How to plan a family 5K

Photos of a Family Reunion 5K

I love saying I’m a race director. It doesn’t matter that my race is just a family-reunion 5K, or that our course doesn’t stand a chance of certification. I’m in the race management company’s database as a “race director,” and that’s good enough for me.

I always did love role playing. As a girl I didn’t play with toys so much as played house, school, and even office. I’d use the piano bench as my desk and set up in and out boxes, pen cups, stapler, scratch paper. Who my employees were I have no idea; it was likely my younger sister and brother. (I seemed to be able to press them into duty as needed. Just ask them sometime.) For several summers at our rented lake cabin I organized “Silly Summer Olympics,” consisting of sand and water races, games, and competitions, and awarding medals made of tin foil and cardboard.

So when my running brother and I started talking about figuring out how to plan a family 5k for our family’s annual reunion — a 37-consecutive-year tradition called the Thorson Family Birthday Party — I jumped at the chance to play race director.

It was actually pretty easy. I wore my Garmin and ran a few routes until I found one that worked (well enough) without too much highway time. I emailed a management company I found on a race brochure and just asked for some advice: Where could I get a race clock? What should I expect to spend?

To my delight the answer was: We’ll rent you one. How about $50 for the weekend? Do you need bibs too? Yes please.

Now I had a route, a clock, and bibs (they even threw in pins). That really was enough, but then I starting thinking “wouldn’t it be so cool to have race shirts too?” I’m like that. I always make any plan just a little bit harder to execute.

Having shirts made is the easy part; taking orders from family members, keeping track of sizes, and collecting payment is a lot harder. I’m glad I did it, though. People loved them and they make for great pictures.

We’ve run our 5K for two years. The first year our shirts said “Want to see wild geese?” a Thorson family inside joke that everyone loved. Last year I renamed the race the Wild Goose Chase and our shirts said simply “I see wild geese.” You kinda have to be a Thorson to get that. But trust me, it’s cool. Even my teenage and 20-something cousins wanted them.*

My cousins and I helped the great-grandkids make signs for the start, finish, and course directions the night before the race. I enlisted even more cousins (I have 13 of them) to sit along the route and help people find their way. (Lakes area = lots of windy gravel roads and some switchbacks.) My grandma and non-running aunts set up a water station at mile 2. Another cousin has been the official timekeeper both years. Grandpa supervises the finish line.

Our birthday party group ranges in size each year, depending on how many can make it. The first year we had 20 runners; last year we had 10. We also have a quarter-mile kids race, run by all the great-grandkids; our littlest racer the first year was 2. The kids get prizes; the rest of us just bragging rights. Two years ago I won in my age division; this year I was the women’s champ!

I could tell you that it is important to model an active lifestyle for our kids, or that this is the family from whom I inherited the gene for high cholesterol, making exercise even more important, but really we do it because it’s a lot of fun. And I get to indulge my inner bossy big sister every year, so it’s a win-win.

Maybe next time I get an email from the race management company I’ll submit my race for the calendar. Who wouldn’t want to go on a Wild Goose Chase with a bunch of Thorsons?


* For the truly curious, “Want to see wild geese” is a game my grandpa played with all his kids and grandkids, and that he now plays with his great-grandkids. He would ask “do you want to see wild geese?” and the unsuspecting child would say “Yes.” Then he’d shake your head back and forth and stop every once in a while and ask “do you see them?” and innocent child says “No, Grandpa I don’t!” So he keeps shaking your head until you say you see them but you really don’t. Then he asks “what color are they?” and the game continues. I really thought I was supposed to see wild geese. Here’s a picture of my grandpa doing “wild geese” with my son.

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