How Young is too Young?


Is there a minimum age limit for running marathons? Many races require runners to be eighteen years or older. If they don’t, they require their parents to sign a liability waiver. I have to admit, I’ve had some reservations about having kids out on the course for that distance because their bones are still growing.

There is a bit of a debate about this issue. In 2001, the International Marathon Medical Directors Association said, “It is in the overall best interests of children to make participation in a full marathon an adult activity, reserved only for those 18 years old and older.”

Their position is based on concerns for overuse injuries, psychological burn out, increased eating disorders in young athletes, and their lower tolerance for heat stress.  Here is the thing with that endurance running, like what you find in a marathon, is no more damaging to a child than the intense training adolescent athletes go through for basketball, baseball, American football, football (aka Soccer), and every other high school sport.

Some things to keep in mind when deciding if you child should run a marathon or even participate in intense athletics at a young age:

  1. Kid’s bodies don’t do as well in hot or cold weather as adults do. They also don’t notice when they are not doing so great because of the temperature.
  2. Their bones are growing faster than their muscles and tendons, which means they can get soft tissue injuries easier than an adult.
  3. Due to their shorter stride, kids hit the ground more often when they run, which can increase the risk of stress fractures.

You don’t want them to get injured when they are young and have that injury follow them through the rest of their lives. This happens with many people who played competitive sports in high school and even in college.

Don’t get me wrong, I think sports programs are wonderful for children, adolescents and young adults. There are so many benefits to the child such as social skills, healthy life style, following rules, being a leader, adapting to a changing environment, quickly assessing situations, and here is the big one working hard for what you want.

For children and young adults it’s very important to make sure you and their coaches follow the golden rules of run training: first, never increase miles by more than 10% a week; and second, every fourth week decrease miles by 20% to allow time to rebuild. It’s critical that they learn to listen to their own body and rest it when it needs rest. If they learn this skill early in their running or sports, it will benefit them throughout their active lives.

If you are going to allow your child to participate in marathons make sure it is their choice and that they can stop when they are no longer interested in running that distance. This one is always a balance because you don’t want them to walk away from a commitment just because it’s not fun anymore. Make sure they have all the information and know what training will look like and what the race will look like.

2 thoughts on “How Young is too Young?

  1. Mark February 16, 2017 / 9:01 am

    Depends on the kid. My youngest wanted to do marathons and ultras as young as 7…he did his first at age 9, and his older brother (10) did it with him (6 hour fixed time race 30.2 miles each). It was another couple years before they began really focusing on them, and they’re up to 53 and 48 marathon or longer races respectively at ages 16 and 15. Between the two of them, they have nine 100 mile buckles, and the oldest has a 100 mile PR well under 23 hours. They often finish in the top 10 at ultras, sometimes top 5, and have even won a couple of the smaller races they’ve entered. They’ve run mountain ultras, flat ultras, hot ultras, cold ultras, you name it they’ve done it, and they always want more. The most amazing part is that they never run over 30 miles a week unless they have a race longer than that, and have never once done a single training run over 16 miles, and never back-to back long runs, except in the few doubles they’ve done.

    • Nicole Lowe February 16, 2017 / 9:29 pm

      That’s impressive! Good for them. There are always exceptions to the rules. Especially in running, in fact, I typically answer running questions with “it depends…” I’m happy they have found a love in running and that you are so supportive of their dreams.

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