Track for Teens
So your daughter comes home from school one day all excited that
she made the track team. You congratulate her, but silently wonder
if this is appropriate for a 13-year-old girl. Her practice schedule
looks pretty heavy: she is expected to run for 30 to 45 minutes
each day. Isn't she too young to be running seriously for that long?
What toll will it take on her body? Should you worry?
The Age Factor
Age is not a limit to distance running. On average, 30-45 minutes
is quite reasonable for Junior High age kids. Remember that kids
generally have a good deal of energy, provided that they are
Limits for everyone should be about 70-80 miles a week. However,
most kids training for school track events (generally 10K or 5 miles
at the very most) don't always need to run this much every week.
More miles run will not equal faster times. If you want to run fast,
you do it by practicing running fast, interval workouts. While a
distance base is needed to build aerobic capacity, over 70-80
miles a week generally stops improving aerobics and starts
causing musculo-skeletal injuries.
Individuals vary on how much stress their joints can take without
injury. While there will be occasional aches and pains that are
normal for high levels of exercise, kids should not be encouraged
to run through severe or chronic pains in the legs. Proper form
while running does much to prevent these injuries. A regimen of
rest, ice, and ibuprofen are the fastest way to heal minor injuries
and get back to full speed. Continued running after an untreated
minor injury can lead to chronic injuries. Pool workouts or other
non-weight bearing exercise are good substitutes for running
during recovery from many minor injuries. Every 8th grader in track
is planning on going to the Olympics, so convincing them to cut
back will be hard. Keep reminding her that she will be faster,
sooner, if she takes care of herself. Girls and women have a higher
rate of knee injuries than men do because their legs make a larger
angle with the ground due to the fact that their pelvis is wider.
Other Things to Be Aware of
Another concern unique to women is amenorrhea, or cessation of
menstruation. This occurs because the percentage of body fat in
distance runners is typically quite low. If the runner is significantly
underweight, weight gain can solve the problem, and contrary to
popular belief, will actually improve times. There is disagreement
about how to handle athletic amenorrhea. If your daughter stops or
never starts menstruation by age 15, you should discuss this issue
with your physician. Safety is also a big issue for female runner.
Have a buddy or at least have it known the exact course and how
long it will take to complete it. Do not wear a Walkman, and do not
run in any isolated areas.
Many schools ban jewelry including barrettes during competition.
This is because they can fly off and hit someone or get caught on
something. Don't wear them, even if they don't have rules. Watch
out for other girls' jewelry. Don't worry about the pain caused by the
shortness of breath, your body can't go any farther or faster than
you can recuperate from after the race. And don't be upset if your
child occasionally vomits or has dry heaves after a race. This will
not cause any lasting harm. The last major form of injury in distance
running is simply running into other people and things. If you are
running on the side of the road, run facing traffic. Learn strategies
and practice racing techniques, such as cutting into the inside
lane, and passing.
Overall, the benefits of participation in sports for girls far, far
outweigh the risks. These girls have lower rates of teen pregnancy
and drug usage. They are more likely to finish high school. They
are more confident. They grow up to have lower rates of
depression, breast cancer, obesity, heart disease, and
osteoporosis. Obviously, if your daughter decides to become
active in a sport, you should encourage her because it will benefit
her in many ways. As a parent, though, you should watch for
injuries and make sure they are treated properly.