How Young is Too Young to Run a Marathon?

"I'd recommend 18," Pribut said, "but if someone wanted to do one at 16? OK. But do I think that should be a new trend? No, I don't."

Pribut brought up another wrinkle into the debate—the social side of the marathon, and in particular training for one.

Age Requirements at Marathons

  • Rock 'n' Roll Series: 18
  • Boston Marathon: 18
  • Chicago Marathon: 16
  • Marine Corps Marathon: 14
  • New Jersey Marathon: 18
  • Philadelphia Marathon: 16
  • Eugene Marathon: 18
  • Houston Marathon: 12
  • Disney World Marathon: 18
  • Kansas City Marathon: 16

"They talk about the loneliness of a long distance runner," Pribut said. "Cross country teams, there's still a social interaction with other kids and you're still forming social and emotional development. If you're 14 years old and you want to see if you can do a marathon, you're missing out on some of that with your peers."

While minors running marathons isn't exploding in popularity, it does happen where it's allowed. The Marine Corps Marathons allows 14-year-old participants and had eight finish the 2012 race (five girls, three boys) with even more 15- and 16-year olds running. The 2012 Long Beach Marathon had a handful of 13-year-olds finish though race organizers recommend (but not require) runners be 15.

The Houston Marathon had a 12-year old, a 13-year old and two 14-year-olds finish in 2012. However, the race was forced to disqualify Katylynn Welsch's time of 3:45 because she was only 11 years old.

Regardless, Welsch and her younger sister Heather have had remarkable success in other races, with Katylynn even winning top female honors at the 2012 XTerra 21K Trail Run in Waco, Texas. But the girls seem to be the exception the IMMDA is referring to, not the norm.

Pribut and other medical experts suggest that the marathon is certainly attainable for teenagers, as many have shown, but perhaps a better idea for when they're a little older.

"I like the goal of lifetime running," Pribut said. "You don't want to hold someone back, but you may want to channel it. You have cross-country and track, but the marathon? Maybe wait until you're 18 or 20 or 25."

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