Posted by: Dean Hebert | July 15, 2008

Youth Running: Coach Dean looks at how much to run and how hard

Carol, a reader with a daughter who runs asks:

I have an 11 year old daughter that started running 1 month ago when she was 10 years old. She is training for our state Nutmeg Games. She runs 4-8 miles every day. She runs 1 day on the road, 1 day of track work, 1 day tempo run and the other 4 at a pace of about 7:40 per mile. She runs local 5K and 8K races, but in school she runs the 800m and 1600m for track. Can you please tell me if there is anything that you think she should be doing? She is very competitive and wants to get a scholarship to High School and College if possible.

You pose an interesting situation with exciting possibilities. It is wonderful to see a youth who loves running and is motivated on her own. Let me first start with some observations and perspectives, and then I’ll offer you some thoughts on where to go from here.

1. Running 4-8 miles every day would mean 28-56 miles per week. I’ll assume that the average is between 4 and 8 so without knowing exact workouts I’ll assume she runs 35-40 miles per week. This is very high mileage for an 11 year old. For perspective: I have adult Boston Qualifying marathoners running 35-45 miles per week. I coach high school runners and only my most experienced upper-classmen will exceed 30 miles per week. Mileage is the second-most predictor of getting injured (behind number one: past history of injuries).

2. It is an unusual runner who can run every day. For the great majority of runners there should be at least one day off each week for recovery and allow training to take effect. Remember, you get stronger during recovery not during workouts. Workouts break muscle down. Recovery rebuilds.

3. Quality running is preferred for youth runners. A track workout is a good idea. Without knowing what the workouts are like, I can’t comment much more. But, this is a good thing to do.

4. A tempo run may be OK, but by definition – unless she is running 10k and longer – it is not enhancing her conditioning specific to her race distances. It’s a “hard” run but without a purpose.

5. 5k and 8k races for fun are fine if she is an 800/1600 runner. They will not make her a faster 800/1600 runner if that is her focus however.

6. High schools run 5k for cross-country. Again, running 8k or 10k won’t make you a better 5k cross-country runner.

So, here are my recommendations:
1. Your daughter should do the longer races (8k) for fun and without pressure of times or places. Save hard core racing for school team racing and/or club championships, etc.

2. As a youth coach the emphasis is to think long term. Too often youth are burned out from too much running, too much racing and too much pressure. Here’s another article on that topic. Be sure to read some of the comments.

3. Overall, training should focus on low mileage – high quality workouts. Workouts should include a variety of paces and terrain. “Low” mileage is certainly a relative thing. It is obvious your daughter is coping with what she is doing. Even as an exceptional youth, I’d recommend no more than 30 mile weeks. It’s what you do with the miles, not the miles themselves that counts.

4. Do not specialize in an event too young. This is a time to be a “generalist.”

5. Without knowing the specific “track” workouts and paces I cannot make specific recommendations. I will say that variety is important (paces and distances). Depending on the time of year I’d recommend increasing to a couple track workouts per week.

6. Incorporate rest and recovery days. These can include cross-training. Many of my runners also play soccer, basketball, or bike and swim.

7. I don’t know the criteria for what I assume would be a private high school scholarship. Your best bet is to contact the schools directly and get specific requirements (times, distances, or tryouts) for scholarship qualifying. Only then can you focus both workouts and races appropriately.

8. College scholarships will depend on her high school years’ performances. What you are doing now is establishing a sound foundation for those years. How much she races and the times she runs in the next 3 years or so won’t affect college opportunities.

I know this is pretty general. However, I hope this is helpful in setting a direction for your daughter’s success.

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe, Arizona
Contributing Editor, Running Advice and News


  1. […] Joe English I have a wonderful opportunity to expand my writing to other sites. Here is a recent post on youth running some of you may be interested in. If you haven’t visited his site yet, do so. You’ll […]

  2. […] I have a wonderful opportunity to expand my writing to other sites. Here is a recent post on youth running some of you may be interested in. If you haven’t visited his site yet, do so. You’ll enjoy his […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: