I’ve got to say it: I’m really over the stories of five- and six-year olds running half marathons.(Or the one-year old that ran a full – thanks Mark Remy for this one). It’s just getting a little out of control, don’t you think?
As a parent, I just cannot for a single minute believe that the idea to run a half marathon was totally the children’s in either of these recent cases. I’m not saying the kids are being dragged, kicking and screaming, to the start line, but the origination of the idea came squarely from mom and dad. And,
unlike tweens or teens, kids of that age like to please mom and dad, so if there’s even a little inclination or ability in there to go that far, the kids are going to be on board.
My opinion is that a half marathon is just too far for someone so young, but I’ll admit, I’m going on gut instinct on this. Phil Lang, local youth running coach with over 19 years experience and two talented running daughters of his own, however, knows his stuff. So I picked his brain recently to see what he thought. “Typically, a kid’s nature is to run short and fast,” he says. “Parents, however, typically like running longer and slower and in some cases, instead of encouraging their kids to run short and fast with their peers, encourage them to run long and slow with them.”
Phil has given lots of thought to how far, at what age, most kids should run and admits that he thinks about this daily. “I will not be so brash as to suggest I have figured it out as I do believe every circumstance is different,” he says. But he has developed general guidelines that he has applied with both his daughters and with the kids he coaches. “My rule is a kid can’t run in one day more miles than the grade they are in.”
So for a third grader, a 5k fits the bill; a sixth grader, up to a 10k, and so on. “This rule allows for progression, which is key, especially for youth,” says Phil. “Doing too much, too soon leads to failure in one way or another in almost every circumstance. Just because a kid wants to do a race doesn’t mean the parent has to let him or her.”
Does he see an upside to kids running longer distances? “I am happy more kids are running, even if at a leisurely pace–our country was becoming very unhealthy and I believe that many have begun exercising and eating better, so that is great,” he says. “Spending more time together as a family is also a good thing.”
Bottom line, though, according to Phil when it comes to very young kids running long distances: “Running long as kids isn’t terrible, but I also don’t think it’s great. I’m not sure what the long term goals are. I always think of tomorrow.”
I think Phil offered some useful insight. As a parent, my goal has always been to introduce running to my kids, but never push it–it has certainly never occurred to me to suggest either of them run a half marathon. Like Phil, I think about tomorrow with my kids and running and my goal is simply to expose them to something I love and enjoy and that might one day give them as much pleasure (and healthy side effects) as it has me. Right now, my nine-year old daughter enjoys it; my 12-yr. old son, not so much. And that’s ok–to me the drive to run should always come from the kids.
What are your thoughts–are you cheering or jeering the five-year old half marathon escapades?