Pram running combines challenge, convenience

In October, a 31-year-old American woman ran a 10km road race in 38:15. In January last year, a 31-year-old New Zealand man took 32 minutes 26 seconds to cover the same distance.

So what? These are fast times, sure, but not record-breaking times. Well, actually, it seems they are. Both claim to be the world record times for running 10km while pushing a pram. With a small person inside. And, possibly, a teddy.

In the case of Julia Webb, the small person was a friend's seven-month-old daughter, because her own two-year-old was on the other side of the country. Webb had had trouble finding a race director who would let her push her stroller from the front-runner's pack. The Run Like Hell 10km in Portland, Oregon, was her only option.

Interestingly, the Guinness World Records website still has the fastest pram-pushing 10km record attributed to a Sydney Striders runner, Russell Stokes, in 34 min 19 sec in March 2008. This shows that pram running has been around for awhile and that people have been treating it pretty seriously for awhile, too.

On the rise

It is definitely on the rise now, along with a general boom in the sport of fun running. You'd have to have your eyes closed not to have noticed. There are pram runners everywhere. So many that it's causing a dilemma for race directors, torn between their responsibility to keep races safe and user-friendly to all participants, and also to create a fun community event, often with charity fundraising goals.

Now that prams have come out in SUV-like models, it's also much easier to combine exercise time with childminding responsibilities. Running forums are awash with discussions about which model works best and why. There's also been discussion among the parkrun community (which now numbers some 150,000 members Australia-wide) about hosting a standalone pram-pushing run. Being a free, timed 5km run held in parks every Saturday morning, this could be the ideal testing ground for a  first such event.

It seems like a very good idea to me. Back when I was, um, younger, the pram I pushed was akin to a Roman chariot minus the horse compared with the models available now, which have straightforward, no-nonsense names like Bob. Unless I was late for daycare pick-up, I certainly wasn't running with my Emmaljunga behemoth, yet the distances I covered with up to three small boys inside or dangling off it at alarming angles, plus a few shopping bags, was training of sorts anyway. Once I could get away from them all to exercise on my own, I felt as light as a bird. In fact, it's pretty much why I took up running!

A run of their own?

So why not cater to this growing army of enthusiastic new parents who are juggling the demands of parenthood while maintaining their fitness goals, and who actually like exercising with their offspring? I think they deserve a reward, and a mass event just for pram pushers would be fantastic. Thinking commercially, surely the sponsors would love it, too.

Also, it would appease those more purist runners who get cranky about the interference of obstacles such as prams on the course when they're trying to crack a PB. At least they no longer have to dodge hospital beds, which used to make regular appearances at the City2Surf.

Sure, a dedicated pram race would require planning: drink stations (or sippy cup stops?) would need redesigning, and as one forum commenter noted sensibly, there is always the issue of what to do with the pram occupant if the pusher has a health issue mid-run. Plus, the portaloo thing could require some planning, ie. is it OK to leave your pram unattended while you duck inside for the inevitable pre-race call of nature? There's other questions: should it be a mass start, or a phased start in categories? And what about a name? Stroller2Sea?

When mining the running forum archives for this blog, I found one post from the early 2000s by a race director opposed to prams in races for security reasons. Apparently terrorists could put bombs instead of babies in prams, thus causing event organisers to have to check the inside of every stroller entered. Interesting that this post was written very soon after the 9/11 US terrorist attacks, when we in Australia were being encouraged to remain alert (but not alarmed) at all times.  

How Australia rolls

I checked out the pram policies as they stand at the moment for a few big running events around Australia. It seems that Julie Webb would have just as much trouble finding a race in which to crack a record here as she did at home in the US.

For example, the annual Medibank Melbourne Marathon Festival only allows prams in the untimed 3km walk, even though the festival includes a marathon, half marathon, 10km and 5km races. "The events are mass participation with over 30,000 people in one place – we do not allow prams because this is the safest thing for the public," a spokesman told me.

Fairfax Events, which hosts a growing suite of running events - including one of the world's biggest in the City2Surf - allows strollers into all its races, although they are encouraged to start in the last group " for the safety of themselves and others".

"We've seen a rise in people with strollers largely due to improvements in running strollers themselves," says Fairfax Events director Rebecca Wilmer. "At the moment we have no immediate plans to include a separate category or event, but will be something we monitor." Sounds promising.

At the Sydney Running Festival, which includes a marathon, half marathon, 9km and 3.5km family run, all prams, non-racing wheelchairs, walkers and slow joggers must start in the final start group (Group C).

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon has eight events, but prams are only permitted in the 5.7km Challenge and they must start at the back of the field.

So it seems that pram runners have certainly been noticed, for better and for worse. The interesting issue will be how they'll be treated in the future. A dedicated race could be a good test.

Do you run with a pram? Would you enter a dedicated stroller race?

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