Why Introducing Your Child to Marathon Running is a Good Idea

Children marathon running image

Prabs, it’s such a shame you didn’t start running when you were younger. Who knows what you might have achieved?

Deirdre Farrugia, 100m & 200m sprinter, Barcelona Olympics, 1992 and Personal Trainer

Yep, an actual former Olympic sprinter said those very words to me a few months after I started running. I couldn’t believe my ears (or my legs for that matter).  I was never sporty, you see. Still not. I’m not one of those people who needs to be always doing some form of physical activity. I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a couch potato (I can pilates, get my yoga on and run like the rest) but I have fallen off the exercise bandwagon more often than I’ve managed to stay on it. It’s a shame because I do love exercise when I do it.


And there you go, it’s the ‘when’ that’s the issue.

I was that kid who had to run several laps around the sports ground in the freezing cold for forgetting her sports kit. The kid who froze with panic when the ball was thrown to her.  The poor blighter who couldn’t swim for toffee because of a crippling fear of water (mind you, if the swimming instructor had actually placed toffee at the bottom of the pool, I might have overcome my fear). As a twenty something, I discovered the gym and got hooked on aerobics. Even later, the kids came along and with them childcare issues, hampering my gym-going ability. The creche was an abysmal failure as I was repeatedly called out of studio classes to fetch a young Cheeky K. It got depressing relying on a babysitter/Hubster just so that I could get out and exercise the post-kids body.


That’s How I Got into Running

At one point, I had a home helper who was happy to mind Cheeky K. So one day, on went the trainers and out went Prabs!  It was a miracle as I thought running was THE most tedious thing; I’d spent many a coffee morning bored and inwardly rolling my eyes as the other mums talked about races and PB’s. Even more surprising, after the first few times where my heart almost burst out of my chest and my lungs felt like they were on fire after just two minutes, I was running longer and longer. The biggest miracle of all? I loved it! However, much as it’s never too late, age does play a part. I may have run two half marathons and even won my category in a race but fact is if had I started running before my forties, I could have achieved much more.


Which brings me onto the topic of this post.


My son’s PE teacher says he regularly outruns his peers and gets amazing results in his beep tests at school. My kids aren’t super sporty but they’re also not terrified of sports like their mum was. Naturally, I want to encourage the running; it’s a shame to ‘waste’ the example they’ve seen being set by their mum and it’s also something we could do together. So I sought a bit of advice from Dan of True North Athletics who shared the following advice.

Disclaimer: Please note you should seek advice from a running coach/athletics club as well as your family doctor before commencing any form of marathon train for your child. It is also recommended you check the minimum age of eligibility for marathons in your country of residence. The following tips are for a child aged minimum 14 years old.

For many adults, outdoor running, clocking up the miles on the open road or amongst hills, provides an escape from everyday life’s stresses and mundane chores. It’s also a flexible way to exercise without being tied to a gym schedule, parking nightmares etc; just stick your running shoes on off you go. The increase in the number of people running marathons and participating in multi-sport challenges, Ironman events etc is no surprise; it may be demanding on the body but the mind is fully engulfed by the experience.

When it comes to children, introducing them early to longer endurance events such as marathon running can have a lot of advantages on their physical, cognitive and psychological development and have lasting benefits to their adult lives.

The Art of Playfulness and the Link With Sport

To begin with, playing is essential for children to develop their motor skills, coordination and mental awareness.  Sports are an excellent way for them to learn new skills, and place some essential groundwork for a life of physical activity. Moreover, children are exceptionally fast learners with little to stop them, so any sport they pick up early, they are likely to excel at later in life. They have a natural tendency to get engrossed in play and not hold back, traits that lend themselves well to running.

Parents, however, are often highly protective of their children and may not want to expose them to high risks or large physical loads. As with anyone, it takes some time to pick up new activities and adjust to new loads but do not underestimate your children.  If your children are already into sports and outdoor activities, iust provide opportunities to further encourage progress and foster their passions through family outings such as weekend walks, Saturday sports or summer swimming etc. If available, sports clubs can lay important technique groundwork also providing a team of friends and coaches.

If your child is inactive, avoid forcing your child into any activity. Ultimately it has to be their choice and by making them do things, you are likely to achieve the opposite! It is best to start them slow and lead by example – bring them out for trips that involve sport and outdoor activities. Instead of watching TV in the evenings, hit the track or a local park; go for a swim or a bike ride if the homework schedule allows it. Let them discover what they might enjoy by demonstrating your own passion. Parents’ lifestyle choices and outlook to life has a massive influence on child’s mindset and personality. Introduce them to local sport and outdoors community – maybe they will meet some like-minded peers.


Sports for Growth and Development

In addition to the motor skills, co-ordination etc mentioned earlier, participating in sports also helps children develop essential personal traits such as strength of character, courage, confidence and perseverance. In his book Run or Dieone of the world’s best and most well-known mountain athletes, Kilian Jornet, describes how since he was a young boy, his mum would bring his sister and him out to the mountains. He described in great detail what a massive role it played in his life as a mountain athlete and a person. Children are often seen as highly dependent and fragile creatures, but the truth is that they require space to grow – to reach their full potential as adults. Distance running requires well developed connective and muscle tissue; hence starting early may enable faster progress later in life.

Many events these days have an option of short-distance children races to allow the smallest of people join the racing spirit and measure themselves up against their peers*. It is also not uncommon for young teenagers to compete in adult races and perform rather well, eg Candace Hill, an American teenage runner who competed for a spot at the Rio Olympics. In addition, it’s not only about the performance; children are very likely to become even more passionate about sports as they have more freedom and less pressure than adults whose time is dominated by work and responsibilities.


So, How Do You Start Them Off With Marathon Running Training?

There are also a lot of beginner training tips online that could help you decide on how to approach the training.

  • Most importantly don’t push your child into running longer than they are comfortable with at the start! I suggest staring with a walk/run of 5-10km (if they are capable) and each training session work their way up to longer distances as they are getting more comfortable. Never increase distance by more than x% each consecutive run.  A marathon is 42km so it may take some time to get them up to that type of distance 🙂
  • Here is a 30 week training schedule I would use for someone training for their first marathon:
Week 1-5 Rest 2.5 km run 6 km run 2.5 km run Rest 6 km run 30 min walk
Week 6-10 Rest 5 km run 10 km run 5 km run Rest 15 km run 60 min walk
Week 11-20 Rest 10 km run 20 km run 10 km run Rest 20 km run 10 km run/walk
Week 21-25 Rest 15 km run 30 km run 15 km run Rest 30 km run 20 km run/walk
Week 26 Rest 20 km run 35 km run Rest 20 km run Rest 35 km run
Week 27 Rest 25 km run 40 km run Rest 20 km run rest 40 km run
Week 28 Rest 30 km run Rest 40 km run Rest 20 km run Rest
Week 29 Rest 30 km run Rest 40 km run Rest 20 km run Rest
Week 30 Rest 20 km run 10 km run 30 km run Rest Rest Marathon


In conclusion, due to their energy, fascination about adventure and low reservations, children are likely to benefit tons from getting involved in sports and outdoor activities early. The nature of these activities will help them develop their motor and mental skills and experienced adventures might lead to a life-long love for active lifestyles.

This is a collaborative post.

Absolutely Prabulous is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.” 


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