Have you ever watched little kids run around? It is an amazing thing – for so many it comes naturally and there is just a joy of movement that I personally don’t recall having at that age. When I am out for my runs, at the end of our street there is a cul-de-sac where a bunch of kids tend to gather, and seeing them run around is just a great thing. I am a total advocate of encouraging kids to explore the joy of motion and finding their passion for running or any other sport.
I love the image at the top – it is of a friend, her daughter and a couple of friends. They take part in a 5k sponsored by their school, and because they take part in fun-raising, setting, up, handing out water and cheering people on – naturally many of them want to get out there and run some of the course. And that is exactly what happens – they go and run some of it, get loads of cheers as the cross the finish line and then go hang out with other friends.
My concern is something different. Over the last couple of months we have seen a couple of instances of very young kids running very long distances – and under rather bizarre circumstances. In October there was a big uproar as a 6-year old claimed a ‘world record’ in terms of both age and time for running a half-marathon (both since debunked). The girl and her mother had been planning to head to one race, but weather forced a change in plans, and since they had raised about $3,000 they wanted to run and found a half-marathon in Texas.
And a couple of weeks ago a 5 year old completed a half-marathon in Trenton NJ – becoming the second US 5-year old haf-marathoner and the first known American sub-2:30 half-marathon runner.
The other day a post over at Miss Zippy reminded me that I started a draft back in October that I hadn’t finished, and the more recent shift from 6 year olds to 5 year olds only increases my concern.
First off, I have concern about the 6-year old girl. Her interest in running is fairly obvious – she lives with two parents who are triathletes. So it is unsurprising that in that training schedule she would end up watching one or both train and compete. And what is training for an adult is playtime for a kid. That is fine – but there was a big thing about the fundraising. The girl raised $3,000 – which is pretty amazing even if we all know that also meant loads of work for the parents.
But it was raised for a ‘pregnancy resource center’ – in other words, an anti-abortion center. Again, no problem with what anyone believes or supports – but is someone trying to tell me that a 6-year old girl has sprouted from her own mind the need to raise loads of money in an anti-abortion effort? Sorry – but this is the parents’ cause, and the little kid is a pawn … and she needed to complete a half-marathon to complete the ‘sales pitch’. I don’t care if it is pro-life or pro-choice … using a little kid as a political pawn is disgusting.
As for why the 5 year old ran the half-marathon … I have no idea. The cynical side of me says that they knew that their son enjoyed running and has a natural aptitude for long distance running, and also saw how much attention the little girl in Texas was getting so this was an opportunity to put their child in the limelight.
I know that these are not my kids, so I have no standing and perhaps should just shut my mouth. My concern? This isn’t the end – just the beginning, really. Mark my words – 2014 will see a 4-year old completing a half-marathon and a 5-6 year old doing a full marathon.
The medical summary I heard that best sums it up: there is tremendous potential downside and pretty much no upside.
When will it stop? I can tell you EXACTLY when. When some beautiful little kid dies.
But didn’t I say at the beginning that I love seeing kids running and support movement and running and kids pursuing their passions for sport? Yes I did – but at the same time I have been around long enough to know that out of every 10 ‘driven’ kids there is 1 with pure gifted talent … and 9 who are pushed beyond tears by driven parents.
So while I love the idea of kids getting out for a mile or even up to a 5K run/walk, I support the medical rule-of thumb: until you are 18, do not race further than your grade level. First grade = 1 mile; 5k in the 3rd grade and so on.
There is plenty of time – why are we so constantly in need of pushing our kids to be major talents with huge accomplishments when they are barely out of diapers?