Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kids and marathons

With the Marine Corps Marathon behind us and the New York City Marathon just ahead, I wondered: What do sports docs say about children and distance running? (Yes, we think about these things so you don't have to).

I imagined plenty of research on the subject and guidelines spelling out who is too young and who isn't. Not right. Instead, there's this advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"There is, at present, no scientific evidence that supports or refutes the safety of children who participate in marathons. There are no recorded data on injuries sustained by children who run marathons. Marathon training requires a gradual increase in total weekly mileage, which may be less than or equal to the total weekly distance that is generally logged by high school cross-country teams (35–40 miles). Regardless, a clearly devised weekly plan, ensuring that safe running conditions are in place, and the provision of proper education on endurance activities (including environmental conditions and appropriate hydration) should all be part of the training process. A critical environmental safety concern is the ambient temperature and relative humidity, because a child is less able than an adult to handle heat stress. Weather-related guidelines have been set for all marathons, and these guidelines should be strictly enforced by the medical director for all youth endurance events. Ultimately, there is no reason to disallow participation of a young athlete in a properly run marathon as long as the athlete enjoys the activity and is asymptomatic."

I have run in 12 marathons to date, New York and Marine Corps among them. I've seen - and been passed by - many high school athletes. I can't recall a younger child in my races. But then, by mile 20, I'm barely conscious.

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