Should children run marathons – something every runner should consider reading

Should children run marathons – something every runner should consider reading

I just came across an article in the NY Times that asks if children should run marathons ( Another paper from Stephen Rice M.D., someone I respect and have learned from in southern NJ can be seen here ( Prompted by a new article in the Journal of Pediatrics, “The authors, affiliated with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, gathered statistics about children and adolescents who were hurt while running for exercise.”

The point they are trying to make is that as more and more children overtrain, they have more injuries. There are major concerns with this because children have growing bones, growth plates that can be injured and affect the growth and the symmetry of bones. This is often spoken about in other sports however, in running, it is not often discussed.

It is important to me to look at the nuances that are typically left out by statistics alone. These significant issues include:
1. Body style – the more asymmetrical the child is built, the more asymmetrical their gait will be and the more prone to injury they will be as well. This is why aside from looking for scoliosis in adolescents, we should also screen their feet, similar to the way they do it in the army. Those who are asymmetrically built should be advised early on to wear off the shelf orthotics, which can markedly decrease the frequency of injury and improve their body mechanics.
2. Growth spurts on asymmetrical bodies will aggravate the problems. A child growing 2-4 inches in a short period of time with poor body mechanics who is already tight will exacerbate. It is quite helpful to have a good chiropractor in cases like this because they will loosen the muscles, free up the joints, help markedly decrease growing pains and work on gait symmetry, which is essential for running.
3. Adolescence in the female athlete – As girls reach puberty, their bodies change, they become more curvy in the hips. Wider based hips with poor body mechanics is a recipe for injury. Since these changes occur gradually, poor body mechanics turn into terrible body mechanics with wider hips, because it increases the angle at the knee. This is the major reason that adolescent girls have many knee and back problem. These children should be screened at the beginning of the running season.

The bigger question is, should the growing child do a marathon. My personal opinion is no, and there is little reason for them to do so. We are merely creating problems for the growing child. With all the options available, including 1/2 marathons, 10k, 5k and all the track and field options, where there are many children who have problems related to body mechanics and training (I see them at many of the track meets I provide medical care for), why can’t they wait until they are at least 17 years of age.

Why did I pick 17 years of age? In most girls, they have stopped growing and are at their adult body style, therefore, we do not have to worry about further changes. For most boys, they too have reached their near adult body style, although some growing may continue to occur at this point.

What do you think? As always, I value your opinion. You can email me at if you have any questions if would like to discuss this further.