What distance can my child run?

Here are some guidelines and resources for parents to help decide what distance your child can run safely.

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Many parents wonder what distance can my child run safely?

It’s an important question to ask before running a race or starting a training program with your child.

I put together these guidelines based on expert recommendations. 

You should consult with your pediatrician before beginning a training program or running a race with your child.

What distance can your child run safely?

The two main factors you should keep in mind are your child’s health and overall fitness level, and their age.

Your child’s health and fitness level

Pediatricians disagree on how much running is too much for children and little research has been done. Some question if rigorous training may  damage the growing areas of children’s bones. 

Young runner’s bodies are still figuring out the mechanics of motion. Why wouldn’t young, growing, un-matured bodies be more susceptible to injury?

With increasing numbers of children leading sedentary lives, it’s difficult to argue against allowing children to run if they want to.

As a parent you know your child better than anyone else.

Before deciding to run a race or start a training program, think about your child’s health and level of physical activity.

While some children may be highly motivated and need you to keep them in check, most kids are just like adults.

They will get tired while running and eventually some of the excitement will wear off.

In most cases your child will come to appreciate the effort that it takes to run. This realization is enough to keep most children from over doing it.

At your child’s annual physical let the pediatrician know that your child is interested in running or starting a training program. 

This is a good way to start a conversation with the pediatrician and your child. Your pediatrician will be able to tell you about your child’s overall health and any concerns you should be aware of. 

Based on your child’s age and fitness level they may have some training or distance recommendations.  

If your child wants to run a 5K, but their doctor recommends a shorter distance, the doctor’s orders are more likely to be followed than yours.

Your child may be excited to run because you do. Maybe they like the colorful shirts or race medals you bring home. They probably do not understand how much training you do or how hard it is to finish a 5K.

If you do not have a pediatrician’s appointment coming up, you can do a basic assessment of your child’s fitness level.  

Does your child participate in sports already or do they spend most of their spare time watching TV or playing video games? Are they generally active and full of energy? 

While you may not know what your child’s heart sounds like, you do have a pretty good idea of their activity level.

The best advise for any new runner is to ease into it. Start with short runs and don’t worry about speed. The first few runs will give you a better understanding of your child’s fitness level.

Remember, if you push too hard early on, your child may decide that running isn’t for them.

It’s a good idea to keep running fun and not to focus on goals. That will all come eventually.

If your generally healthy 5-year old wants to run a 100-yard dash, you  probably don’t need to train. If your 10-year old wants to run a 5K with you then you should run with them a few times before the big day.

Your Child’s Age

In addition to your child’s health, your child’s age is the other important factor to consider.

children running. kids races, what distance can my child runThe Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) is the largest running organization in the US and provides educational materials for clubs interested in hosting youth running programs.

These same guidelines can be used by you.

The RRCA guidelines recommend that children under 5 participate in kid’s fun runs. 

These “Fun Run” races are often free and part of other race day activities. This is a great way for your child to try running in a fun and encouraging environment.

A Fun Run allows your child to participate in a running event with you, but have a race of their own. 

RRCA Youth Running Guidelines

As your child gets older it is generally agreed that it is safe for them to run longer distances. Here are the RRCA’s guidelines:

  • Children 5 and under should focus on “dash” events that range from a few yards to 400 meters.
  • Children 5 and over, kids fun runs that are a ½ to 1 mile long may be considered, but allow for a combination of running and walking.
  • Children ages 12 and over may want to participate in a 5K run.
  • Children ages 15 and older may want to participate in a 10K to half marathon event.
  • Children 18 and older may want to participate in a marathon or further distance.

These are general guidelines. You should take into consideration your child’s health, fitness level and motivation. 

I believe that the RRCA’s Guidelines address the issue of young children putting too much stress on their bodies. Younger children should stick to shorter distances while teens can move to longer distances that require training.

Running should be fun. Children should not be pressured into running longer distances than they want to. As any parent knows, it’s not unusual for a child to change their mind in the middle of something.

As adults we know about challenging our limitations and pushing through to the next level. Children often do not have these motivations and just know that “this isn’t fun anymore.”

If your child wants to stop or walk while training or racing you have the difficult task of knowing when to let them have their way. 

For pre-teens, the emphasis should be on fun, participation and enjoying the event. The emphasis should not be on competition and attaining goals.

If a young child has a genuine enthusiasm for running, let it grow naturally. They will move up to longer distances as they mature and grow stronger.

As the parent your role should be to guide your young runner and help them make wise choices about running.

As a rule, young children should not be training to run a “fun run.”

Additional Guidelines

child running distances, What distance can my child runHere are the distances that the Hartford Marathon Foundation (HMF) uses for their youth events.

The HMF organizes dozens of races each year that include youth running events. They have a lot of experience in this area.

Most Fun Runs award a ribbon and sometimes provide a drink and a snack. They usually do not provide a medal or shirt as they are free events.

Some races allow you to register your child ahead of time for the Fun Run, but some only have “day of” registration. 

suggested distances for kids, youth runningThe Healthy Kids Running Series was created by Jeff Long, Founder and President of Pattison Sports Group, to provide kids with a positive, educational, and fun experience in the world of running.

They help parents set up youth running programs in their own towns and provide these youth running distance recommendations.

The program emphasizes fun and encourages weekly organized runs for children. You can find out if there is a program in your town at their website. You can also find out how to set up a program in your town.

Angela Bekkala wrote an article for Active.com: How to Get Kids Ready for Their First 5K It’s a quick read and offers additional advice.

Your child wants to run a 5K with you. What should you do? 

  • Do not put any pressure on them to achieve a certain goal
  • Forget about your own time. You need to run their pace
  • Be prepared to walk and always be positive and encouraging
  • You are mom or dad, not their coach, so always be supportive

If your child has a positive experience with you at their first 5K, you may have a new running buddy. What could be better than that?

Make sure to emphasize the fun race environment. Make them feel like one of the other runners by introducing them to your friends and including them in conversations. Everyone loves a new runner, and your child will thrive on the positive energy at a race.

Some 5K races are adult events with loud music and drinking. If you run one of these 5Ks with your child it may be a good idea to only stay for a while after the race.

Competitive Running for your Child

Around the age of 12, the RRCA says children may participate in 5K races. Moving from fun runs to a 5K race should be your child’s decision. The emphasis should still be on fun and participation.

When a child starts running 5K races on a regular basis, they may become competition. A child may compete with themselves, friends or you.

Competition is good and running competitively teaches many life lessons. As the parent it is up to you to guide expectations and be supportive.

It is important for children to understand that few of us ever come in first place. Most of us have friends who finish ahead of us. As adults we understand this and our self worth and image are not dependent on how we do at a race.

For a pre-teen or teenager, winning and loosing can become the focus of running. As a parent, it is your role to focus more on the fun and participation in the event and running community, and focus less on competition.

As your child runs more races and improves their running, competition can become more important.

Setting goals and training to achieve them are important life lessons. If a child sticks with running and maintains a healthy enthusiasm for the sport, your guidance can help them set healthy goals and expectations of themselves.

When your child moves from the 1-mile fun run to the 5K, let them guide you. You can see when they may be pushing too hard and you can see when they should push for the next goal. As the more experienced runner, you can guide them.

Moving to longer distances

As always, the age and the health of your child are your main considerations. Around age 15 it should be okay for your child to run a 10K or half-marathon.

Many marathons will not allow anyone under age 18 to run. Some will allow teens to run with a parent’s permission.

If your child has run a few 5Ks and enjoyed themselves, then it should be okay to try a 10K. While a child may not need to train for a fun run or a 5K, they should do training for a 10K and definitely for a half-marathon.

In your child’s mid-teens, running 5Ks and 10Ks should be sufficient. In the later teens an occasional half-marathon and perhaps a marathon should be okay.

As your child moves up to longer distances, you child should train with you or a coach at school. Fitness and conditioning become more important at longer distances in order to avoid injury and to run successfully.

If your child does not get an annual athletic physical as a requirement to participate in school sports, make sure you are making those appointments.

I hope this information is helpful. I want to emphasis again that this information should be used as a guide only.

If your child has a medical condition, please consult with your pediatrician first. If your child has no known conditions, at their next check up mention to their pediatrician that your child is interested in running.

races with medals, 5k medals, my first 5k medalIf your child is running their first 5K race and you would like to get them a medal to remember the race, check out the My First 5K medal. Most 5K races do not give finisher’s medals. Usually only the top male and female finisher and top age group finishers.

Run well my friends and happy running with your child!

Andy

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How to Prep for your First 5K

In January I wrote How to choose your first 5K and How to choose a running watch. I was expanding on the information from the info-graphic below.

my first 5k, running bibIn this post I discuss the other points in the info-graphic.

I don’t have a dog, so I can’t give any advise from my own experience there. I’ll let the pros advise you on how to treat runner’s knee or any injury for that matter. But I will cover the other items in this post.

How to Prep for your First 5K

First, you should pick a race that is at least 8 weeks out. This will give you the time to properly train and avoid injuries. You should follow a couch to 5K program or some other beginners program from a reputable source.

Safely Increase mileage

new runners, first 5kThis is #4 on the info-graphic. Any training program for beginners will slowly and carefully increase your mileage. The rule of thumb is no more than a 10% increase in mileage per week.

When you are first starting out it may be safe to double your mileage in a week. If you jog one day for two miles the first week, you should be able to add a second day of jogging for two miles.

Depending on your schedule you could then add a third day in week three, or make your two two-mile jogs into two and a half or three-mile jogs. If you have the time it is better to spread your miles over three days.

As a first time 5K runner, your goal is to be able to jog three miles comfortably. A 5K is 3.1 miles. If you can jog three miles, you can do the race.

Once you are able to run three miles at a time, you don’t need to go much further.

If you want to try a few four or five-mile runs, go ahead. The important thing is that you feel comfortable doing the run.

If you feel sick, dizzy or have any of the other heart attack or stroke symptoms you should stop immediately and see your doctor or call 911.

If you feel good running three days a week for three or more miles, start working on your speed.

Keep your miles the same but start adding a little kick and see what you can do.

As a first time runner your primary goal is to be able to jog/run three miles comfortably. On race day your only goal is to finish. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.

How to safely run in the heat

The best advice is to try to avoid the hottest parts of the day. If you can run in the mornings or evenings when it is cooler, that is the best choice. If you do have to run in the heat do not push your speed or your distance. You want to take it easy.

You may want to choose a different route. Can you switch to a tree-lined street or a park? Can you use a treadmill in an air conditioned gym?

It’s a good idea to wear a hat and take a bottle of water with you. Almost all runners wear a hat. It shades your face and keeps the sun out of your eyes. If you run in hot conditions often, you should buy a running hat at the local running store.

I run races with a water bottle. Don’t feel like you can’t train with a water bottle.

Don’t feel like you have to prove anything. If you can only do one or two miles before you start to feel the effects of the heat, walk home. Your family will be impressed that you used your head and aren’t passed out on the sidewalk somewhere.

Hot days are often sunny days. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

I have run a marathon in 85º weather before. It can be done. But, as a new runner don’t be foolish and train in the heat unless you have to. Until you know how your body will react , play it safe. I have seen experienced runners fade on hot days. I’ve seen marathoners hauled away by EMTs.

Race day anxiety

Almost everyone I know feels the nerves before a race. It is totally normal and to be expected

There are things you can control and things you can’t. What can you do to reduce race day stress?

  • Get to your race early and not stress over parking or being late
  • Pack your gear the day before and don’t worry about checking it many times
  • Bring your own food and beverage, so you have what works for you

You can’t avoid race day nerves but you can control some of the contributing factors. A race is fun. Only a hand full of runners at most 5Ks are out to prove anything. Most are there to do their best and have a good time; just like you.

The info graphic above lists “How to prepare for your first 5K” as #7, and focuses on food.

Food and Hydration

Food is very important. Ryan Hall, a famous American runner, talks about how a meal the night before a race can ruin four months of training.

You are running a 5K, so don’t get too worked up about food. The rule of thumb is not to eat anything new the day before a race, or day of a race. For a 5K you don’t need to carbo-load or eat special foods.

Don’t eat a big heavy or greasy meal the night before. If you eat oatmeal every morning, that’s what you should eat race day morning. I try to avoid fiber since my race day nerves tend to move things along all on their own.

Hydration can make or break you. Just about every 5K I have ever run has a water stop around the half-way mark. Just make sure your race does.You may still want to carry your own water bottle on your first race.

My rule of thumb is to stop drinking anything an hour before my race. I drink plenty of coffee or water up until that point. I stop an hour before the race so my body has time to process most of what I drank earlier. This helps me avoid a porta-potty break during a race.

I often take a bottle of water with me on a marathon or half. You should take a bottle with you for your first 5K. Just before the start take a few drinks, but not much. If you need a drink before or after the water stop, you will be prepared. A bottle is a nice insurance policy.

Running YOUR race

The last and one of the most important tips for your first 5K, is to run YOUR race.  What do I mean by this? If you did the eight-week training plan, you’ve run three miles many times by race day. You know what a comfortable pace is for you.

On race day, all you need to do is run that pace. Run YOUR race. That’s what you’ve been training for. Your race, not the lycra wearing hotty’s next to you race.

For your first 5K all you want to do is finish. Once you have your finish time for your first race you can start to set goals and work on your PR (personal record). But that’s a subject of many books and another blog post.

Recovery and Cross Training

At the end of the race grab a bottle of water and any food items available. Chips are okay on race day, your body needs the carbs and salt. Don’t grab a ton of stuff, just a few items to help replenish your body. If you finish near the end of the race you may not have much to choose from, so the extra food you brought with you can be handy at the end of the race also.

Your best bet is to walk around after the race. The movement of your muscles helps increase blood flow which helps your body remove waste and bring in nutrients to aid in recovery. If you can’t walk or feel ill, seek medical attention.

When you get home a hot shower is a good idea. This will help relax your muscles and make you bearable to be around! If you have been stretching for your training runs, do that routine soon after your race.

As a new runner, I wouldn’t worry too much about cross training. I think it is more important to get the running routine built into your life first. Cross training is important and has running benefits. Running can take up a lot of your time and early on I think you should focus on making that time part of your weekly routine.

Let me know if you have questions.

Run well my friend and enjoy your first 5k.

Andy

Sunday Long Run Returns

This weekend the fall Sunday Long Run series began

We call it the fall series because these runs are training for the fall marathons. Specifically for The Bay State Marathon in Lowell, but it works nicely for the other fall marathons as well such as Hartford and Philadelphia.

sunday long run,marathon training,running
Melrose Running Club SLR Program – join us!

It seems like just last week I was running over the Roosevelt bridge from New Brunswick into Lubec to finish the Bay of Fundy International Marathon. During the almost six weeks between Boston and Fundy, I took less than two weeks off for recovery. I’ve done 14 races so far this year, and it seems like I’m always in training.

I do enjoy racing and look at 5k and 10k races as part of my training. I always push my self harder when I’m running a race, so these are great speed workouts for me. They allow me to test my self and gauge my level of fitness. While I do enjoy racing, I know that I need to train for them, unless I’m showing up just to drink beer. I rarely show up to a race just for the party. Even when I’m injured or it’s a themed holiday race, the fire in the belly is always there. I love it.

I definitely appreciate the importance of the Sunday Long Run and proper training. Proper training cannot be rushed, there are no short cuts to the starting line. The rule of thumb is to increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10% and build in a few step back weeks to allow your body to recover late in the training program when the mileage can be grueling.

Tip for new runners: Look at the miles you run on an average week. These are your base miles. This is where you start and add 10% from. If you only run one day a week for a few miles you may be able to go well beyond this rule of thumb.

Continue reading “Sunday Long Run Returns”

Why wasn’t my race as fast as I expected?

Why wasn’t my race as fast as I expected?

Factors that affect your running performance

Every now and then, our fun run time or our running time trial is disappointingly not what we expected.  There are many factors that affect your running performance on any given day.

Check out this article from Healthy Balance Fitness.