When we started regularly doing Parkrun one of the main reasons was to ensure that our children grew up with exercise being a normal part of life. We started with the Junior Parkrun which is 2K but as it is a half an hour drive away we managed to build them up to 5K. Since then they have been running regularly and even the youngest, who is now 8 years old, has managed to complete it in just over half an hour. There are lots of children running at Parkrun and it is lovely to see so many families getting up and active on a Saturday morning. When it comes to Parkrun and children there are only three rules – they must be over 4 years old to get a time, they cannot be carried and under 11s must be within arm’s reach of a responsible adult. But should children do Parkrun?
The question about whether my children should be doing Parkrun came from their sports coach who does not recommend that children under the age of thirteen run so far as it is bad for their growing bodies. Especially on such a regular basis. She told us that it is up to us but she does not let her own children go that far. That we would be better to let them either only do half the course or better still take them to Junior Parkrun. To me the latter makes more sense because they are not restricted by an adult and can run their own rhythm and pace.
With so many children up and down the country being encourage to do Parkrun I thought I would have a look into the information available (albeit just on Google) to see what kinds of evidence or even warnings that their might be that this is indeed not good for children.
Five stage progression (UK Athletics model) for long-term athlete development:
- Fundamentals – where the emphasis is on fun, developing basic fitness and general movement skills – training years 1 to 3 and ideally a chronological age of 6 to 13.
- Learning to Train – where the emphasis is to learn how to train and develop their general skills – training years 3 to 5 and ideally a chronological age of 10 to 15.
- Training to Train – where the emphasis is event(s) specific training – training years 5 to 7 and ideally a chronological age of 13 to 17.
- Training to Compete – where the emphasis is to correct weaknesses and develop athletic abilities – training years 7 to 9 and ideally a chronological age of 15 to 19.
- Training to Win – where the emphasis is on enhancing performance – training years 10+ and ideally a chronological age of 18+.
With the maximum running distances for children being under 1.5 miles for the under 9s; 3.2 miles for those ages 9-11; 6.4 miles for 12-14; Half Marathon 13.1 miles for 15-16; 19.2 miles age 17 and a Marathon 26.2 miles for aged 18.
Why Problems are caused by Children Running too many Miles
Children are different to adults and intense training can have lasting damage on the prepubescent body. Due to the rapid growth of their bodies running too many miles can cause joint issues, particularly the ankles and knees. This excessive stress on the developing joints can cause an anatomical imbalance mismatch of growth rates. If they have not developed a good running quality and strength then they suffer with their aerobic capacity. Children need to have reached their peak velocity height – or stopped growing – before they do any hard, long running sessions otherwise there could be trouble, which can often force youngsters to be side-lined from any form of activity for months on end. Another problem for children running too many miles is that they accumulate heat faster than adults due to them having a higher metabolic rate and reported fewer sweat glands so are unable to cool themselves as efficiently as adults.
Problems seen in Children who run too far
Tendinitis, apophysitis, and stress fractures are three common types of injuries seen in pediatric and adolescent athletes. More common in girls is Chrondomalacia patellae, which is caused by an imbalance in muscle strength either side of the knees cap. Girls are more likely to suffer because of their wider pelvis which pull the knee cap over to one side causing a searing pain around the edges of the patella at the front of the knee. It requires children to wear heavy strapping until muscles are re-educated when gentle activity is resumed. Whilst more common in boys is Osgood-Schlatter disease. This is a condition in which the growth plates at the top of the shinbone (or tibia) become inflamed when tendons attached pull hard on it during high-impact exercise. It can affect any child, but is more common among boys and usually strikes between the ages of 8 and 16, when growth spurts reach a peak. Symptoms include a tender swelling on the knee and pain during activity and treatment can involve setting the knees in plaster for up to six weeks. Often the medical advice is to do no sport for up to a year in order to allow growth plates to recover and muscles and tendons the chance to develop fully.
Things to consider when considering if you should let your children do Parkrun
- NEVER push children to run – and allow them to stop when they wish. They do not need to hold on, set the pace and can take walking breaks when they require.
- They are healthy and not injured.
- They are positive about running.
- They have enough energy left to do other things.
- Every week is not a good idea – and possibly only once a month for those who have not yet reached puberty.
- Make sure children cross-train and stretch properly (Parkrun Junior has a proper warm-up whereas Parkrun assumes that people will do this themselves).
What do you think about this information? It is certainly making me think twice about getting my 8 and 9 year old to run the 5k Parkrun each week and in future I think we will alternate running with cycling and swimming more.