Too Young For Marathons

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 | By Hal Higdon
 
 
 
Email this article

Got 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.

QUESTION: 

What age is too young to train for a marathon? My son is nine, and I told him 5-Ks are okay, but I would prefer nothing further than that at this point. He sees me training and wants to run with me.

HAL’S ANSWER: 

That your son wants to run with you is great, fun for both. BUT: Big but!!! He does not need to run 26.2 with you (which you already know). Kids have run marathons at very young ages back during a period when Runner’s World used to publicize their efforts. The world record for 6-year-old boys is 4:07:27 by Bucky Cox; the record for girls 4:00:56 by Jennifer Amyx. But those times were run in 1972 and 1970 respectively, when we were just beginning to figure this sport out. Now, Conventional Wisdom suggests that this is much too young to push kids into marathon running. And actually, many marathons today have age restrictions for entry. I would not allow my oldest son Kevin run a marathon until he graduated from high school. Some years later, he qualified for the Olympic Trials with a time of 2:18.

That said, I do not think that marathon running is inherently dangerous for children, physically or psychologically. But I would rather see them include running as a small part of their life and not become obsessed with our favorite sport. Running with Mom or Dad is great, as long as it is the child’s idea, and he is not being dragged into an activity he won’t enjoy by pushy parents. At the same time, I would never criticize a parent who gives a reluctant child a small tug, if not a push.

Without having any research to backup this position other than my own gut feeling, I would suggest: No more than 10-K up to maybe age 10; No more than a half up to about age 16, then maybe a marathon when they are old enough to make it their own decision. The desire needs to come up from the bottom rather than down from the top.

For more on the subject, check the article “Is Running Good for Children?” on my website.

Get the latest news

Join Us