Parents feel happy to see their baby take his/her first steps. Then they get to really amuse themselves when their kiddo learns to run, even clumsily. And when in the next few years they see that their child can run quite faster than other children of his/her age, they encourage their child to join marathons or distance running races.
Well, this isn’t what usually happens, but it does. Many parents, when they see enough potential in their child, urge their child to seriously pursue whatever he/she is good at. Not a few athletes have such personal history. But while it’s good to encourage children to take up running as a sport, it also has its risks.
Running is a popular exercise or sport since one doesn’t need to belong to a team and have very specialized gear to do it. A kid only got to have a good pair of running shoes, a decent set of clothes suitable for running, and he/she is good to go. And since it’s an individual and non-contact sport, parents worry less about their child getting injured. However, simple as it may seem, distance running is still just like any other sport: it requires physical endurance and has its share of potential risks, which may be greater among children than in adults.
According to studies, the most common running-related problems among children are those that have to do with their muscular and skeletal systems. Such problems are due to the overuse of or mechanical stress imposed on certain body parts and muscles.
One common example of a musculoskeletal problem is the patellofemoral syndrome, a condition wherein the patient experiences soreness under and around the kneecap after walking, running, or sitting for a long time. Physical problems like this are said to be developed, not during the actual run, but during the training where coaches usually add on miles to every session. Overuse of muscles can lead to chronic disability, so parents and running coaches should limit children’s runs to two to three miles, five times every week.
A survey found out that teenage girls are two to eight times more injury prone than boys. It has something to do with their physique, says one professor of orthopedics from a well-known center in Boston. For example, there are more girls who have pronated feet than guys. Pronated feet, or flat footedness, is the condition in which the arches in one’s feet are not that pronounced because most of the body’s weight rests on them instead of the outer sides of the soles.
Another thing to check in children’s marathons is the kid’s ability to cope with temperature change. Extreme hot or cold temperature may not be that bearable for some kids. If their body aren’t able to cope with the temperature well enough, they may suffer heatstroke or hypothermia. And just like grown-up runners, they’re not safe from dehydration. Kids should take plenty of liquids (preferably water) about 10 to 15 minutes before the race. This is to let the body absorb and circulate water for proper hydration.
And, of course, the most important thing when it comes to involving children in sports is the demands that parents impose. Children are still children. So whether they can complete a 26.2-mile distance running leg or not, they should be able to enjoy what they are doing.
Parents and coaches should not set very high expectations from them. Otherwise, a kid might do the sport only to satisfy the people around him/her.