If you are on social media and into running you probably have seen posts about the 8 year old that ran a 100k in high heat; the post about the young life runner who finished a marathon; and the 12 year old that ran his 3rd 100 mile race. Stories like these are becoming more and more common and are stirring more and more controversy. Here are my thoughts…
While I agree that 100K in 100+ degree heat is way too much for just about anyone, especially a child, and I don't think most, if any kids really know their limits for just about anything, I just don't think running itself is bad for any child without any limiting medical history. How far is too far? I don’t think anyone really knows. In fact, as I am sitting here pondering my stance, I realized what a ridiculous first world problem this is. I am sure if we asked the people of a third world country their take, they would shake their heads and say they ran or at least walked pretty dang far to get food or water or at least that is what I imagine they would say. Run for exercise or run for existence. The fact that our overly sedentary society has a problem with kids getting too much exercise is laughable, when clearly the majority of kids in America don’t get enough.
So where do I stand? I can’t say I would let me kids run a 100k at 8 years old, especially in that kind of heat, but then again, I can’t get them to run around the block. At the same time my older one has no problem playing flag football or basketball with the neighborhood kids for hours. If he wanted to run a 5k I would let him. When I was a kid I grew up out in the country and wandered around famer’s fields and woods all day long. I probably walked and ran miles every day and had no idea I did so. Kids need exercise and they need it to be fun and varied and often times disguised as play. Coming from a sport medicine background and seeing the research as it relates to overuse injuries in other adolescent athletes, kids need downtime from their sport of choice, whether it’s running, baseball or soccer. Most experts in the field would say a 6-8 week break in a training cycle is important for recovery. I know this doesn’t really answer the question and yes, I feel like a politician.
What I do think is, what freaks people out is, there are parents out there that are “pushing” their kids to compete and then gaining fame by blogging about their super kid. Are these those kids? I have no idea, but if they are then their parents can be lumped into the same group as stage moms or parents of kids who play other sports that push their kids to practice excessively, hoping to make it professionally some day at any cost. Historically speaking, walking or running is how people got around before there were cars. Walking and running are normal modes of transportation in other cultures; they just don’t do it for time, wearing a bib and Gramin, and post about it on social media. So I don’t think running is the bad guy here.
I do think that variety is key to developing a well rounded person, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically. To just run or just play soccer or just do beauty pageants at a young age is not ideal for any child’s development. I hope for the development of these kids they have other interests and running isn’t the only hobby they have.