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FunRunMishWBy Kristy MacKaben

Pre-race it's bananas with peanut butter. Post-race it's Starbucks celebration drinks.

Lara Mish of Annapolis and her 11-year-old daughter started their race rituals about four years ago. That's when, at age 7, Jenna caught the racing bug from her marathon running parents. The family runs at least four races a year, though the youngest, Lucy, 7, isn't too crazy about the sport yet.

Running is becoming a hobby and a way of bonding for many Maryland families, as more kids become inspired by their running parents. In the last decade, races have become more family friendly — featuring fun activities or shorter fun runs geared toward kids. And running clinics have been popping up all over the region with kids in mind.

 

The Mish Family of Annapolis after a run.

Running programs for kids

Fleet Feet of Annapolis recently launched "Zoomerangs" a running program for children ages 4 to 13. The six-week program focuses on getting kids active and having fun, says Noelle Tarr, marketing director for Fleet Feet Annapolis.

"We don't focus on running as a duty, but that it's a blessing," says Tarr. Easing into running through games, sports and other activities, helps kids to enjoy and become more comfortable running. By the end of the six weeks, most kids will be able to run a 5K, but the main point of the program is to promote family fitness, Tarr says.

"[Running] is a great activity for families to do together and we want to start kids at an early age running and challenging themselves, so it's instilled in them and a part of their lifestyle," she explained.

And it has become a lifestyle for many local families. It's common to see families racing together at events organized by Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks. Annually there is usually a 5K, a shorter fun walk, and sprint races that are good for kids, says Carolyn Ryan, marketing and events manager for Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks, which offers a total of six road races and a sprint triathlon throughout the year. All of the races attract adults and children of varying ages, as well as parents who run with jogging strollers, she says.

"We're just trying to get families out there together," says Ryan. "I think it's a great bonding experience for the parents. It seems like when you get kids out and moving, they tend to open up a little bit more and you connect with them."

Running toward a bond

That's what Lara loves most about running with Jenna. The first 5K Jenna ran was in honor of a good friend's child who was autistic. Lara and Jenna ran together and talked about why they were running and how it would help the family.

"Jenna had so much fun running through the neighborhoods while we discussed why we were doing this," Lara says. "It is time together when we are disconnected from everything else. It becomes such precious time for parents and kids to just talk, about anything and everything."

Before she could walk, running was a part of Jenna's life. When Lara trained for her first marathon, Jenna was 1.

"I'd put her in the jogging stroller, and I'd go before work or after work," Lara says. "I tried to keep my runs with her shorter, but we did do one 10 miler in her jogger on a trail so we stopped, sang, had a picnic. I didn't have to bribe her, she loved the wind in her face."

When Jenna turned 3, she started running with Junior Striders, a summer running program offered through the Annapolis Striders. Later she became involved with Girls on the Run of the Greater Chesapeake, where Lara coaches. These days Jenna runs a 5K in less than 23 minutes — faster than her mother.

Jenna says she was motivated by her parents.

"I wanted to run through a finish line after seeing my parents run through a finish line," Jenna says. "I like to compete against my parents."

The first time Jenna beat her mother was a holiday 5K at night. "She took off at the start and I tried to keep up, but she kept going and won her age group," says Lara. "She was so happy, but humble. I love to see her smile as she runs."

Running is also a part of life for the Brianas family of Annapolis. Jon and Jen Brianas compete in marathons and triathlons so their four children have grown up watching them train and have learned to enjoy running to some degree. Now, Carter, 10, twins Maddy and Bella, 7, and Leo, 5, frequently run races.

"It's not a mandatory activity. It's just one of the things we do as a family," says Jon, explaining on weekend mornings he and his wife often run and work out at the local track. The kids are never forced to run, but they are usually right beside their parents on the track or up and down the stairs.

"What you find is the kids will follow," says Jon. "Without being told to do it, they'll lead each other in a workout."

Carter didn't always love running, but he has grown to appreciate it. As he watched his parents run and compete, he became more interested, and he quickly learned that running helped him improve in other sports like lacrosse.

"Carter has now progressed into this kid, who without being forced or heavily coached, he runs." Brianas says. "He ends up knowing his own limitations and physical abilities. He'll push himself. He can see the results."

Maddy is passionate about running. Bella is less enthusiastic but will run 5Ks on occasion, and little Leo participates in 1-mile fun runs.

"We never tell them they have to do it, but we show them," Jon says. "We're trying to teach our kids to love running. It's our lifestyle."

Click next below for family-friendly races in November.

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