Should Children do parkrun?

The question is should Children do parkrun? 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. But can it negatively affect children if they do too much?

Should Children do Parkrun?

We started with the junior parkrun which is 2K, but it is a half an hour drive away. So we managed to build the children 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.

Lots of Children Run parkrun – But Should they?

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 is it healthy?

Why Question Whether Children should do parkrun

The thinking behind whether children should be doing parkrun came from the children’s sports coach who does not recommend that children under the age of thirteen run so far, as it is bad for their growing bodies. But 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.

running uphill

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

sports day

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 Before you 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.
  • Make sure that they are healthy and not injured.
  • Have a positive attitude 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.

13 thoughts on “Should Children do parkrun?”

  1. I’d never considered that three miles might be too far for a child to run. I think it’s up to the individual child and parent what they feel they are capable of. For really active kids, if they’re not doing Parkrun, they will be doing other stuff and putting pressure on their bodies in other ways! My son plays rugby four times a week and football twice a week for most of the year. He does Parkrun the rest of the year, which is putting far less stress on his body.
    With Parkrun, it’s important to remember that kids (and adults) don’t have to run fast. They can walk or run slowly, which wouldn’t put any more pressure on them than a walk in the countryside.

  2. What an interesting post! funnily enough my 13 year old started to do park runs and he enjoyed it but we were told by his rugby coach (who is an ex international player who knows a lot about fitness) not to. He also said that it is not good for growing kids. Ultimately, he isn’t really a fan of running so he stopped but I think like most things it is ok in moderation.

  3. Oh gosh no, I have heard all these arguments but I don’t think that running once a week is a bad thing. I personally feel that the risks associated with not running are much greater. If a child loves to run and wants to do parkrun once a week, I think that’s great. They won’t run any further than they would if they played football for an hour if they’re an active player. My eldest does it once every few months but if she wanted to do it regularly I wouldn’t have a problem with it as she loves it and I encourage her to do anything that she loves except for annoying me!

  4. It has never occurred to me before that running so far so regularly might be bad for kids… Having said that, I think once a week is fine. I have a friend who trained every night to olympic running standard, and she didn’t ever suffer any adverse effects…

  5. Really interesting, thank you for sharing! My children have shown an interest in running but I’ve not really pushed them, I’ll make sure if they do start to run regularly that I keep an eye on them and make sure it’s not too far or too frequent

  6. I think like most things moderation is key. Something that I struggled with when I was younger! I ran too much too soon and always got injured!

    It would be rubbish if someone younger did lasting damage like I did. I’d say just listen to your body and don’t over do it

  7. A really interesting, balanced, post there Joy. Seeing as my son insisted on dawdling round the annual fun run in the local park last week (coming in last out of the thousands of entrants!) I don’t think he’s going to be troubling us with asking to do Park Run any time soon!

  8. Huh??? I know when at school there were lots of my friends did cross country championships and had done through latter part of primary school. That sports coach is an idiot.

  9. Like all things, it’s all about balance and good sense, if the kids are happy continue.
    I found this post really informative and very interesting too.
    It will be very interesting to watch this develop.
    Best of luck.

  10. Well I never knew that! Good job I’m not responsible for any children! I would have just assumed it was great and healthy, good for everyone to be outdoors and active and doing things together! I think it’s great that kids are interested and involved in this and learning to run properly will help them with long term health and fitness for life. If I were responsible for a child I’d certainly be sticking to the guidelines having read that.


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