It’s true, children are natural runners. Kids love to run in the purest sense. They play around, goof about, laugh and manage to have a great time just by themselves. Which is why it’s extremely important for young children to be physically-active and running is a cheap and satisfying way to go about it. In fact, one of the best things about running is that it can help them set reasonable goals. Participation from children has been growing in organised races and many parents have started to recognise the various positive attributes of running. Rough estimates point towards a boom in children running races that were once strictly meant for adults.
Kids as young as six or seven are now participating in five and 10-km races, and some take their abilities a bit further. But how far is too far? Can and should children, at any age, be running such long and tough distances? On November 13, at the annual Cambridge Half Marathon, an unusual participant stood out at the starting line. His name was Caleb Barnes, a nine-year-old. After convincing his parents and with a doctor’s approval, he ran 21 km run in 94 minutes — setting a world single-age record. Back home in India, we had Budhia Singh running 65 km in seven hours at the age of four.
He then entered the Limca Book of Records as the world’s youngest marathon runner in year 2006. While these are phenomenal achievements for kids of that age, it’s hard not to wonder: Are they doing it for the right reasons? Are they having fun? And how much is too much? Kids running long distances can be a controversial topic at times. Budhia Singh’s case is right up there. But most of us who run want our children to experience the same positives and find the same joy that we have found in the sport. However, the biggest fear for many parents is that too much could leave the kids with a life-altering injury. Will the repetitive pounding of running damage their vulnerable growth plates?
Unfortunately, there’s not much research on children and running injuries, especially long term. Medical professionals’ advice on the subject is divided. But no studies have so far, linked distance running by young children to long-term injuries. So, how can parents and coaches wade through these contradictory recommendations? Let’s start by asking if the child is doing enough running, instead of how much running. A more subtle question is, ‘Will too much running let the child burn bright or flame out early on?’ Which brings us back to just how far should kids run? The answer is, as far as they want to. Just make sure you’re listening to them. Fire up their excitement for running by being a good role model then give them opportunities if they want to try it out. As well known Podiatrist, Stephen Pribut says, “Someone can do almost anything.”
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