in the preparation.

Running a half-marathon safely and without injury requires training, discipline and most importantly time. Now, I'm a morning runner so if I don't get my run in well before lunch I can forget about it. Just totally skip it and move on to the next one. So, twice a week, I drop the kids off at school and hit the pavement (or the treadmill if the weather is bad) immediately. I run as far as I can go in 30 minutes and then I speed shower and get on with my day. If you're a mom that works outside of the home, this can prove to be more difficult for you. Saturday mornings are when I like to take my long runs. Saturday mornings are also when we're usually scheduled to the max with baseball or whatever activity is in season. So, on Friday night, I check to see what time the sun is due to rise and I set my alarm for 30 minutes before then. This gives me 15 minutes to get my gear on and then head out about 15 minutes before sunrise. I thoroughly enjoy this time with myself. At this hour there are very few cars on the road and my only encounter with life is usually the occasional bobcat or coyote, well, until around 7:30 a.m. and I can smell people cooking bacon. Mmm. I'm usually home by around 8 a.m., earlier than most of my friends are even awake on a Saturday morning. Then I can take joy in saying that I ran 10 miles before most of you were even up this morning.

Being a mom during an event weekend is difficult, but not impossible. I would guess that I am in the minority in that all of my races have been destination races, meaning that I've had to stay in a hotel the night before the race. It's a juggling act to make sure your kids are taken care of to the point that you don't have to worry about them, and you can solely focus on yourself, your gear and your race.

For my first half-marathon, I actually left my (then) 4- and 5-year-old boys with my parents about an hour away from where I was racing. They were kind enough to keep them until the next day so I could celebrate and recover and focus on myself. But, I know that's not always possible.

Often times my husband and I will switch off running and watching the boys. It's fun to be the runner, but it's a whole lot of fun to be the cheerleader, too! Then there are times when we run together. One time we had a babysitter with us. We made preparations for race day the night before and then we just snuck out during the wee hours of the morning to get to the start line while the kids and the sitter were still sleeping. This was a very simple solution for us, but the boys missed seeing us at the finish line.

Last month, my husband and I ran Tinker Bell Half Marathon together. Thankfully my sister and brother in law shared a suite with us and my sister was kind enough to watch the boys while the rest of us ran. She set up her phone to get text alerts to track us, and when she got our 10K (6.2-mile) splits, she and the boys headed down to cheer for us at our usual mileage point. It was an enormous boost to see my family cheering for me in the home stretch. It always gives me that pick-me-up that I'm so desperately in need of after almost 13 miles of running. She met us in the family reunion area and we all hung out and waited for the rest of our team.

There really is no "right" way to work it, but these are some of the things that have worked with my family in the past. We lead a charity team two events a year, so time management during race weekend is becoming second nature. I don't at all regret bringing the kids even if it means that we have to go to lengths to make sure they are taken care of. It's a priceless teaching tool to show your kids the value of an active lifestyle, hard work, and finishing what you start. Hopefully, one day I will be the dear old granny watching my grandchildren while my boys are racing to that finish line. And plus, what better way to celebrate a huge success than by spending a day with your family at a Disney park?

A runDisney event provides runners with some of the best medals, or "bling," in the industry—and some of the best motivation for runners. Photo by Adrienne Krock.

Nancy is an enthusiastic Disney Parks fan. She has been married for 10 years and has two little ones: a 3-year-old son and an infant daughter. A Disneyland local, she first visited Walt Disney World in 2006 and has returned four times since. Nancy writes:

I've now completed five runDisney half-marathons and, interestingly, all of them after the birth of my first child. I often wish I'd developed my love of running before children as now there are more logistics to coordinate and think through to be a successful half-marathoner. But, being a mommy hasn't stopped me. In fact, I just ran the 2013 Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland with my youngest being just 4 months old.

There are two childcare considerations to work out to successfully complete a race event. First and foremost, there is the training. At least three times a week, I need to figure out how to take care of my little ones while I get in my training runs. We don't have family local to us, so easy childcare does not come around nearly as often as I'd like. I can't "drop off the kids at grandma's" and go for a run. What has worked out for me is going in the early morning while my husband gets ready for work. Yes, it is terribly early (and I am NOT a morning person!), and yes, it means it is cold, and yes, it means it is dark. I don't like any of those conditions, but it is the time that works the best for my family compared to cutting into family time in the evenings.

Before I had my second baby I also took a couple of spins with a jogging stroller. I did enjoy that, but prefer to go without. I felt like pushing the stroller really changed my body mechanics and I want my training runs to resemble my race day run as closely as possible. However, now that my baby girl is almost old enough to enjoy a jogging stroller along with my son, I will be in the market for a high-end double jogging stroller. My goal is to take the kids out once a week with it, sometimes two, making sure I have at least one run a week (probably the long training run of the week) by myself. This will let me sleep in an extra morning or two a week to catch up on precious mommy sleep, while also getting the kids involved and out of the house, and preserving my long run to mimic race day conditions. Another option I am considering is joining a gym that offers childcare services so I can get a run in mid-day without concern of weather or pushing a stroller or losing much sleep.

Figuring out childcare for all those training runs is more than half the battle, but still there is the logistics of the race day itself. I've done this several ways. For my first race my husband simply kept the little one at home and then met me at the finish line. My second race posed more of a problem as my husband was also racing! We traveled to Walt Disney World for the Princess Half-Marathon when my son was 18 months old. After trying unsuccessfully to bribe a few family members to travel with us to Walt Disney World to take care of the little guy on race morning, I started researching child care services. We elected to use Kid's Nite Out, and had a wonderful experience with them. I called well in advance of our race date to ensure they child sat during the odd hours we would need them for race morning and to reserve our time slot. Although they charged an extra $2 an hour for the early hours, they were more than accommodating.

Our sitter arrived early, was professional, kind, warm and extremely attentive to all the instructions I gave her. She seemed to really enjoy the time with my son. She took notes of all his activities, food eaten, and diapers changed. With our permission, she took our little one out to the hotel playground to play. I was a little nervous to use a babysitting service, but my experience with Kid's Nite Out could not have been better. I will not hesitate to use them again. In fact, I'm planning on it for our upcoming December trip so my husband and I can enjoy several hours to ourselves in Epcot one evening!

My husband also raced with me for my third race, the Disneyland Half Marathon. The logistics played out differently here since we are locals. We decided to stay two nights in a (nearby) Harbor Boulevard hotel, one without my son and another with him. A friend took him overnight near our home and then another friend drove him the next day post race to our hotel to drop him off with us. It was a little challenging taking care of him while recovering after the race, but it helped that we had two of us for the one of him. We enjoyed the parks that evening and the next day as a family.

Participating in an active lifestyle and enjoying half-marathon events while being a mommy of young children certainly has posed its challenges, but I've found that the little extra planning and coordination has been well worth it.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!