Is it Safe For Kids to Run Marathons?

Young Runner II

Is your son or daughter not into little league, karate and soccer? Well, you might want to consider adding a different sport to their schedule: marathons.

A recent NY Times article asks the intriguing question of whether it is safe for children to run for exercise, up to and including 26.2 miles--a marathon.

As it is described in the NY Times' article, two recent studies explore just this question. The conclusion on the safety of running for kids: mixed.

In one study, data from 1982-2007 Twin Cities Marathon competitors was analyzed. The injury rate of children participants, those between the ages 7 - 17, had a rate of injury half of what the adults had. This means children were injured less often than their adult marathon counterparts.

The researcher goes on to state:

No studies have linked distance running by young children to potentially serious overuse injuries like growth-plate disruptions or knee arthritis, [remarks] Dr. Roberts.

Yet, in a separate study documented that children runners were more prone to twisted ankles, scrapes and head injuries from falling, than their adult counterparts.  Jokingly some have recommended kids wear helmets while running. Yikes!

What do you think? At what age is it safe for children to run marathons?

Am I Dying? A Tale of Shrimp and Running

The list of dangers for runners is already long: unobservant drivers, heat stroke, and potholes, among many others. Last week I discovered one more for the list, shrimp. And this was one tough lesson to learn.

It all started last Wednesday. My girlfriend stopped at the store on the way home from her pilates studio and picked up ingredients for shrimp tacos, a meal we've had a dozen times before. I arrived home hungry and immediately went to work chopping red cabbage and pan-frying the shrimp. After cooking, we gorged ourselves on three tacos each, then topped it off with chips and homemade salsa. Fantastic as always!

After cleaning up the dishes, I knew I still had go on a training run so I begrudging slipped on my running clothes, laced on my shoes and headed into the dark and rainy night for some miles at the nearby Carkeek Park. It was just past 7:30 p.m. I was weighted down from dinner, but otherwise felt fine. Daft Punk and 50 Cent blasted in my earphones and I quickly got into the rhythm of things.

After a few miles of navigating streets, I made it to the park and switched on my goofy-looking, but essential LED headlamp and began the trail loop. Despite a long day at work, I blasted down the trail, heading deeper into the fog and trees. No one else was in the park.

At just just over a mile, the trail cuts right and I started climbing the first hill. It was at this moment that I noticed my energy, once present in abundance, was fading. I blamed this on digestion and kept chugging along. As encouragement, I switched from a mellow Bon Iver track to a high-tempo Lady Gaga song on my iPod.

Any boost a change in music gave me was short-lived because less than a mile later I started to feel awful. I know you're not supposed to swim after eating, but I've run countless times after scarfing down a dinner without ill effect. I've even run WHILE eating dinner. For whatever reason, this time I was fading fast and in the middle of a dark and isolated trail. What was going on?

Abandoning my training run, I walked and trudged the remainder of the loop trail as an act of survival, all the while cursing my body for failing me. My skin itched and I was at a low point. I had no idea what was bugging me, but I knew I had to get home as soon as possible.

Without a phone to call for a ride, I depended on my legs to carry me the two miles back to my house. When I finally got to my door, I flung it open in an awkward movement and pulled myself inside. The instant my eyes made contact with a mirror in my living room, I realized what was going on.

I was having an allergic reaction to the shrimp.

Arm with Hives
Arm with Hives

Hives had erupted on the sides of my face and on the top of my arms, underside of my wrists and all across my chest. The sides of my neck began to swell. While I wasn't having difficuly breathing, I looked alarmingly like a body builder from the neck up. This was something that had never happened to me before, with shrimp or any food.

"Was this serious?" I questioned.

My girlfriend sprung to action and got me antihistamine tablets as I tried to calm myself with the mantra "I'm cool, I'm cool". Breathing audibly through my mouth, I sat on my living room carpet and tried to calm myself. I swallowed two pills and tried to relax.

Luckily, after about 30 minutes, the itching began to lessen and the hives on my face diminished. By the end of the night most of the symptoms had gone away, with the swollen glands in my neck lasting the longest.

The next morning I learned from a general practitioner and friend of the family that my symptoms were indeed likely that of an allergic reaction, intensified by exercise. The run had raised my heart-rate and respiration, making any minor reaction to the shrimp into something much bigger. She mentioned that I could have always been allergic to shrimp, but just never knew it before because I didn't have exercise to intensify the reaction.

So what did I learn from this experience?

Be careful about what foods you eat just before you exercise and maybe carry a cell phone just to be on the safe side. A few antihistamine in your pack might be handy too.  I was lucky because my reaction was minor. But next time, who knows. In any event, I guess I have to find another food to replace shrimp.

Have a food allergy story or tip? Add a comment below.

How I Got Into Running...

Usually the weather in September in Seattle is amazing. For enduring nine months of chill and rain, the gods reward us with beautiful, humidity-free summers full of brilliant sunsets and crisp nights. Today, unfortunately, was different. Misting rain was chilling the air, hiding the mountains and ruining BBQs.

My buddy Anthony was in town, a stopover as he geared up for a motorcycle ride to Alaska. He planned to stay for about a week as he ordered more parts for his 500cc Buell Blast. Each night we spent watching The Long Way Round, a true-life mini-series about Ewan McGreigore and a buddy riding motorcycles around the world. Anthony would draw out his course on a huge wall map he bought, making sure there was somewhere to stop every 150 miles for gas. We'd drink beer and reminisce about life back in college on the East Coast. It was amazing, but at the same time, I was also envious of Anthony.

You see, I had sold my Suzuki TL-1000 in the spring to help pay for jaw surgery. Because of my finances, and because I was still healing from the procedure, my summer so far had been vacation-less. I would have loved to take off with Anthony on an adventure through British Columbia, the Yukon, and on to one of the last frontiers, Alaska. But no, I sold my v-twin Suzuki earlier in the year, and anyway, I had work on Monday.

A desk and cramped office waited for me, along with what I assumed was a life of normalcy. Crap.

Despite the rain and temperatures hovering in the 50s (bone-chilling when you're riding at 60mph), Anthony decided to backtrack, and ride his bike down to Portland for the day. On his journey into Seattle, another biker had mentioned a museum outside of Portland that he "had to see" and a particular stretch of road that was perfect for carving turns on a motorcycle. Not wanting to miss out, Anthony took off mid-morning for a day trip on his motorcycle. While I, nursing my injured ego, stayed home. Shoot. I didn't realize I was just minutes away from running a half-marathon.

After Anthony rode off on his bike, I putzed around the house for a few minutes. I downed a bowl of cereal, then laid on my couch shirtless and watch a few videos on After neither The Office, or Raisin Bran could satisfy my hunger, I decided to get out of the house.

I've run around Greenlake countless times. The 3.1 mile path is looped by thousands of Seattleites each day. Mothers pushing stollers, runners, and friends catching up, the artificial lake is one of the jewels of the city. Before I left my house I tossed on a pair of basketball shorts and a t-shirt, and laced up a busted pair of Target sneakers (brand unknown).

The gray and blue shoes had been used for years as cheap gym shoes, and the seams had begun to tear. I think I had bought them for $20 four or five years before and they look exactly what you would think a five year old pair of Target sneakers would look like. But, this wasn't a big deal. I had run or run/walked Greenlake many days before. I wasn't a runner, but it gave me a way to warm-up for weight training, a past love.

I drove a mile and a half down to Greenlake. Parked my 1995 Honda hatchback near the bakery and crossed the street. The cold temperature and light rain had kept most folks away from the normally busy path circling the lake. Without stretching, I started off on a lazy jog; baggy clothes flapping in the air.

I was never a runner, but would do a mile or two to try to keep my weight down, or to destress after school or work. My routine would be the same every couple of weeks. Head to Greenlake in the same outfit, at the same pace, (and usually) with the same struggle to finish. This time however was different.

As I rounding the last turn in the three mile run, I wasn't forced to walk to finish. Instead I thought "maybe I can do two", and passed the start to begin another loop. I wasn't running fast and my feet began to hurt as my shoes deteriorated. But, I kept going.

At half-way through the second loop, the rain started to let up, and I was happy for the reprieve. This was the farthest I had EVER ran... 3.5 miles, 4, 4.5. I just kept plotting along, and to my amazement, I didn't stop.

As I finished my second loop of Greenlake (6 miles!), I realized two things. First,  I felt that I could go farther--that surprisingly, I still had energy to keep jogging.  My second realization: my feet were suffering incredibly.  The middle toe on both of my feet are the longest toes, and therefore were taking the brunt of the force as each foot slid forward in my crumbling shoes, smashing into the front. I was guessing that I'd lose my toenails when the day was done, but didn't want to stop to check.

Despite my feet, I kept chugging along. And this little train had more to go. As I started my third loop of the lake, I decided try to run the length of a half marathon, 13.1 miles, or basically four times further than I'd ever run before. That meant two and a quarter more loops around Greenlake, beyond the two I just completed.

Surprising myself, I kept going. Mentally, I kept envisioning the idea of an adventure and chuckled at the idea that we all have opportunities to test ourselves right before us. "Yeah, I guess so", I thought.

Soon enough, miles eight, nine and ten slipped by, and I was facing my final loop of the lake. Visually I was a mess. My arms were flapping, my nipples were brutally chaffed from my shirt (novice, I know. But this was my first time running) and my stride was falling apart into a stumble from one step, to the next.

Luckily, I didn't stop, and finished the 13.1 miles, just as the sun was coming out.

I had just ran my first half-marathon. No one noticed my feat (or swollen "feet"), but every atom in my body was firing. I was elated and energized, like I had discovered a winning lottery ticket that had been tucked under a couch for years. I didn't know that this power existed in me.

After I got water, I limped to my car, drove home and inspected my wounded feet. Sure enough, the nails on my middle toes were  smashed and dark purple with blood. When Anthony got back from his day trip, I told him of my bizarre journey.  After looking at my toes, he both congratulated me and questioned my sanity.

While it was a few days before I tried to run again, from this first experience, I knew it was something I could do and enjoy. Within a week I picked up a pair of real running shoes, size 12 Adidas Supernovas. They felt amazing and sparked my passion for running.

So, that's how I got hooked. What's your story? Add a comment below.