Running at an Early Age
Have a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.
My son has caught the running bug and is running his second 5-K at age 8. I know that he is still growing and developing, so I tend to be a little on the defensive side. We run at a conversational pace. He takes walking breaks when needed, and I try to make it fun. Are there any dangers, or suggestions, for training for kids? I believe you have a book on the subject as well, correct?
Nope. No book on the subject, but an article with a lot of sidebars written for Runner’s World, titled “Is Running Good for Children,” is available online.
Some doctors suggest that children should not get too serious about high-mileage training until after they have passed through their final growth spurts (i.e., puberty) and become teenagers. But I believe that is more a suggestion than a serious prohibition. If there are any studies identifying long-term damage to children who began running too early in life, I have not seen them.
Here’s my bottom line: If the child wants to run, let him–though not necessarily marathons at age 8. I would not let my son Kevin, a talented runner, run his first marathon until after high school. He went to a marathon in Fort Wayne soon after graduation and strode past the first half in 1:30. He started that “slow” because I held him back. Then I gave him the green light, and he finished in 2:48. After graduation from college, Kevin ran a 2:18 marathon and qualified for the Olympic Trials. Now in his 50s, Kevin continues to run recreationally.
Children are very vulnerable these days. Particularly as they arrive at their teenage years, they could be doing a lot of worse things than running 5-Ks with their parents. Congratulations on having a runner in your family.