Is It Safe for Teens to Train for a Marathon?

Q  My child has joined an after-school running program at which they are training for a marathon at the end of the year. He is 13 years old. The training program incorporates core strength training, yoga, education on nutrition and a gradual increase in the kilometre they run. What is your opinion regarding this kind of activity for a child that age? – JANE STEPHENS


A  When I ask people if children and adolescents should run marathons, the reflex answer is “no”! But very few bat an eye at the same kids playing football, ice hockey, or other contact sports with a fairly high risk of injury and the potential for catastrophic injuries and concussions. I personally do not feel that there is any “undue” risk for kids in the marathon as long as the training is approached in a rational manner and the drive to do the training comes from the child (and not the parent). That is not to say that a parent cannot be supportive and helpful, but a parent should not be the driving force behind the effort.

When you look at the Olympics and see a 15-year-old girl winning a gold medal in figure skating, you know that she did not start the sport last year or even 5 years ago. Kids who choose to advance in a sport can be encouraged and supported as long as they are doing well in all domains of life – no injury or pain, normal growth in height and weight, good nutritional intake and sleep patterns, maintain good social interaction and academic performance – during training and competition.

I like that your son’s program includes core strength, yoga and nutrition education in addition to a graduated plan to increase the kilometres. Things that will benefit him for a lifetime. As long as he is progressing through the training program injury-free and doing well in the scope of life activities, he should be fine. There is no data to show that he will be at risk later in life from running a marathon at 13 or 14 years old. And he is not at much risk for concussion, ruptured ACL knee ligament or broken neck. – WILLIAM O. ROBERTS

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