The Austin Marathon… with Kids! Feb14

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The Austin Marathon… with Kids!

photo by Ginny Witkin Belosky

Want to do something different with the kids this weekend? You’re in luck — it’s marathon time! The Livestrong Austin Marathon happens on Sunday morning, and we’ve got everything you need to know if you want to get in on the action.

“This is an event for everyone, not just the runners,” said Ari Whitkin, community affairs director for the Austin Marathon. “We want the whole community to be involved.”

If you are running the marathon, half marathon or 5K, congratulations on completing your training, and good luck! You probably already have more information than you need (if you don’t, check here), so this post isn’t really for you; it’s for everyone else, including your friends and family, who will turn out to cheer on Sunday!

Be There with Bells On

If you are going out to support a loved one, or just want to spectate the course, you will have plenty of opportunity, as the marathon course makes it all the way around town, as far south as Ben White and as far north as Northcross Mall. A free mobile app (available for iPhone and mobile web) makes it easy to track your favorite runner as they progress, so you’ll be sure to be in the right spot(s) at the right time to cheer for them.

Even if you don’t know anyone running the race, it’s fun to come out and watch, especially with kids. Make silly signs, jangle a cowbell or blow an air horn and just generally make a spectacle of yourself. The runners love it, and it really keeps the air in their sails.

“You get that energy, you get that smile on your face,” said Whitkin. “It’s a great push to make it through 26.2 miles.”

Tips for Cheering with Kids

The only real tip you need for bringing your kids along to cheer for the runners is to come prepared for everything.

“Bundle up and dress in layers,” advises Shelly Gupta of Hahn, Texas for the Austin Marathon. “We’re going to go through a variety of temperatures that day.” Current weather forecasts for Sunday indicate the morning will be a chilly, in the mid-30s, but temperatures may get as high as 70 as the race goes on.

Even though the runners themselves will provide plenty of entertainment, young ones can be fickle, so make sure you bring some other activities just in case (iPad anyone?), especially if you are waiting for a special someone to run by. Even better, pick a spot on the course with a playground nearby (see below for a few suggestions) and take play breaks.

Bring photo equipment if you like, but if your little ones are younger, don’t get your heart set on prize-winning shots. One dad experienced at race-watching commented that getting photos has been nearly impossible for him with his toddler in tow, since he either can’t take the time to look through the camera lens, or his little one wants to hold his phone the minute he takes it out. If you have older kids, snap away.

Bring the stroller and/or your favorite babywearing apparatus, unless you are lucky enough to live right along the course, since you may have to walk a little. Pack all the necessities, like extra diapers, snacks, water, a change of clothes and/or a portable potty, depending on your little one’s age and stage. You might also bring along some special treats, like hot chocolate in a thermos, to make the experience fun.

Bring as many noisemakers as you can scare up — cowbells, air horns (if your little one’s ears aren’t too sensitive), a bullhorn for yelling encouragement. One mom appropriated her son’s music makers to make noise for the runners at a recent race. If there’s one thing most kids love, it’s making lots of noise, and a race is a great excuse to do just that!

“If kids are looking to make as much noise as they want to, as they’re never allowed to make,” said Whitkin, “this is a great opportunity.”

The Best Spots

Republic Square Park: If you’re getting an early start (the race kicks off at 7 am), a great close-in spot to see the runners is near the first water stop at Republic Square Park, between 4th and 5th Streets on Guadalupe Street. There is a large green space for kids to run around in away from traffic, and there will be plenty of energy early on in the race. Parking may be difficult that close in, so make sure to check out street closures and plan to park and walk if you are driving in.

Mary and South Congress/South First: See the runners in two spots without traveling far by taking advantage of the fact that the course heads south down South Congress, and then back north up South First. Riverside is one connecting street between the two, but parking is likely to be more difficult, so head down to South Congress and Mary Street. Nearby Fulmore Middle School provides a convenient place to park, and you can catch runners 3 ½ miles into the marathon and half marathon there. Then take a less than half-mile walk down Mary Street to South First, and you can catch the runners again near Mile 7.

Brentwood Park: Make it a two-fer by picking a spot with a park nearby! Brentwood Park, near Justin Lane and Arroyo Seco, is adjacent to the marathon course, near Mile 20, so you can take “play breaks.” If you are trying to catch someone specific on the course, though, make sure you time it right and that your little one understands that when it’s time to leave the park, it’s really time to leave the park. If you’re just spectating for fun, you’ll have more flexibility. As an extra bonus, the Crestview Neighborhood Association plans to have a block party, with their mascot, Domino the pig in attendance, near the 20-mile mark.

The Home Stretch: It’s likely the most exciting stretch of the course to spectate will be the marathon’s home stretch, from about Miles 24 through 25. The streets will be packed with cheering spectators and race parties in the exciting downhill stretch from Duval to San Jacinto and through UT’s campus. The runners will be in high gear, and the finish is just around the corner. This is the place to go for excitement!

You can find a map of the race routes here, and a comprehensive list of the best spots to cheer here, complete with a list of coffee stops along the way.

No matter where you decide to watch the race, it’s likely to be a great experience for you and your kids. Remember to bring a fun sign, make lots of noise and just generally act like a crazy person, and you’re sure to be rewarded with smiles, whoops and high fives from runners along the way.

Lauren Walz is a freelance writer and editor and mama to a two-year-old girl. While she’s quick to brag about being a fifth-generation Texan, Lauren moved to Northern California in 2004 after graduating from UT Law and lived in the Silicon Valley area until last spring, when she and her family were drawn back to Austin. Lauren is busy getting re-acquainted with her old stomping grounds and is astonished by how the food and wine scene has changed in Austin in the past 8 years. Lauren also blogs about cooking and parenthood on gourmetveggiemama.com.