One of the reasons I enjoy running is because it opens up the possibility of lots of travel. Travel to new trails. Road trips to new routes. Adventures to new places. Excursions to races across the state, country, or globe.
My kids are increasingly making this connection, too. They love to travel and they love to run. They want more travel and they want more running.
In my mind, there’s no such thing as too much travel.
But is there too much running when you’re a kid?
Winter Vinecki, Colby Wentlandt and the kids of the Seven Wild and Free blog do it, but is it safe for children? By it, I’m talking about Ultra Running–as in L-O-N-G distance running longer than 26.2 miles.
As in lots and lots and lots of miles.
When my athletic 11 year old declared not long ago that she was going to run a trail 25K, which she did, and then start training for an ultramarathon, which she is doing, my mama reflex was to immediately start googling phrases like, “is ultrarunning safe for children,” “long term effects of long distance running on children,” and “should kids run ultras”? It didn’t take long to realize that there are differing views about the safety and impact of long distance, ultra running on children’s health and development.
Though I lack medical training of any kind, other than a long outdated Wilderness EMT certification and a CPR/First Aid certification, I’ve been exposed to the running and racing scene since I was just a bit older than my daughter’s age. I get why proper training for long distance events is important, for adults anyway. And it stands to reason that good, solid training is also key for children interested in embarking on long distance running adventures.
But what I consistently find is that arguments against young ultra running only vaguely talk about injury and burnout, rather than citing hard evidence of damage or risk to children posed by long distances.
Maybe there simply aren’t enough studies yet about the impact of major mileage on children’s development, but there are studies and research showing that youth sports are riddled with risk. I know this all to well from watching my son play lacrosse and from watching my competitive gymnast sisters navigate the gymnastics world. I can’t help wonder how letting kids who have a burning passion for running go run and rack up crazy mileage could be more riskier than the alternatives: known dangers of popular youth sports or health consequences of inactivity, like diabetes and obesity. I can’t help but wonder if the biggest danger of kids running ultras is a problem of perception. That ultra running is different and lies outside the comfort zone of popular youth sports, and different means scary.
I can understand that letting a kid run wild outside for hours without supervision might be dangerous and/or potentially put a child in harm’s way in today’s society, but assuming a parent or other mature person runs with the child, I’m not yet sure that there’s concrete data or enough of it to write off ultra running.
It seems like the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Until I see evidence to the contrary, I’m going to continue getting my kids on their feet, running, walking or hiking whenever possible, having fun with them on the trails and outside in nature, and supporting their self-initiated running goals, including my daughter’s long distance running goals.
I have no plans to discourage my kids’ interest in running–and I have no plans to discourage their love of travel. As long as they want to run, I’ll keep registering them for races and keep my eyes and ears on travel deals and fabulous destinations.
What’s your view about ultra running children? I would love to hear what you think. Contribute to the discussion below.