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Running with Your Kids

Posted on Apr 22, 2019

Running can be a great family activity, but should parents be concerned about their children running too far or experiencing the sorts of injuries adults commonly encounter? Patrick Mularoni, M.D., is the medical director of Pediatric Sports Medicine at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. In On Call for All Kids this week, he answers questions about the benefits of running as a family.

With spring in full effect it seems as if there is a 5K and 10K every weekend. It seems that kids are running many more of these races. What are the benefits of choosing track, cross country or running road races as a sport for your children?

Running as a sport continues to grow in the United States. It seems like every weekend there is a road race being put on by a local charity. Families are taking this as an opportunity to exercise together and one of the biggest reasons is because you don’t need specialized equipment or coaches so it’s not very expensive. It is one of the only sports where you’ll see grandparents competing right alongside their grandchildren.

Even if you’re not competing or running organized races, the thought of a family going out for a run together, especially when they’re training for one of these events, is a great thing. It gets the family doing an activity that is not only good for them but a great way to connect with your kids and your community without being distracted by phones and electronics.

You’ve talked before about overuse injuries and the need for kids today to play a variety of sports. As a pediatric sports medicine physician, why is running a good sport to choose as a second sport for your child?

Running promotes cardiovascular fitness so it can benefit kids who are playing other sports. During the offseason from sports such as football, baseball and soccer, a great way to stay in shape and maintain stamina is by getting some long runs in. Now that is going to vary for each child, but a good thing to do is set a goal as a family and sign up for a race distance, then work up to that. I think that a good place to start is a 1-mile fun run for grade school kids and then progressing to a 5K, or 3.1 mile, run for our middle school kids.

Some people worry that too much running is a bad thing, and we have heard the stories about kids running marathons. What distance is too far?

Well it all depends on who you are asking. If we look at countries such as Kenya you’ll find that many school-age children run between 4 and 8 miles a day to get back and forth to school. Now those kids have been distance running since early youth, so this is something that they build up to, and I think that this is the big point. It’s never a good idea to put kids in a position to fail. They need to train and build up to running longer distances just as adults would.

So I would not suggest putting a child who hasn’t been running in a 5K or 10K unless you are planning on going out with them and running a bit and walking a bit. The best thing is to plan ahead and train with your child. Use the internet to find a race that is a few weeks out so that you can train with your child and have a goal that is set and scheduled or start with a shorter race.

So let’s talk about injuries from running. Many adults who run complain of knee pain, back pain, foot pain. If we let kids run long distance, are they susceptible to the same injuries?

This is a case where children typically do much better than adults. The first thing is that most kids aren’t carrying around the weight of their adult counterparts so they are not placing that burden on their joints. The second is that most children don’t have previous injuries to their joints that may have caused bad running habits and many running injuries come from poor mechanics. If a child starts to run at a young age, they have the opportunity to develop good mechanics from the start without having to compensate for previous injuries like many adults have to.

So if I’m a parent who wants to join a local race with my child, what are the first things that we need to think about before hitting the pavement?

These are some tips for parents that I would suggest:

  • Set a goal for a race in the future with adequate time to train.
  • Build up to a distance making slow increases in distance.
  • Make sure your children are in proper running shoes.

You said that many charities are now putting on organized races. Johns Hopkins All Children’s has a race coming up on May 18 called the Run for All Children. Tell us about that.

The Run for All Children is now in its sixth year. It was started by a father and runner named Brian Powers who lost a newborn son who was born prematurely. He has taken his experience with that tragedy and directed it toward helping the children being treated at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

There are four distances: 10K, 5K, 1-mile fun run and a short kid’s dash. The race course starts at the entrance of the hospital in downtown St. Petersburg and then runs toward and along the beautiful Tampa Bay, ending right on the water at Poynter Park. The after party includes music, food and some of the hospital transport vehicles will be there so the kids can get up close and check them out.  It’s a great opportunity for families to get out on a Saturday morning to exercise together in support of their local children’s hospital.

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report.

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