Questions/Concerns on Children running long distances. How far is to far?

Bryce running up a hill at his first 5k in DEC 2011.

Bryce running up a hill at his first 5k in DEC 2011.

This morning my son Bryce informed me he wants to be able to run seven miles with me.  Now, since he is 10 – that means it is well within the limits I have heard whispered on the interwebs – that a child shouldn’t run TOO many miles.

This got me to thinking – how is training a child different from how an adult trains?  Does there need to be limits on the mileage that the child is allowed to work up too?

I figured I would look up some of the items that I have heard from random places to verify them.   So I began using my favorite tool. Google.  We all know if it’s on the internet it must be true – so this seemed like a flaw-less plan to me.  (I decided to restrict myself to articles/abstracts that were within the last 10 years, due to the changing outlooks in medicine, as knowledge increases.)

1) Should a child’s Running be limited in miles to X amount of miles?(where X is sometimes a specific number, sometimes it is their age in miles)?
A Runners world article had this to say:
“Kids and mileage basically makes us nervous,” Roberts says, “but from all I’ve found, there is no harm being done; they are not getting hurt. If it is their choice, keep doing it.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study called “Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes” which was just reaffirmed in March of 2012.  I found this study to be very interesting, some great excerpts from it:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends limiting 1 sporting activity to a maximum of 5 days per week with at least 1 day off from any organized physical activity. In addition, athletes should have at least 2 to 3 months off per year from their particular sport during which they can let injuries heal, refresh the mind, and work on strength, conditioning, and proprioception in hopes of reducing injury risk.
  • This entire paragraph was pertinent: Recent concerns regarding the participation of children in marathon running has led to different opinions being expressed in the literature.1012 There is, at present, no scientific evidence that supports or refutes the safety of children who participate in marathons. There are no recorded data on injuries sustained by children who run marathons. Marathon training requires a gradual increase in total weekly mileage, which may be less than or equal to the total weekly distance that is generally logged by high school cross-country teams (35–40 miles). Regardless, a clearly devised weekly plan, ensuring that safe running conditions are in place, and the provision of proper education on endurance activities (including environmental conditions and appropriate hydration) should all be part of the training process. A critical environmental safety concern is the ambient temperature and relative humidity, because a child is less able than an adult to handle heat stress.13 Weather-related guidelines have been set for all marathons, and these guidelines should be strictly enforced by the medical director for all youth endurance events.14 Ultimately, there is no reason to disallow participation of a young athlete in a properly run marathon as long as the athlete enjoys the activity and is asymptomatic.15
Bryce Finishing his first 5k!

Bryce Finishing his first 5k!

From a marathon-specific view-point.  Dr Robert Williams wrote about it in 2008 in an article “Children and Marathoning.”  He determined that in his opinion it was safe, but set forth some safety rules that he felt that those running marathons (meaning the facilitator, not the runners) should set forth to minimize the youth runners from injuring themselves.

Unfortunately many of the studies/papers on this were unavailable online which did limit my research.  I hope to purchase these papers and see what further information is available.

From what I have been able to find – there is no evidence that distance running is bad for children/youths that wish to do it.  The importance of avoiding Too Much Too Soon is more important for a non-adult.  In addition, temperature concerns are also more important and the youth should be accompanied by an adult.

Now the next time my son asks “Dad, Can I run a Marathon with you?”   I’ll have a better answer!

*Note – I did not quote Steven Rices’ article from the Running Times in 2008 titled “Children and Marathoning” because it is a repeat of information that he released in 2000, with no apparent new information.  This puts it outside of my 10 year window. It is still worth reviewing – because he is against children doing any form of constant active competition for risk of burnout/injuries.

So what do you think?  Should children be limited in how far they run?


I run, because I am a runner. Having realized that I have always "been a runner" - even when I went years with out running, I am learning how it has integrated itself in all aspects of my life. When I started running in highschool, my perspective on life changed. Funny that I didn't realize how much it had affected it until just recently.

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13 comments on “Questions/Concerns on Children running long distances. How far is to far?
  1. RunToInspire says:

    I just wish I was that interested in running when I was his age!

  2. When I was a kid I was either running or biking all the time. But not in any organized kind of way. I wish, similar to RunToInspire’s comment above, that someone like yourself had helped channel my energy towards more race specific goals. That would have been really cool! 😎

    • Robinson says:

      That was kind of what I was thinking. Outside he spends all day running/biking/climbing. If he can run around for 2 hours then I can’t see where a 7 mile run is going to hurt him.

      I think the trick will be keeping it from being “Training”!

  3. College Tri says:

    I think sometimes we shelter people in the lack of complete information. After all, 40 years ago, women weren’t allowed to run marathons because “their uterus would fall out.” That was the actual reasoning and it was thought to be completely true. Now, the women’s marathon world record is only about 10 minutes behind the men’s.

    I would support childern running fairly high mileage as long as they did the same as adults: listened to their body, took adequate rest (by listening to their body), checked injuries out, etc.

    Here’s another good article on it.

    • Robinson says:

      Just think of all those uteruses (utersi?) at risk now because of the Nike Women’s Running series of races.. BAD NIKE!

      And those two girls are AMAZING. I see incredible records being broken by them, even if their uterus does fall out!

  4. Halfathoner says:

    I am no expert at all on this — my girls played soccer, field hockey and softball. But I think if he wants to run and you’re REALLY careful about slowly increasing distance, speed and endurance, are mindful of the heat, and make sure he gets proper rest between runs, he should be fine. I know many elementary schools are incorporating cross country programs now (but not at those distances).

    • AndrewGills says:

      Do elementary schools where you live not have cross country running? Wow. XC running was compulsory when I was at primary school in Australia in the 1980s. We started with 500m in Grade 1 (5yo) and were at 3km by grade 7 (11-12yo).

      • Robinson says:

        Its pretty rare in the US. I know for the XC sports teams – you can do “modified” in 7th grade. that is 2.5k.

      • Halfathoner says:

        My girls went to school in Virginia, and no, there was no such thing as cross country. Everybody played soccer in the spring and fall, and competitive swimming in the summer. I never heard of XC for kids until I moved to Tennessee and a friend’s daughter was running meets in the 1st grade.

      • Robinson says:

        1st grade? WOW!!! In Upstate NY its 7th at the earliest! (I don’t know about Maryland yet – but it doesn’t’ seem to be offered at my kids Elementary)

  5. AndrewGills says:

    I ran a lot as a child. Cross country, track. It was all play to me. I also swam and cycled a lot. I completed my first 60km road cycle with my dad a few days after my 10th birthday.

    I think the key for kids is not to make running training but to focus on it being fun and on it being what the child wants to do.

    Though I can strongly recommend stretching and rest as well. I never stretched when I was young and think that’s why I have such painful shin splints.

    Just two cents from my personal experience.

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The Once and Future Runner
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