Teens and Marathons – Do They Mix?

I was wondering if it is safe for a healthy, athletic 14-year-old to participate in a full-marathon. He has a training program that he has researched and plans to follow. He currently is on a club swim team and rides regular 15-30 mile bike rides.

I have written on this topic before but it always bears revisiting when inquiries like this come in. The first clarification is one of what is “possible” versus what is “advisable”. COULD a 14 year old run a marathon? Yes, with the proper training program tailored to the individual and a long enough and gradual enough build-up period. I would never encourage a downloaded generic program for this purpose. These programs are intended for adults and do not consider the issues of training youth. SHOULD a 14 year old run a marathon? I do not advise it.

There is inconclusive evidence about true dangers or safety of really long runs or high mileage for youth runners. So the jury is still out. But the predominating opinions of the medical community and most youth coaches fall on the side of moderation and avoid excess (i.e. marathons).

Your son is doing the right thing for his age. He swims and bikes and though you don’t mention it I assume he also runs. This is good cross training and develops muscular balance. That is ideal for youth athletes. And though this is good cross-training it does not make him a good “runner” or marathoner. Training is sport-specific. To be a good runner you must run. To be a good cyclist you must bike. To be a good swimmer you must swim. To be a marathoner you must run. It is in that very issue that makes marathoning ill-advised for youth. The odds of injury will greatly increase.

So, I advise against having your son train and run a marathon though it can be done.

If he decides to go for it then:
He needs a tailored program designed for youth (contact me if you are interested).
He needs a long-term approach (24 weeks would be reasonable – but no 12 or 16 week wonder program is advised).

Perhaps he would really benefit from a high school running camp and learn about training.

Coach Dean


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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2 Responses to Teens and Marathons – Do They Mix?

  1. fealitall says:

    I’ve got a puppy I am told not to run distances until the 9 mo.-1 year mark. Out of curiosity (and because the little guy loves running) I asked the vet, whose an athelete as well, why this is. His immediate reply, “it would be like an 8th grader doing a marathon!” No joke, that was his response. Then he delved into the specifics of joint development/bone growth and extended wear from repeated motions over long periods of time. I can’t wait for the 9 month mark, but I am waiting!

    • Dean Hebert says:

      That is funny .. and true. Most people do not realize that animals have to be conditioned to run in the first place… and of course it makes sense that they need to have mature enough bodies to handle it! Thanks for the comment.

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