Age Requirements to Run a Marathon

Marathon runners running on urban street
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Encouraging young people to run is an excellent way to promote a lifetime of exercise and healthy living. Younger runners may want to take their passion for the sport to a new level and participate in a marathon, but age restrictions may get in the way. How old do you have to be to run a marathon? 

Marathon Minimum Age Requirements

Most marathons have age requirements, and the minimum age is typically 16 or 18 years old. Marathons that have a lower age minimum do exist. The Honolulu marathon, for instance, has had kids as young as 10 in previous years. Yet, for teenagers or anyone younger than 15, it is recommended to wait a few years before you participate.

Is a Marathon Right for You?

Have you done races at other distances? This is an important question to ask because it would be best to do some 5Ks or 10Ks before you take on a marathon. Completing one of those distances would be an incredible accomplishment, especially for a young person, and doing so will definitely prepare you for a future marathon. Plus, you'll have something to look forward to in the future.

Training for a marathon is extremely time-consuming, exhausting, and tough, both physically and mentally. At such a young age, it's bound to have a big effect on other priorities in your life, such as school and spending time with friends and family.

Before you enter a race, check the participant rules to see what the age requirements are and whether you need a parental permission form. Discuss your desire to do a marathon with your parents as well. It's a big decision because training for a marathon is going to take months and it will have an impact on your family life and social life.

Why Are There Restrictions?

Quite often, a race will set the minimum age requirement based on the recommendations or requirements of their liability insurance provider. Nobody wants to be sued by parents when something bad happens to a minor during a race, and this could result in higher settlement costs or sympathetic jury awards. As a result, race organizers tend to err on the side of caution and set the age requirements accordingly.

Most experts would recommend waiting at least until kids get through puberty before running a marathon. Doctors typically recommend avoiding extreme distance running for kids and young teens because the repetitive trauma may cause damage to bones that are still growing. 

What Does the Research Say?

A study of marathon finishers aged 7 to 17 years old who finished the Twin Cities Marathon found that only four out of 310 needed medical attention at the race. All of these were minor in nature. However, this study didn't cover the long-term effects that distance running and training had on these youths. But it might be a reassurance to race directors who are considering what the minimum participant age should be for their marathon.

One small study looked at the effects of marathon running on teenagers and found no evidence of liver or kidney injury.

Another study looked at cardiac troponin levels, a sign of damage to the heart that can be seen in myocardial infarction. These are often elevated with adult marathon runners, and they were similar in the teenage marathon runners. They quickly returned to normal as they do with adults. However, the fact that a marathon has this effect on the heart is one reason it is considered an extreme sport and should be done with caution.

A Word From Verywell

Running when you're young is great, but there are many things to consider before deciding to run a marathon. This is not a decision that you should make on your own, so be sure to have a conversation with your parents. It's best to talk to your family doctor to get his or her opinion on whether you should train to run a long-distance race such as a marathon. 

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Article Sources
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  • Traiperm N, Gatterer H, Wille M, Burtscher M. Cardiac Troponins in Young Marathon Runners. The American Journal of Cardiology. 2012;110(4):594-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2012.03.052.
  • Traiperm N, Gatterer H, Pariwat P, Burtscher M. Energy Metabolism, Liver and Kidney Function in Adolescent Marathon Runners. European Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2016;46(1):27-33. doi: 10.1111/eci.12561.