A Birthday Party Run Wild


When it came time to plan my son’s sixth birthday party, it only made sense that it would have a running theme. I eat, sleep, and breathe running, and Milo has become more enthusiastic about it. He completed his first 5K this summer and several 1-mile runs this fall.

A running race-themed party was not my idea, though. It struck me as a great way to celebrate a child’s birthday when someone organized a birthday party at the Pumpkin Run 400-meter Kids’ Run last year. The kids get to be outdoors and active and they get to do something that supports a great cause. It also makes for a simple birthday party, because someone else organizes the race and all the parents have to do is pay the registration fee.

Milo’s birthday party became a little more complicated when I decided it would be no problem to organize my own race instead of piggybacking on another race. It became even more complex when I decided to provide t-shirts and finisher medals for the kids. Schwag is one of the easiest ways to get kids excited about running.

Luckily, my mom designs t-shirts and can buy shirts at wholesale prices. She let Milo pick out one of her designs and he chose a scary gargoyle. We invited 18 friends and ordered 18 blue shirts and one red shirt for the birthday boy. I am also lucky to have access to hundreds of leftover race medals, including the recently cancelled Sweathouse Half-Marathon medals. Shirts: check, medals: check. It all seemed simple and fairly affordable so far.

Then Milo informed me that he wanted a Harry Potter-themed party, so we decided to compromise. The invitations said there would be a fun run for the kids and some Harry Potter-themed components of the party. I don’t think there are gargoyles in the Harry Potter books, but the T-shirt started to make a little more sense.

We rounded out the Harry Potter theme by asking a friend who is amazing baker to make Voldemort cake pops with a round, white head and scary, snake-like face. The Lucius Malfoy piñata Milo requested proved to be more time-consuming. We had never made a piñata before and it required several sessions of laying newspaper and piñata paste before drawing a scary face, gluing on blond hair, and stuffing it with little toys and candy just minutes before the party started.

The party was on a beautiful Sunday in October. All 18 kids that we invited attended the party, which was wonderful but a little overwhelming. I was glad to have ordered just the right amount of shirts, but disappointed there weren’t extra shirts for the younger siblings who tagged along.

We started the party by walking to the new trail south of the Clark Fork River between the Missoula Osprey Stadium and the California Street footbridge. I have no idea how far this stretch is, but it is short enough for kids who have never run a race.

We prompted them to begin running and they were off, with the older ones in the lead and the younger siblings and parents following closely behind. I was at the finish with my camera to capture their flushed and smiling faces. When they reached me, I gave them medals and high fives at the finish line. It always amazes me at how medals excite kids. They kept asking “Are these medals real?” They proudly wore them for the rest of the party.

Back at the house after the race, the kids enjoyed the cake pops. The rope holding the piñata fell to the ground within minutes because it was too heavy from the candy and toys we packed into it. The kids seemed happy to take turns whacking it on the ground until it burst open and Lucius Malfoy’s blond hair was in shreds.

We asked parents to bring something for Milo to donate to the Missoula Food Bank instead of a gift. When birthday invitations say “no gifts” many people still feel inclined to bring something, so this request allowed them to do that. The greatest gift was seeing Milo’s pride in donating 67 pounds of food a couple of days later.

I was glad the birthday event was over and vowed never to have such an elaborate party again. I have already asked Milo if he would be okay with inviting just three friends next year. Maybe a simple sleepover birthday party instead?


Eva Dunn-Froebig is the executive director of Run Wild Missoula and has been running since the seventh grade. She moved to Missoula 12 years ago from upstate New York to attend the University of Montana’s Journalism School graduate program. Eva never dreamed that she would have a running-related job and feels lucky to be a participant in Missoula’s vibrant running community.