Too much too young

I was recently contacted by the mother of a 13 year old client about training for a 15km event. I’ll be honest, I was shocked that someone so young would consider a distance that far but probably even more taken aback that a parent would seem to encourage it.

It got me thinking, perhaps the relatively recent craze of ultra distance adult races, in triathlon and in its individual components, has percolated through to junior athletes. For example, you only have to witness how young some of the kids are that regularly participate in parkrun every Saturday morning. I do worry when I see children under the age of ten having completed over 100 parkruns or seeing five or six year olds being hauled around by their parents.


I am going to be very clear – this is not a criticism whatsoever of parkrun, one of the greatest ever concepts in encouraging an active lifestyle. I am firmly in its biggest supporter stable having completed over a hundred of them and with my family contributing over a further two hundred appearances. We have an increasingly inactive and obese population which shows no signs of reversing so any initiative should be encouraged. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for families to spend quality time together and start the weekend off in a lovely way.

What am I saying then?

Parents and kids, there is no rush to run long distances. Running a longer distance your body is ready for (and this goes for adults as well as children) encourages bad form which only deteriorates over a longer distance. It also increases the risk of injury and quite possibly burn out in the long term. The bones and joints of the 10-17 age group are growing rapidly and repetitive strain and impact on their tendons and growth plates from 5km is not ideal.


Look after your body, you only have one of it and you don’t want to risk doing too much damage to it so young and affect its ability to perform in the future. Concentrate on good form, posture, stability, coordination and strength (this will vary with age). Concentrate on speed and getting quicker over shorter distances. Do a junior parkrun if you are aged between 4-14 instead of 5km every week, do a mile race, do a junior cross country event, walk/run off road on hills if you can, do sprints, skipping, lunges and use resistance bands. Aerobic capacity and endurance can wait. You’ll benefit so much more in the long term if you can nail the core fundamentals of running technique.
I’ll leave you with the below quote from Michael Jordan, the best basketball player and arguably sportsman ever…
When I was young, I had to learn the fundamentals of basketball. You can have all the physical ability in the world, but you still have to know the fundamentals. 
Michael Jordan

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