Marathon Training: How Young Is Too Young?
In its 34th year, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Marathon & ½ Marathon is a fixture of fall in Central Ohio. Since the inaugural run in 1980 the event has grown into the nation’s 17th largest marathon. When the gun fires at dawn this Sunday, a sold-out field of 18,000 participants from all 50 states and over 10 countries will hit the streets for a tour of our city. Marathon running has gained popularity throughout the US and we are now seeing teens and adolescents not only covering, but competing at long distances. Many races, including Columbus, have minimum age requirements to register and run but the question remains, “How young is too young?”
For the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Marathon & ½ Marathon, registrants must be 16 years old for the full marathon and 12 years old for the half marathon. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not set guidelines about age requirements for marathons or other endurance events. However, the AAP suggests that if your son or daughter chooses to train for long-distance events, they should do so under the supervision of a physician who can explain possible risks to both the child and the parents while monitoring any physical or mental changes that may be cause for concern.
Some potential concerns for kids and teens competing in endurance events include overuse injuries, overtraining, and “burn out” or overtraining syndrome. It is important for kids and their parents to closely monitor any symptoms that may be related to these concerns and contact your physician accordingly. Symptoms include: a.) Any aches or pains in the muscles or joints at rest as well as during or after activity; b.) Feelings of fatigue; c.) Weight gains/losses; or d.) Changes in attitude towards activity or decreased performance in school.
Training for an endurance event requires a lot of time and devotion to training, getting enough rest, and maintaining proper nutrition, even for adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends limiting one sport activity to a maximum of five days per week with at least one day completely off from organized sports participation. Further, young athletes should have at least two to three months off per year from a particular sport. During this time they should participate in other activities, which serve a few key purposes: It allows them to be challenged in new ways and become better rounded athletically, gives time for injuries to heal and allows them to address any concerns, which may present as injury risks.
There are many factors to consider if your son or daughter chooses distance running as their preferred method of exercise and sport. Developing good habits toward injury prevention in young athletes will help them to enjoy a lifetime of athletic participation. While not all injuries are preventable, here are some other things to keep in mind if they are going to train for an endurance event or just go for a jog around the block:
Participate in training regimens that are designed by a knowledgeable coach and do not increase training volume by more than 10% from week to week.
Young athletes have more significant reactions to heat; be aware of the conditions and try to run early or late in the day to avoid the hottest temperatures.
Maintain a balanced diet with extra attention given to calories (ensuring that intake is high enough), calcium (to promote bone growth and health), iron (needs are greatest when you’re growing), and getting enough fluids to stay hydrated.
Run with a Buddy
Races can be crowded and busy so kids should run with a parent or friend and designate a place to meet near the finish or starting area after the race if you are separated.
Have fun and be a good sport!