Kids run too at Disney’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend

Races like Disney’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend make running fun for the whole family with an array of events including kids races, a 5K, and half-marathon, and teach kids the importance of fitness. Photo: runDisney

ORLANDO, FL.  Feb. 23, 2012—When Disney puts on a race, they don’t just plan one running event. As the world’s largest media empire—Disney sits at No. 1 on the Fortune 500 list of entertainment companies—they orchestrate an entire weekend of festivities that everyone in the family can enjoy, from first-time runners to marathon masters, kids to adults, and even spectators. That’s one of the best parts of Disney race weekends: there is something for everyone.

At Disney’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend from Feb. 24-26, my family is putting runDisney to the test. At least one family member will be participating in every race distance offered during the weekend, including the Princess Half Marathon, Tangled Royal Family 5K and Disney Royal Family Kids’ Races. We’ll also hit the Pasta in the Park Party at Epcot and Disney’s Fit for a Princess Expo. This is my third Disney race weekend, but the first with my nephew and niece. It makes me happy to pass along my love of running to another generation. But more than that, I think it’s important to include kids in fitness events from an early age.

My nephew and niece love to run. What kid doesn’t? I think it’s something innately born in us that gets trained out as we grow older and lazier. But kids never seem to walk anywhere. They’re always running. They’re the reason pools have signs that read, “Walk, don’t run!” For kids, run—along with skip and hop—is the default gear.

My niece and nephew are no different. From an early age, my nephew started calling his sneakers his “speed shoes.” When he was 3, he saw me run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in his hometown, and when he was 4, he sat atop my sister’s shoulders and cheered me on to a personal best at the ING New York City Marathon.

“Go, Auntie Karla, go!” he yelled and gave me a high five as I spotted them at Mile 17.

Kids run too at events like the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend (pictured) in Disneyland and Disney’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend in Walt Disney World. (Photo: runDisney)

My sister had brought him to New York as a special treat. He later asked me if he could run a marathon with me. I promised him that if he wanted to, someday he could. I got misty-eyed at the thought.

Now, he’s just as excited to be running a race of his own as he is to be at Disney World. Imagine that.

As I tucked him into bed upon our arrival at Disney, he asked excitedly, “Is my race tomorrow?”

“No, sweetie, your race is on Saturday,” I said. “That’s a few days from now.”

“Oh,” he said with visible disappointment. “But you want me to win right?”

“It doesn’t matter to me if you win. I just want you to have fun,” I said.

Only one of the 10 largest race festivals in the U.S. has kids events—the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Every Disney race weekend includes kids races, from a diaper dash to a kids’ mile run. (Photo: runDisney)

“Well, I want to win!” he said, his eyes twinkling.

He’s only run one other race—a kid’s run at the R Baby Mother’s Day 4 Miler in New York City’s Central Park in 2009. He was just two-and-a-half.

But so few of the races I run also have kids events to go along with them. Of the 10 largest race festivals in the country in 2010, the last year for which data is available according to Running USA, only one has races for kids—the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Of the top 50 race festivals in the country, only 15 have kids events. For all those other race weekends, I think that’s a missed opportunity.

It’s not just that I want to pass my love of running on to my sister’s kids. If they grow-up to hate running, that’s fine too. Really, I just want to set an example for them. I want them to see being active and exercising as a fun, regular part of life. It was an example that my parents set for my sister and me—one that has served me well my entire life.

Family 5K runs, like the Never Land Family Fun Run 5K in Disneyland, let older kids run with their families. (Photo: runDisney)

But simply watching your parents isn’t enough. I think that participating in something with your family is a stronger motivator. When I think back on my own childhood, what I remember most is swimming with my mom and biking and hiking with my dad. My dad also golfed, but I never developed an affinity for the sport since I never did it with him. But tackling my first triathlon was easy having grown up swimming and biking with my parents.

So we’re making our annual family trip to Disney a family fitness trip—something we can all do together.

As a kid growing up, my dad took my sister and me to Walt Disney World in Florida every year. I waxed nostalgic about it in a previous column. My mom, who dressed as Tinker Bell for more than one Halloween as a child, was also Disney fan, having grown up in the ‘40s and ‘50s when Walt himself was overseeing classics like Cinderella and Peter Pan. She passed that love along to my sister and me, who are now paying it forward. We’ve been continuing the tradition of the annual family trip to Disney. This February will be our third, as my nephew and niece are now 5- and 3-years-old respectively.

Letting kids not only watch their parents, but run with them, teaches kids that fitness is fun. (Photo: runDisney)

First, my sister and brother-in-law will be running their very first race: the Tangled Royal Family 5K, which runs through Disney’s Epcot theme park on Saturday, Feb. 25. They’ve both run for exercise on and off throughout their lives, but probably wouldn’t describe themselves as runners. My sister is a former soccer player, dancer and cheerleader. My brother-in-law is a former swimmer. But when I told my sister about the race, she was enthusiastic.

“It’ll be good for the kids to see their parents running a race together,” she said. “And it will be fun!”

Then we’ll head to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, where the kids will do their best to “win” their respective age categories in the Disney Royal Family Kids’ Races.

Finally, on Sunday morning at 5:45 a.m., my fiancé and I will run Disney’s Princess Half Marathon. The kids and I will cheer on their parents in the 5K, then the grown-ups will cheer on the kids in their 100- and 200-meter dashes, then they’ll all cheer on Uncle and Auntie in the half-marathon. That’s a whole lot of cheer being spread around.

At Walt Disney World events like the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend, kids get to run on the track at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. (Photo: runDisney)

I can only hope that by incorporating some running into our annual family trip, the kids will start to associate with fitness the same warm, fuzzy feelings they already have for Disney. With luck, they’ll see exercise as something that’s enjoyable, and not a chore. If nothing else, I suspect our whole family will have a ton of fun in the process. So bring on the races. The Bruning family is ready to take their marks and go.

Karla Bruning is a veteran journalist and running nerd. She has completed four marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.


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Karla Bruning

Karla Bruning is the host of On The Run, a TV and web show from New York Road Runners. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, American Athlete Magazine, RunnersWorld.com, Active.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Orlando Sentinel, and two dozen other outlets including ESPN2, Universal Sports and ABC in New York. She and her work have also received mentions from The New York Times, Runner's World, Fox Sports, Canadian Running, The Baltimore Sun, and PBS among others. She also covered the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver for The Washington Times.

 

A former Newsweek reporter, Karla has won a Fulbright scholarship for American journalists and reporting grants from the Scripps Howard, Carnegie and Knight Foundations. Karla holds degrees from Amherst College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

 

When not pounding the pavement as a reporter, Karla is pounding the pavement as a runner. She has completed seven marathons, four triathlons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. She is a writer, editor, and on-camera reporter dedicated to covering the sport of running from a runner’s perspective. Find Karla on RunKarlaRun.com, Twitter@KBruning, Facebook and Google+.

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