This month's blog symposium topic is: Should kids be allowed to run ultras? I know that children do run ultras and there is alot of debate about whether or not race organizers should permit those children to participate. As a mom, a runner and mom to a little budding runner I have alot of mixed feelings about this idea. First, full disclosure; my daughter is 6, soon to be 7 years old. She started running 2 miler races when she was 4. Soon after that she wanted to try a local 5k race, then another. On average she races about 3 times a year with her longest distance so far being 5k. She loves it, usually. She's had her low points in races, just like all of us, when she questions why she wanted to run a race if it isn't going well, then I've watched her pull herself up and run her heart out and place in the top three in her age division. During these races I think she learns some pretty important life lessons (whether she knows it or not right now) about perseverance, following through with something you set out to do, self-motivation and determination.
So, what if my little 5-ker suddenly wanted to run a half, full or (gasp) an ultra? At her age now it would be a firm no, given her age, stamina and the long road of training she'd have to put time into. That's too much for my child, right now. But what if she asked when she is 10? or 13? Then I'd give it some thought. For me, it would totally depend on how much running she would be doing on a regular basis, her overall physical and mental health, and if she had the desire to take on this kind of challenge. The same things I would ask any adult if they were considering an ultra. If my child wanted to run an ultra though and she was already running 20-30 miles each week, was healthy physically and mentally, had a solid nutrition plan and was under frequent doctor supervision I think I could be okay with it. My husband on the other hand already thinks I'm nuts for running ultras so I can only imagine the horror on his face if our child wanted to run one.
I truly think that the decision to allow your child to run an ultra needs to be a discussion between both parents, their family doctor and the child. I think with the physical demands of an ultra you can't give the same advice to a child as you would an adult. Pushing through the pain of a tough ultra shouldn't be an option for kids, in my opinion. The child should always be allowed to pull out if they don't feel they can continue. I also think if a child is going to run an ultra a parent or trusted family friend should accompany the child the whole way, for safety, security and the experience of being able to see the signs of a child pushing themselves too hard so if need be they can step in and call it quits.