Posted by: Joe English | March 24, 2008

Training: five reasons for teen runners to run on a track team

I received a really interesting e-mail the other day that read as follows:

My 14 year old son has been running 10ks, 5 ks, 11 mile trail runs and is training for a half marathon that we will be running together.

I am encouraging him to join the track team at school for the benefits of the shorter distance bursts and the coaching amongst other reasons. He is resistant stating that it will take away from his time to do true distance running which is what he likes (the mile is their longest run and cross country is not offered until next year).

If you agree with me that this would be beneficial for him, could you share some ammunition with me to argue my case?

I’ll offer my answer as five reasons that teen runners will benefit from running on track team.

Reason 1: Discipline — training with a track team on a daily basis is a great way to lay a foundation for disciplined training. Going out every day and running structured workouts is great training for long-distance training that will come later and may be on his own. A good coaching staff will help young runners see that their consistent work throughout the season is what pays off in the end.

Reason 2: Racing experience — weekly racing opportunities, as well as daily challenges from teammates, will build valuable racing experience that will benefit runners throughout their running careers. Once out of the track environment, racing opportunities may be less frequent — and will start to cost money in the form of race registrations — so take advantage of this steady stream of chances to learn about race strategy and learn at the same time what particular race tactics work for you as an individual.

Reason 3: Speed — building speed at short distances is a foundation for speed at longer distances. Many of today’s greatest distance runners were masters of shorter distances first. World marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie, for example, was twice the Olympic champion at 10,000M, three times the world indoor champion at 3,000M and once won the world indoor championships at 1,500M. It’s his great speed at short distances that has built the platform for his success at long distances like the marathon.

Reason 4: Learning the track — too many distance runners spend far too much time running “junk” miles — meaningless slow runs that do little for their development as runners. The track environment is a fantastic way to learn how to run on the track and to learn how to incorporate speed work as a part of training. In order to run fast, runners need to spend plenty of time running fast and they do that effectively on the track. This is a great way to learn this skill.

Reason 5: mental toughness –the daily training and weekly racing of a high-school track season is also a great way to build the mental toughness that it takes to be successful as a distance runner. Runners will most likely suffer a lot of knocks to their egos when they get out there and race frequently, especially as they are learning how to do it, and this is a good thing for the development as runners.

In addition to all of these positive reasons to run on a track team in high-school, I’ll close by adding that much of the science suggests that teens should be waiting until after most of their growth and changes brought on by puberty are behind them. As Larry Greene points out in his book Training Young Distance Runners, “physically immature youth . . . are at a high risk of injuries, abnormal growth and maturation, and psychological burnout.” Greene suggests that after puberty, boys would be best suited to racing distances from 800-3,200M in the 14-16 age range and 800-5,000M when 16-18 years old.

So my advice is to definitely take the opportunity to run track while you have it. You’ll grow tremendously as a racer and build a fantastic foundation for later distance running success. Go for it and have fun!

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News



  1. Joe,

    Thanks so much for the great advice. I will use it today and let you know the results!

  2. Great post, good rationale.

  3. I have a 15 year old boy running cross country & Track for 5 years now he does very well an is top ranked in his division ,my concern is that hes a small for his age but his size never was an issue until now hes competing with stronger & bigger runners in school hes posting good times 10min 14 sec on the 3200 and 4min 41secs on the 1600.My question is should he start with some sort of weights for strenth?

  4. You can see an answer to John’s question above by visiting the following link:

    Coach Joe

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