With an increasing number of kids involved in running, many parents wonder when the right time is to encourage their children in events like the Mankato Marathon.
Kids who are involved with running often have increased self-esteem and confidence, improved peer interactions and decreased anxiety and depression. Running also reinforces healthy lifestyle choices and can help reduce screen time.
As for what “age and stage” to get kids involved in running, guidelines are just that—a rough idea of what might be developmentally appropriate. What race kids should run depends on the intensity of the event, as well as each child’s unique physical and emotional readiness. Above all, kids should want to run, and have fun doing it.
Age and stage guidelines for kids participating in the Mankato Marathon:
•5-years old and younger: At this age, it’s best to model healthy habits, encourage active play and bring kids to watch running events. Even the Diaper Dash and Toddler Trot are a great way to get the littlest ones involved. An ideal distance for kids to run at this age is around 400 meters, or a quarter of a mile.
•5 to 11 years old: Depending on the child, they may be able to run a half to one mile at this age. This is a good time to register kids for events like the KidsK or look at programs like Girls on the Run, or STRIDE, a running program for boys.
•12 to 14 years old: Many kids in this age range are ready for a 5k.
•14-years-old and up: By this point, your child could run a marathon or even an ultra-marathon.
•Kids with special needs: This year, the Mankato Marathon will host “My Bold Walk,” a 0.6-mile walk for those who may not be able to participate in races because of inactivity, chronic disease or disability.
Tips to help kids prevent injuries:
Even though running is generally safe for kids, most injuries involve overuse of joints and muscles, or because mileage is increased too quickly. Kids should start slow and gradually increase distance based on how they respond both physically and emotionally. Other tips for keeping kids healthy and safe while training and running include:
•Gradually increase speed and distance, keeping in mind most kids have don’t know how to pace themselves.
•Make sure kids wear proper footwear.
•Talk positively about running and model healthy habits.
•Turn running into a game and make it fun.
•Register your kids running events and set goals—there is nothing like seeing them achieve a goal or cross the finish line!
About the authors: Kate Cox is a licensed social worker and Chaun Cox, M.D. is in family medicine, both with Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. Kate and Chaun are runners themselves and have participated with their children in the Mankato Marathon, Girls on the Run and STRIDE.
For more information, visit mayoclinichealthsystem.org.