Should Children Run Endurance Events?

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Every time I post a photo of the Redden kids on Facebook, I see the same type of comments: lots of admiration, some shock, some concern, and some downright anger.

Seth and Sabrina Redden are the proud parents of two unusual kids. Tajh (male, 11) and Teagan (female, 9) are both avid trail and ultra runners. Last year, Teagan ran her first 100K and 100-mile distance. She was nominated for the Arizona 2013 Rookie of the Year Award at mcdowellmountainman.com. Needless to say, her competitors were older than her by a large margin…as they usually are.

Team Redden is so mind-blowingly young and accomplished that Outside Magazine covered them in an article, The Art of Raising Young Ultrarunners.

View Teagan Redden’s race results.

Like the Redden kids’ Facebook page.

The debate as to whether children should be running endurance events rages on. However, it is not an entirely new concept. Children have been running marathons for a while now.

Data from the Twin Cities Marathon shows that between 1982 and 2005, 277 children have crossed the finish line ranging from ages 7 to 17 with finish times from 2:53 to 6:10.

Unfortunately, there is little scientific data on the effects of long distance running on children.

This topic intrigued us enough to chat with Seth and Sabrina Redden as well as a pediatrician on the Natural Running Network Podcast a couple of weeks ago. On the show, we discuss veganism for kids, thermoregulation in children, and a child’s eagerness to please his/her parents.

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Direct Podcast Link HERE

Here are some things that didn’t make it into the podcast:

Colby Weltland and Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen

I had hoped to have child prodigy Colby Weltland on the show. Unfortunately, his family was traveling for a race and they were unavailable.

Colby is a 13 year old kid who has already finished several 100-mile races and aspires to be youngest Badwater finisher. I also spoke to his close family friend and pacer, Ed “The Jester”. An accomplished ultra runner, Ed has thousands of miles of experience and has mentored/paced Colby to most of his finishes.

When I asked for his insight, he wrote the following:

Just for more fodder on the subject, I know one of the concerns people have is that running at a young age will do physical and emotional harm to kids. My four kids have never run an ultra, but have run many marathons, running their first one at the ages of 8, 9, 11, and 14 (and that was because she’s a type 1 diabetic, otherwise she would have run her first one at an earlier age).

They’re all young adults now and are just fine, physically and emotionally. My 21-year-old daughter who was 8 at her first marathon just did the Disney World Half Marathon and works for Raw Threads a clothing company that specializes in running attire. She is a vendor at many of the big marathons and she still loves the running world.

I was told by many people that running a marathon at such an early age would damage her growth plates. I feel really bad now, because apparently it did stunt her growth–she’s only 5’11″!

And for me personally, although I didn’t run marathons as a kid, I did run my first two at the age of 17, and three more at the age of 18. Thirty-four years later I set three American age records: 200k, 24-hour, and 6-day, so I don’t think running long distances as a teen hurt me too much. Anyway, just thought I’d share that with you.

Oh, and one more family of young ultra runners. Brandon and Cameron Plate are from Oklahoma. They’re 12 and 13 and have both completed two 100+ mile races. Colby & I and the two of them ran together at Silverton 1,000 and ATY last year. You can find their stats on Ultrasignup as well.

Jester on . . .

Follow Colby’s blog.

Join the Run Jester Run Friends Facebook page.

Remember: There are many great programs out there like Girls on the Run and the 100 Mile Club that help introduce kids to the joy of running. They don’t have to run extreme distances to stay healthy and find a love for the outdoors.

You can check out our other running podcasts at the Natural Running Network HERE.

What are your thoughts? Should children be allowed to race ultras?
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You May Also Enjoy:

History of the Popularity of Ultrarunning From 1585 to 2010

How to Train Your Human to Run an Ultra

How to Train for Your First Ultramarathon

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

15 responses

  1. Children have been running endurance events since the beginning of time while hunting with their parents. We are created to run down our prey through endurance, not speed. Because of our ability to perspire and drink liquids we can out run any beast on the planet!

  2. I love it! Do what moves you. No one complains about Taramuharan children or the children of other 3rd world nations that run a lot, but have no problem chiming in where their thoughts really don’t belong when it’s a 1st world child. If they love it and can do it, go for it.

    How about the kids who play in 4-8 soccer games over a tournament weekend. Or for lacrosse, baseball, cheerleading, gymnastics tournaments. Why the hate for long distance running children?

    Being a sedentary child is where they should be chiming in. The bone growth shaved off my hip and the one at the end of my femur are, as two doctors told me, the result of being a sedentary, overweight child. The one in my knee has pretty much halted, if not ended, my running career because of the pain and the fact the it has worn a groove into the top of my tibia.

    So, get your kids out and moving.

  3. Like any type of activity, the choice to participate and at what level should be up to the child. What bothers me is parents who push children when the kid doesn’t want to participate – like my neighbor who forces his 13 year old to keep playing baseball even though the kid hates it. I’ve never run into this kind of parent in distance running and I hope I never do. If your child loves an activity, celebrate it! Teach them what they need to be safe and keep it fun.

  4. team redden can’t get enough trail running…! have been on the trail with those kids and am very inspired by there love for the trail and mother earth….! born run’n…!

  5. Just like EVERY sport (yes indoor soccer included!) the risk of physical and emotional damage is very real. I think it is smart to have qualified pediatrician (as in familiar with child athletes) check out the child. Before an aspiring ballerina can go on point she has to have her feet cleared so it doesn’t cause irreversible damage to her feet and as such her body. Just like this, it’s just smart to have the child’s body cleared for any health concerns. Does that mean we should be paranoid? Not at all. Pushing children in a healthy way is VITAL to them mastering their body. Learning self control and learning that they can do hard (seemingly impossible) things. One thing which impressed me when I saw that last photo, their relationship with their parents will be so close and almost more important their relationship with each other will be irreplaceable. Their lives will be unlike anyone else’s for more significant reasons. Show me a child who can master the demon of our own self-doubt at such a young age, and I will show you a child who can do many great things.

  6. I feel so inspired by the Redden family :) I hope that one day I can meet Tajh and Teagan at a race. As long as they’re having fun why not! I listened to the podcast and the parents seem amazingly conscious of their children’s well being. Besides, what’s more natural to our bodies than running. How awesome for parents to connect with their kids while on a trail run. Thanks for the great post!

  7. I guess I’ll be the dissenting voice and be concerned about extreme endurance events and children. I appreciate what Colby and the Reddens do, but they may be isolated success cases. As you’ve noted, there’s no definitive results either way. But, the most important thing is to get people to enjoy being active at at a young age.

  8. A father & son did a 48 hour race locally a few weeks ago. They both completed 62.8 miles. I don’t see any problem with having kids be active. It’s so much worse to have them sitting playing video games drinking and eating garbage for 48 hours straight.

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