The topic of "Should little kids be running?" has come up quite a bit in my social circles lately. I have asked my opinion on the recent news reports of children running half marathons. Maybe it's because I'm a coach, maybe it's because Isla runs with me, who knows. At first I didn't really have an opinion. If anything, I tended to waver towards the "that's a dumb idea" side.
Initially I was opposed to the idea of a 6 year old running a half marathon. Ironically enough, the first "youngest half marathon finisher" ran the same race that I paced in October. When I found out about her, I really didn't like the idea. Their bones and joints aren't meant to take that sort of beating, right? I mean, that's what all "those running experts say." Then there was the story of the 5 year old in New Jersey who finished the Philly half marathon, and my opinion changed a bit. I started thinking about KIDS...what they are like....
Kids are meant to be a lot more active than they are these days. We keep our really protected. Umbrella parenting is the norm. It seems as if EVERYTHING is bad for our children, and so, our kids are kept inside, safely in front of the TV, or hidden behind their fenced yards. In other parts of the world, children are running 26 miles a day to get to school and back. And while our society is different, should it be? Are kids meant to be kept on satin covered pillows, limited to 1 mile per day?
When I watched the interview of the kid who ran the Philly half, the first thing that jumped out at me was how the kid was a really active, maybe even slightly hyper, kindergartner. That kid has ENERGY. I used to know a kid like that. I was excited to see that a kid's energy was being funneled into something awesome. And let's be honest, the kid ran the race in what, 2:35? Normal 5 year old kids are on their feet playing, racing and chasing for that amount of time. If you took your kid to Disney, he'd probably spend 2-3 hours straight on his feet.
I get the opinion of the mainstream; we shouldn't encourage this sort of thing on a regular basis. Running too much can be damaging to joints and parents should always work closely with a child's doctors. There's also the sad fact that most kids aren't fit enough to handle 5 miles, let alone 13. Pushing them too fast can have bad consequences.
I also agree that we should examine the motives. If a kid is truly being beaten because he DIDN'T want to race, okay, that's bad. But for a parent to say, "When you finish that race, you get a new batman" isn't a bad thing. I mean...hello...how many of us only run those races for the awesome medal or shirt or beer? (ME ME ME MEME!)
Many people suspected that the parents of the 5 year old pushed the kid to do it. Normal 5 year olds don't want to run half marathons!!!!
She dressed up as Kara Goucher for a Halloween race...and argued with me about how maybe she should be Shalane Flanagan, because Shalane is faster. Normal 3 year olds don't know who Shalane and Kara are...but when a kid's microenvironment contains constant talk of electolytes and carbohydrate replacement options, they are going to know the difference between Nuun, Gu, Gatorade, and UCan. For crying out loud, she's asked Santa for a GARMIN for Christmas.
Of course we have to be careful when opening up the race lines to kids. But to simply say that a 5, 6, or 7 year old shouldn't run is over reacting. I don't think a child should be PUSHED into a run...but I definitely think they should be supported should it be their choice.
I think it's exciting to see more kids join the sport, at any level. My biggest hope is that the experts (doctors, sports medicine, etc.) and I hope that the medical and sports medicine community does what they can to support more active kids. I'd love to see some research based information come about that can help us learn how to better coach younger kids and what to watch for, potential risk wise. If a kid wants to run...let 'em run! Let's just know how to do it safely, and in a positive way that can influence their lives for the better, forever!