Long distance running can be intense and challenging. Yet, with women’s cross country and track and field on the rise, at both the professional and scholastic levels, more and more teen and preteen girls are taking up the sport. Whether competitive or non-competitive, long distance running gives one a feeling of accomplishment and can positively impact girls’ self esteem. By training properly and staying motivated and positive, teen and preteen athletes can improve their running ability while avoiding injury.
For preteen and teen girls it is recommended that the focus on competition be minimized and instead placed on form and endurance. Sprint-based exercises have been proven to create a stronger foundation for future competition. By developing these aspects, it lessens the chances of injury. A balance of 60-percent training and 40-percent competition is optimal. Most experts also agree that young people should not train for excessively long events. Encourage your child to look at track events, organized cross –country events for teens, or fun 5k or 10k events, while saving their marathon, or even half marathon, dreams for when they are older and fully developed.
Safe and reasonable training is essential for teen and preteen girl distance runners. Most girls reach their peak height velocity between the ages of 12 and 14. This is a period when their bones lengthen but are porous. In addition, the growth plates are open. Due to these factors, it is important to avoid overly intense training as it can lead to injury. Grueling workouts can also slow puberty in young girls or cause them to develop the female athlete triad. The female athlete triad consists of amemorrhea, eating disorders, and osteoporosis. It has become increasingly common among young female distance runners. These issues need to be dealt with in a positive manner to avoid health problems later in life.
After reaching peak height velocity, development of speed, aerobic base, and good nutritional habits will enhance distance running ability. To boost aerobic base but also prevent injury, it is recommended that girls increase their mileage by no more than 10-percent a week. Stretching is a must to stave off injury due to the sudden growth of the musculoskeletal system. Strength training is also beneficial. Girls under the age of 12 should develop strength through body weight resistance exercises. Girls over the age of 12 can begin a mild weight training regimen.
Ideal mileage depends on the individual. Studies concur that moderate mileage is suitable. Estimates of a healthy weekly distance for teen and preteen girls can vary considerably with ranges reported from 30 to 70 miles with most estimates closer to the lower end at no more than 40 miles. After 70 plus miles per week, improvement in aerobic fitness stagnates and musculoskeletal injuries are more prevalent and that level of training that is more appropriate for an older or particularly talented athlete. While a distance base is necessary, workouts should vary to include training such as intervals. One tip that coaches have been using with stellar results is the total fitness regimen. This well-rounded training is designed to prevent injuries. In addition to running, athletes do weight training, calisthenics, pool exercises, and plyometrics. Girls can keep track of mileage and fitness training through a journal or, if she is into gadgets, read up on how to choose the best GPS watch for her needs.
Motivational techniques are another key element of training teen and preteen girl distance runners. First, coaches and parents should avoid putting pressure on an athlete, which can cause poor performance and decreased desire to run. During the preteen and early teen years focusing on having fun and achieving personal bests, as opposed to competition, yields better results. Discussing racing strategy before a competition can help ease the runner’s mind. Visualization techniques, where the runner sees herself doing her best, have been proven to increase confidence. Finally, a big motivator can be incorporating days of rest into the schedule. This allows the girl’s body to recover while also improving mental fitness.
About the Author: Carleen Coulter is the owner and editor of RunGadget, a site that focuses on running gear reviews.
Image Source: Idaho Statesman
Tricia Meyer says
Terrific article! My daughter is almost 11 and running cross country for the first time. I do half marathons (although not very well) and she keeps asking me if she can do one. I’ve been putting her off because I think the training is just too much for her at this point. I really like what this article says about encouraging the fun runs and setting up the marathons for later in life goals to work toward. I think I will send her this post. ?
Carleen Coulter says
There is a fair amount of controversy over younger people running half to full marathon distances. At 11, I definitely would discourage training for a half. It is just so hard on a still developing body and can set things up for injury or nagging problems down the road. But the 5k distance is perfect, and even a 10k distance can be OK a bit more down the road for an additional challenge in terms of training. Look for a race to train for with a cool T-shirt and/or finishers medal and she will probably love it! ?
I can’t believe a preteen would be able to do 30-70 miles?? What?
Great article – and exactly supports the way I coach my preteen girls and early teen girls. So many coaches run these children hard and then by high school they are burnt out or injured.
Keep up the education – let’s make good distance runners but know that the true competition begins later in teenage-dom!
Catoctin Youth Association
Track & Field