Half Marathon Training for Teens and Adolescents

We can expect great things from the young, can’t we? (Photo credit: _sjg_)

To begin, I know this is a somewhat controversial topic.  I’ve never been one to shy away from that sort of thing though, so let’s jump right on in.

This summer, I am coaching my son and 2 of his friends to run the Madison Mini Half Marathon in August.  My son is currently 12 years old, but all 3 boys will be 13 on race day.

I know, I know, I know.  Some people think it’s crazy to allow kids that young to run a half.  They say people should master the shorter distances first.  They warn that kids will get burnt out.  They caution that the kids will get hurt.  These are all very valid points I have carefully considered and researched. Yet, I think it is all very individual and I know not every child at their age is ready and able to conquer 13.1.  But these kids are ready and I know they are going to crush it.

I’ll readily admit they have definitely have not mastered the shorter races, but they are running them in cross-country and track.  They are also still growing and PRing left, right and sideways.  Even better, they have been running and playing a ton of other sports for years.  Most importantly, they all really want it, are putting in the time to make it happen, and are having fun in the process.

My key goal is ensuring they have fun and stay injury free.  They are all talented runners and the last thing I want to do is mess up their fall training season or see them hurt or burnt out.  So we are all in on this – working together and training for a solid race in August.  And we’re having a great time.

Here is how it started.
My son told me this winter he wanted to train for and run a half.  This isn’t a new request. Growing up with a marathoning momma, he’s been claiming he wants to run a marathon and every distance he’s seen me race since he’s been about 5 years old.  I’m not going to let him take the jump into marathoning until he is done growing (which I have told him will be around 18-22), but he has been running since he was 4, starting with kids’ fun runs.  That evolved to the annual Capitol Mile race, which he has run every year since he was 5.  At age 8, I caved and finally let him run his first 5k and he’s run dozens since.  He’s trained for two 5 mile races and one 10k during the last few years.  Last fall he ran cross country and LOVED it.  This spring, he ran track and enjoyed it, but wanted to run longer.

So when he begged me to coach him for the half, I finally considered it seriously.  Why?  First, he truly loves to run and race.  I’ve never pushed him to do this, he wants it.  Second, I told him he could do it only if he fully committed to training for it.  A half is no joke.  It takes real work and commitment, like any other sport season + 1.  He said he was all in.  The race is late summer, so he’ll have all summer break to train following track season.  Please, please, please, mom.  

So I said yes.

But then, of course, he told his friends about it.  During track season.  Actually during the peak of track season when they were all kicking butt, taking names and feeling strong.  Several of his friends said they wanted to do it too at first.  But by the time it came to put their mouths where the miles are, two friends remained steadfast in this endeavor.  They are both strong, talented runners with years of soccer under their belts and strong cross country and track seasons, and a spattering of local races.  They really wanted in too.  I said yes, but only on the same condition plus one: not only must they follow a training schedule, they must also let me keep track of them / coach them.

Naturally I was worried about passing off an excel spreadsheet with a 14 week half marathon training program to kids I couldn’t monitor closely.  Not only is that irresponsible in general, these kids are talented runners.  The last thing I’m going to do is give them a copy of my son’s schedule (which I knew would be fluid throughout the season) and let them train themselves into injury just before cross country season.

The Process.
Fortunately the boys, along with their families, jumped in head first.  The boys have properly fitting shoes to get them to the finish line.  We are about to start our 9th week of training.  They’ve run alone, they’ve met up multiple times throughout the week, and they are getting it done.  Sometimes it’s hard.  Really hard.  It’s been hot, it’s been humid, we’ve been running long runs, tempo runs and speed work.  They’ve rocked it and even learned to run super easy on easy runs.

In the beginning of the season, they ran their first 5k of the season and they all PRed.  18:37, 20:12 and 20:19. Rock stars.  Last weekend they all PRed again.  Hopefully before our race they can log a 10k race before our half, but that is up in the air with camps and travel schedules.  None of this history will dictate our race pace, however.  We intentionally don’t have a goal and will set it as we get closer and will adjust as we see the weather forecast.  Overall goal: start conservative, finish strong (negative split) and have a great time as we knock out this big goal.

Getting ready to knock out a half.
Getting ready to knock out a half.

I’ll keep  you updated on our progress.  In the meantime, chime in:

Would you let your 13 year old run a half or do you think I’m nuts?

Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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  1. I wish I had begun running at 12/13 instead of at 29. My first half didn’t come until 31. You are opening a wonderful life for these boys. Running can be a great way to explore new places both at home and in new locations. I think with all things conservative approach is best. It sounds like while the desire is clearly from the boys, having your experience and smart coaching with prevent injury. Have a great race and run strong!

    1. Thanks and me too. I signed up for track in 9th grade and was quickly told I was terrible. I didn’t start again until I was 24 and felt (1) why did I listen to that person and (2) what have I been missing? I am also trying to switch up the locations of our runs for the reasons you mention – it is so fun exploring a city on the run!

  2. I like how you’ve approached this with your son and his friends. I’ll be taking notes and gleaning ideas from you, as my 9 year old is very similar (asking to run longer and longer distances since he was a wee lad). So far, the longest race I’ve let him run was a 4 miler, but I think we’re quickly approaching 10k territory. I love that I have the running connection with him–it’s so much fun to have that in common and to cheer each other on in our goals. I also realize that my days of slowing down for him are numbered. There will quickly come a day when I can’t keep up! Anyway, I can’t wait to hear how everything goes for the boys. Carry on, Coach Mom!

    1. Thanks so much. My rule was always that anything over 5k, they have to train for (for at least 4 weeks). It has been amazing watching them do it. Any time you want me to share training schedules, let me know. 🙂 And I hear you on times. I am SO glad I am in the midst of my own training or I don’t think I could keep up with these boys. They are FAST. I’m likely to be working pretty hard to pace them through this.

  3. I think it’s awesome. My 8-year-old has been running races since he was 5 when he ran his first 5K with his dad. Since then, he’s run a number of 2-mile and 5K races. I am very hopeful he will want to run track and cross-country when he is older, and I also hope my two little ones adopt the running lifestyle. Best of luck coaching your son and his friends – I’ll follow the story with great interest!

    1. I was wondering how you’d chime in and am glad you are in support! I’ll definitely keep you posted! BTW – Cross country is amazing. Track is cool, but I so wish I had been introduced to XC as a young person.

  4. I think it’s ok for kids to become involved in these kinds of events because they teach endurance, confidence and commitment. With that being said, I think there is a fine line between parents ‘pushing’ their kids too hard and understanding if they really want to do it. I’m not a parent and never will be, but I think you’ve approached this great and are a great role model!

    1. I totally agree re fine line and have tried really hard to make sure I am not that pushy parent. I have found it has worked to my benefit and my boys (especially my oldest) really enjoy running and racing.

    1. Thanks! This morning we ran 6 miles with intervals (400m), drills and striders. It was fun! They all like to have a big post-run meal together too, so it is fun watching them make pancakes and goof off when they are done with the hard work.

  5. So cool! Clearly your athletes really want to achieve this goal and that is just awesome. Keep us posted on how they do!