Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that running high mileage will damage young children. As this article explains, kids who train smart (progressive overload, plenty of rest and recovery, moderate intensity) are no more prone to injury than adults training at longer distances. As with all sports, it is important that the child (and not the parents) is the one who has the interest in and drive to pursuse running, but for kids who truly enjoy running, there is no evidence of a specific "cap" on their mileage.
Here are some general guidelines we use whenever we work with kids who love to run:
- The emphasis should be on FUN, with lots of games and unstructured play. A centipede run (where kids run in a line, pass a baton to the back of the line, and have the last person in line sprint the baton to the front of the line, beginning the pass-back again), obstacle course or game of tag are all great ways to help kids learn pacing.
- Utilize drills (again, fun) that teach fundamental athletic skills, such as body awareness, coordination, balance, agility and good form- we think exercises like "bang the drums," "foot fire," and "bad form/good form" are fun ways to teach kids fundamentals of form early in their running careers.
- For kids who want to run longer distances, incorporate more slow, long runs over intense interval training.
- Encourage kids to become well-rounded by participating in a variety of activities, which enables them to develop skills and strengths that compliment running.
- Make sure kids are wearing proper footwear- a specialty running shoe store can help you choose the right shoe for a child's biomechanics.
- Teach kids about healthy eating habits and the importance of food as fuel, as well as proper hydration.