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What Running Distances Are Safe for Children?

Sep 12, 2023
woman running

Running is a great activity! It requires very little equipment and can be done individually or with a team. Running can be beneficial for both children and adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports this activity and gives some helpful recommendations for families considering whether to have their children compete in longer distances, such as a 5K (three mile) race or longer.

If children enjoy running and are not having pain, there is no reason to keep them from training for or participating in distance events longer than 5K. However, 5K is usually the longest distance that state high school athletic associations sponsor.

Long-distance and marathon running have not been thoroughly studied in children, especially in those who are prepubescent. Two studies of youth running in marathons suggest that this is a safe activity for the short term, but there is no data on long-term effects. Some marathons do not allow children under a certain age to participate. Families should check with marathon sponsors for age-based restrictions.

The child must be interested and eager to put the work in. Distance running takes diligence and focus and is not always the most enjoyable sport for children. Make sure your child is interested and eager to participate. They should not be pushed into running long distances if they do not want to.

There are no evidence-based guidelines on how children should train for longer-distance events. We suggest starting with a baseline of 10 miles/week maximum during week one and then slowly increasing by 10% per week if the child is pain free and still enjoys training. It is important for the child to have at least one day off per week.

The child’s miles should also be logged. Fitness bands and apps are a great way to monitor running habits or map runs for safety purposes. Training should always be conducted in safe environments with adult supervision.

Shoes are as important as the mileage, and we would suggest being properly fitted for running shoes. Replacing shoes at least every six months, or every 400-500 miles, is also important to prevent injuries.

Sports Medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital
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Featured Expert

Gabriella Gonzales, MD
Primary Care Pediatrics

Gabriella Gonzales, MD is a Primary Care Pediatrics physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

James MacDonald
James MacDonald, MD, MPH
Sports Medicine

James MacDonald, MD, MPH is a physician for Nationwide Children's Sports Medicine and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Family Medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.