As soon as children learn to walk, it’s not long before we watch them run about as excitable toddlers and sometimes, it can seem as if their energy knows no bounds. When you think about it, it’s a familiar sight to see kids as young as 5 and 6 years old running tirelessly around a playground or a park lawn – only to hear them complain to mom and dad that they’re “not ready” when it’s time to go home!
Observing all this energy in young kids can make some parents wonder: Could my 10 year old child be capable of running in an actual long-distance event, such as a 5k? Finding out your child’s suitability for a 5 kilometer (3.1 miles) run should be determined first and foremost by a pediatrician in order to make the best assessment based on your child’s medical history and ensure that a 5k will be a safe and healthy option for them.
After that, it is largely down to you as a parent to decide whether your child has demonstrated the stamina and passion for running long distances, and whether or not their love of running in the park with family could be translated into a non-stop running event. If you’re already confident that the answer could be yes (or you believe your kid has great potential) read on for tips on how to prepare your 10 year old for their first 5k run and the many benefits of doing so.
Benefits of Running for Kids
The benefits of children staying active are obvious enough, but did you know that there are specific benefits to running in early childhood? Encouraging your 10 year old to run long-distance – whether they complete a 5k run or simply take up running as a casual hobby – can be one of the most effective (and most affordable!) ways for your child to exercise. Here are some of the greatest benefits that running can bring to your child’s life:
Increased bone strength – whilst adult runners may enjoy the other advantages on this list, an increase in bone strength is exclusive to children. Not only can early running make children’s bones stronger as they develop, but according to research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, young runners can actually ward off osteoporosis.
Improved sleep – your child may not have too much trouble getting to sleep at 10 years old, but as they approach puberty and their teen years, sleep becomes even more valuable as their minds and bodies begin developing at such a fast rate. If your 10 year old is getting regular exercise thanks to running, this will improve sleep quality (and their teenage selves will thank them in future!).
Better focus and concentration – While teaching a class, runner and children’s author, Carol Goodrow observed a change in her student’s behavior once she introduced running into their regular lesson plan. As part of their class, kids would run outside and come back to write in their journals. “I noticed the kids who were reluctant writers were suddenly writing after their runs. They had something new and fresh in their minds, and they wanted to express it.”
Increased self-esteem – running is known to release endorphins and make us feel happier in ourselves, but this rush of feel-good hormones can be especially beneficial to young minds. Completing a run – particularly an event like a 5k – will give your child a confidence boost when they cross the finish line and complete their goal. Repeating this often enough will put your child in a motivated state of mind and give them the courage to try new things in other areas of their life too.
Is a 5K Run Safe for a 10 Year Old?
Knowing the physical and mental demands that long-distance running can put on people, it’s easy to assume that running a 5k may not be an appropriate form of fitness for young children. However, health professionals have revealed that, as long as the child is adequately prepared, then these types of runs can be perfectly safe.
Pediatric sports medicine specialist Dr. Mark Halstead at Washington University, St. Louis reveals that: “The distances set up for these races are generally very appropriate for kids; they’re distances they would typically spend running around in the yard with friends.” So what is the best age to start running a 5k? Dr. Halstead suggests that “children are usually ready to start running long distances like 5 kilometers between the ages of 8 and 10.”
As Halstead points out, however, a child’s readiness has less to do with their age and more to do with the child’s “individual rate of development and desire to run”. The news story of 9 year old Caleb Barnes perfectly illustrates a child’s determination to run despite age. Back in 2016, Caleb stunned his parents and doctors when he finished a half-marathon (21.1 kilometers) in a record-setting time for his age group, finishing in 378th place out of a total of 4,560 participants. If this weren’t impressive enough, Caleb also entered his first ever 5k at the age of just 4 years old!
How to Prepare My 10 Year Old for a 5K Run
Caleb’s inspiring story proves that a child’s passion for running can sometimes be more relevant than their age. If your child is a keen runner, it is ultimately up to you as their parent or guardian to make sure a 5k run is safe and healthy for your 10 year old by making sure of 3 things:
1. Their fitness levels and limitations – what are realistic fitness goals for them to achieve? Do they get enough regular exercise at home/school?
2. Their physical and mental well-being as they train – your child should be allowed to stop when they want to. Are you making sure they enjoy running or are you putting unnecessary physical and mental demands on them?
3. The precautions you need to take before each run – are they getting the right diet? Have they stretched to safely warm up their muscles?
To help you answer these questions, take a look through some of these tips for making sure your 10 year old gets everything they need in preparation to run a 5k:
Tips for Ensuring a Safe and Healthy 5K Run
- Let your child set their own pace – A 5k is intended as a mini marathon, not a sprint and your child should never feel pressured to keep to ‘keep up’ with anyone else’s pace. In fact, keeping to their own pace is part of the attraction for many child runners, according to Pediatric sports specialist Dr. Halstead: “Team sports tend to be highly competitive, but with running, you can make it as intense or as casual as you want – perfect for kids who are obese or those who are not comfortable in a team environment.”
- Assess their agility and endurance in other sports – if you’re concerned that a 5k sounds too taxing for your 10 year old, it may help to assess and compare their performance in other areas to get an idea of what they’re capable of. For example, you may not think twice about letting your 6 or 7 year old son play a soccer match, but research shows that soccer players can run up to 5 miles in a single game! So if your child has good endurance on the soccer pitch or basketball court, then they may be more prepared for a 5k than you think.
- Let them work up to 5k with shorter distances – if a 5k seems too much at this stage, test the waters by encouraging your child to get into a regular running routine, such as running the length of their neighborhood for 15 minutes after school or morning runs on weekends. You could also find out if their school has plans for an upcoming fun run or if your local community is planning one for charity, as these can be up to 5k in distance.
- Stop running practice immediately if stress or injury occurs – Aching muscles is a normal sign for most of us after a running session, but if your child ever experiences pain or discomfort in the middle of their run, this should be addressed immediately with their pediatrician, so be on the lookout for any signs if your child starts a running routine. Also, if your child is serious about running long-distance, invest in a pair of good quality running shoes – wearing good running shoes can be just as important as the warm-up stretches when it comes to preventing injury (see below for further tips on how your child can prevent injuries before a run).
- Introduce some ‘runner foods’ to their diet – your child may not be a fan of some of these foods, but if running is important to them, they should know that the following foods are the best forms of running fuel they could ask for:
- Tuna: Runners need 60 to 90 grams more protein than non-runners do and luckily just one can of tuna provides half an adult’s daily protein requirement, so serving up two 4 ounce cans of tuna each week will help give your child a huge energy boost thanks to the heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids.
- Oranges: Oranges are a virtual super fruit for runners. 1 orange a day (or 8 ounces of juice) will help damaged muscles heal after a long run and the high Vitamin C content will help the body absorb more iron – helping you combat low energy and tiredness.
- Almonds: while dull on their own, you could add almonds to your kid’s cereal or give them almonds as part of a mixed snack bag of nuts and seeds. The Vitamin E helps to prevent sore muscles and the high fiber ensures their tummy won’t rumble mid-run too!
Once you are confident that your 10 year old has what it takes to safely run their first 5k (and assuming your child’s pediatrician is confident too), then go ahead and put your child’s training to the test!
You could sign them up for a local 5k running event in your local area and go running together as a family or supervise your child running with their friends. Running organizations like ‘parkrun USA’ provide a free and easy way for people of all running abilities to complete a 5k in beautiful park surroundings. Active kids is another great resource for helping your child find fun running events and activities in their local area.
Preventing Running Injuries in Your Child
Even the most experienced of adult runners can find themselves with an injury from time to time, so it’s vital that you take every step you can to prevent your 10 year old from sustaining a running injury.
Here are some top tips:
Warm up properly – running works a variety of muscle groups in your body and these can all be at risk of injury if they are not warmed up efficiently. Get your 10 year old to try some simple warm-up exercises that gently stretch these muscles and increase circulation so they’re well prepared for long distance runs.
It’s okay to admit pain – if your child believes in pushing through the pain and continues to run without telling anybody, this is dangerous as it could lead to them developing a more serious, long-lasting injury. Encourage them to tell you when they are hurt so they have the necessary time to rest and cool off.
Hydrate the right way – Chugging down gallons of water right before a run may seem like a good idea, but it will only leave your child feeling bloated and dilute their electrolytes (the minerals responsible for muscle contraction, so decreasing these will only decrease performance). Instead, kids should drink 16 ounces (about 2 glasses) of water on the morning of the run, as this will help their body process extra fluid.
Get enough rest – as much as your child may love running, it’s important that they have a sufficient cool down period to let their muscles rest. Pediatric sports expert R. Jay Lee reveals that the most common injury in young athletes is “overuse injuries”. Parents should make sure that their child’s tired muscles don’t become strained for the sake of an upcoming running event or competition, so make sure they get into the habit of doing cool down exercises and enjoy downtime between running events.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare