I have a toddler. He went from taking his first steps to all out running in a matter of weeks. I spend hours each day chasing him around the backyard, down the sidewalks, and through our hallways. He seems to already like running as much as his parents do!
I’ve been running with my son in the jogging stroller since he was a few months old. But the other day, he wanted out and wanted to run beside me. That lasted for about a minute. At 17 months, he’s much too young to be my running buddy. But it got me thinking, “when can he join me for a few miles?”
Guidelines for young runners
Experts at the Road Runners Club of America say distance running should be limited before puberty. That’s because kids’ bodies are growing and changing, and intense training may interrupt growth and cause injury. They offer these age guidelines for running:
- Ages 5 and under: Encourage active play and allow children to participate in “dash” events. Kids this age can run from a few yards up to one mile.
- Ages 5 – 8. Children in this age group may be able to run a half mile to two miles using a walk/ run method.
- Ages 8 – 12. During these years, many kids are ready to start running longer distances, up to a 5k with walk breaks. Some kids may even be ready for more structured training, but it shouldn’t last more than 2- 3 months. A great program is Girls on the Run. Girls on the Run is a 10-12 week self-esteem and physical activity program for third through fifth grader girls. Participants meet two times a week, culminating with an end of the season 5k race.
- Ages 13 – 17. Once kids hit puberty, most are physically and emotionally capable of taking on longer distances up to a half marathon.
- Ages 18+. At age 18, it’s usually safe to run marathons and ultras.
Keep in mind that these are not hard, set guidelines. Every child is different, and if your son or daughter really wants to run with you, some experts say it’s perfectly OK to allow them to do so – just be sure to save runs longer than a 10k until after puberty. It’s more important to take your child’s rate of development and desire to run into account than to go by his or her age. Make sure it’s your child who wants to run, not you pushing your child to run.
Reducing the risk of injuries
A few studies show young runners get hurt rather often. This isn’t limited to running, though — injuries in all sports are common during childhood.
The most common running-related injuries in teenagers are twisted ankles. In elementary-aged children, wrist, elbow, and head scrapes happen most often — due to falls. So parents, make sure your little runners’ shoes are tied well and keep their running area free of toys and other hurdles. Encourage older children to increase mileage gradually.
Do you run with your son or daughter? At what age did your child start running?