Marathon Kids: How young is too young to run 26.2 miles?

Marathon Kids: How young is too young to run 26.2 miles?

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tens of thousands will run in the Honolulu Marathon this Sunday including many kids under 14. In fact the minimum age to run is just seven years old. So how young is too young for such a grueling race?

A lot depends on the child. Some parents say running 26.2 miles is just fine for kids. Others say its borderline child abuse.

Among those starting the Honolulu Marathon this year is Alexander Terebenkov and his 9 year old daughter Elena who is in fourth grade.

"She never had any health problem, she is very athletic, she is very active, she is very happy so why not?" said Terebenkov.

Terebenkov is Russian and says he walked 50 kilometers at age 7. He says American kids aren't taught the value of physical education.

"That's why kids at a small age are very obese here because they don't have any exercise. Parents try to protect them from everything," said Terebenkov.

He says they train three hours almost every night doing a combination of running and walking. He thinks seven years old, which happens to be the minimum age to participate in the Honolulu Marathon, is the best time to start exercising.

"It's not crazy at all. It will make parents more proud," said Terebenkov. "We just want to finish. We just want to show ourselves what we can do and participation is most important."

"When they're out there that long the elements start getting to them, the heat, humidity, they're on their legs a long time, many hours," said Jonathan Lyau, marathon coach and Iolani School Cross Country Coach.

Lyau has run in almost 40 marathons. His first was at 15. He thinks preteen is too young for long distance running. Still he's seen a lot of kids under 10 in marathons.

"A lot of the children they're crying, especially toward the end. It looks like its torture on their body," said Lyau.

So how young is too young?

"I think that's a really challenging question. I don't think we actually know the perfect answer," said Dr. Rachel Coel, The Queen's Medical Center Sports Medicine Director.

Dr. Coel says medical studies have differing results. One showed marathon kids get hurt, but mainly from falls. Another showed kids went to the medical tent far less than adults. And no studies show long distance running stunts growth.

"We don't have evidence to say that 7 is too young. We do have evidence that says if a 7 year old doesn't want to be doing it they shouldn't be doing it," said Dr. Coel.

In the long run Dr. Coel says the marathon motivation should come from the kid, not the parent or coach.

"If the child is the one saying mom, dad I love running and I would love to take this to the next level. I've done a 5k I'd love to try a 10k and then the next logical extension is something longer. If it's coming from the child perfect, but if it's coming from the adult or someone influencing the decision then I really don't think it's good for the overall health of the child," said Dr. Coel.

Each child is different so it's a good idea to check with their pediatrician first.