Like many runners, 14-year-old Dan Anderson felt his body disintegrating around mile 17 of the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon. But fueled by a cheering crowd, the Wisconsin teenager completed the grueling 26.2-mile race to join an elite and controversial club: young long-distance runners.
Though running helps build bones, stamina and muscles, children younger than 18 shouldn't be competing in marathons, which are eight times the distance of high school cross-country races, according to the International Marathon Medical Directors Association. In addition to fears that an overuse injury could lead to problems with a child's growth plates, there are also concerns about the psychological effects of training for such an intense race.
Not all races have age restrictions, however, so is it OK to let your child run?
"The growing problem of childhood obesity and inactivity would seem to dwarf any problems related to running a marathon," said Patrick O'Connor, 51, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Georgia who ran a marathon when he was 11 and still runs five days a week. "
At the events themselves, no significant medical injuries in children have been reported, according to family physician William Roberts, the longtime medical director of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.
"I don't find marathons to be such a ridiculous idea," Roberts said. "Any distance can be injurious for children if training is not judicious."
Though Roberts doesn't recommend that kids run marathons, he believes self-motivated children can run as long as they meet several criteria, including using a supervised training program with an emphasis on fun and participation.