Should Kids Be Allowed To Run Ultras?

As an early twenty something, I get a lot of advice from other people who have lived longer than me. Most of the time, it is quite welcome, as I have never done this whole thing before and having people weigh in with their own experiences is enlightening and relatively helpful. However, I find lines are crossed for me when the advice switches into the speculation side of things, rather than the fact based. Take running for example. I have been told to stop running, especially the long distances, for many reasons, but a few of my favourites are listed below:

  • You will wear yourself out. You only have so many heartbeats and if you waste them on running fast, you will never get to live long.
  • Running will make you look old long before your time.
  • You will become overweight because of an increased caloric need.

I try to be gracious, but my go-to answer on this one is that my main motivator for running is not for health. I run for the same reason that other people may play an instrument or watch tv; it is a form of relaxation and an outlet to relieve stress.

When the question cropped up on whether or not kids should be able to run ultras, I felt as if the same backlash I get for my running applies here.

Here are the facts:

Ultras are an adult sport; the average ultrarunner is 35 – 40 years old, wealthy, educated and motivated. You never see a child on the starting line because ultras beat up their little bodies.

The younger you are, the more fast-twitch muscles you have, which means you have more ability for power and speed. As you age and hit the ideal ultra running age in your 30’s and 40’s, you begin to lose some of those fast-twitch muscles and move into a larger percentage of long distance friendly slow twitch which provide increased ability for endurance.

So far, ultras sound like the last place that a child should be present at from a health point of view. It can be dangerous on the trails, there is sometimes high level navigation involved, and they could damage their bodies because as far as I know, there has never been a civilization where children participated in stretching hours on endurance events. 

But the reality is, sometimes ultras are not run for health. A prime example of this is a beautiful, young girl named Winter Vineki whose father passed away when she was young from prostate cancer.

In his honour, she has been completing her goal of running a marathon on all seven continents. Not only that, but to be the youngest person to ever achieve this. Although she is not running ultras, there have been people frown upon the marathon distance for someone so young. For me, her age is not important – it is the fact that she is doing it for a reason that is important for her.

I think ultras are not the greatest idea for kids if health is the primary focus. But when you remove that from the equation, you are offering them the option to set world records as the youngest to ever accomplish something, to get outside for hours on end, to travel and to prove to themselves that they can. In a world that is full of children who watch hours of tv, I don’t see why they would try and stop a child who would want to do hours of running. The reality is, kids love to run. And I don’t think it is in our place to stop them.


  1. says

    I couldn’t agree more. I think if kids want to run ultras then they should be allowed to. There are plenty of things kids (and adults) do that are not good for our health but achieve other goals. For example, a family might plan a night where they eat out at a restaurant once a week. This may not be exactly healthy (depending on the restaurant and what is ordered), but it can be a good bonding experience and can relieve some stress off of parents who work 40+ hours a week and just want to sit back and relax with their family for a night.

    I think it’s just important that a healthy approach is taken to running the ultra. People of all ages should take rest days, follow a safe training schedule, understand nutrition strategy and so on. If a child is old enough to understand and do those things (with adult supervision) then I don’t really see too much of a problem.

    • says

      So true, Kristina. Your point about the food was key, I think that if being too worried hampers the enjoyment of life, you are actually better off doing the “unhealthy” thing, such as eating out or running an ultra at a young age to capture that joie de vivre!

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