A Kid's Training Guide to Running
Words Sarah K. McDonald , Illustration Mary Dunn
Published August 2012
Updated January 4, 2019
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Matt Celone, assistant track coach for the Flower Mound Track Club, a summer program sponsored by Flower Mound’s Community Activity Center, says that the age-old question (pun intended) of “When should a child start running distances?” doesn’t have a straight-forward answer. It really depends upon the child’s fitness, ability and maturity levels.

Related: How to Start Your Child Running 

Need some loose guidelines? Celone offers some general training tips for children of various ages:

AGES 4, 5 and 6

Distance: Any racing distance from 50m to 1k is reasonable. The workout plan for these distances isn’t mileage-based, but rather time. I would recommend running twice a week for 3 minutes non-stop and working up to 8- 10 minutes. Our younger runners need lots of breaks, and we encourage them to take rests when needed so not to burn out or grown to hate running. This Plan assumes they are starting from zero.

Week 1
Monday: Fun Day. Tuesday: Run 3 minutes, break 3 minutes, Run 3 minutes (Repeat circuit for a total of 6 to 9 minutes of running). Wednesday: Fun Day. Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout. Friday: Fun Day. Saturday: Walk for 15- 20 minutes. Sunday: Fun Day
Week 2
Monday: Fun Day. Tuesday: Run 4 minutes, break 3 minutes, Run 4 minutes (Repeat circuit for a total of 8 to12 minutes of running). Wednesday: Fun Day. Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout. Friday: Fun Day. Saturday: Walk for 18 to 22 minutes. Sunday: Fun Day
Week 3
Monday: Fun Day. Tuesday: Run 5 minutes, break 4 minutes, Run 5 minutes (Repeat circuit for a total of 10 to 15 minutes of running). Wednesday: Fun Day. Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout. Friday: Fun Day. Saturday: Walk for 20 to 24 minutes. Sunday: Fun Day
Week 4
Monday: Fun Day. Tuesday: Run 6 minutes, break 4 minutes, Run 6 minutes (Repeat circuit for a total of 12 to 18 minutes of running). Wednesday: Fun Day. Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout. Friday: Fun Day. Saturday: Walk for 22 to 26 minutes. Sunday: Fun Day
Week 5
Monday: Fun Day. Tuesday: Run 8 minutes, break 5 minutes, Run 8 minutes (Repeat circuit for a total of 12 to 20 minutes of running). Wednesday: Fun Day. Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout. Friday: Fun Day. Saturday: Walk for 24 to 28 minutes. Sunday: Fun Day

AGES 7, 8 and 9

Distance: Any racing distance from 50m to 5k is reasonable. This age group is where we start to really see separation between the competitive runners from the casual runners.  Most notably, the competitive runners are going to naturally pick up longer-distance races and post faster times than their peers and, many at times, their seniors. One of the young men I train ran a 21:06 in a local 5k at age 8 when the average of his peer group was a 31:45. There are many great couch-to-5k programs available online, including runnersworld.com.

AGES 10, 11, 12 and 13

Distances: Any racing distance from 50m to 10k is reasonable. 10k programs, much like 5k programs, are goal- and experience-specific. The miles-per-week for a 10k training program will vary, but generally speaking, one should expect to run at least three to four days a week, with total weekly mileage being in the 10 to 20 range. It’s important to follow a program tailored to your goals and starting point.

AGES 14+

Distances: Any racing distances up to a half marathon are doable with proper training. Ages 16 and older can manage a full marathon, although most races won’t let you compete until you are 18. When considering a half or full marathon, there are many more factors to consider:
– Do I have three to six months to dedicate to training?
– Do I have five to six days a week available for training?
– Am I going to run/ walk the race or run the entire distance?
– What are my time/ race goals? Do I just want to finish standing up or run a sub-4 hour marathon?
– Am I mentally ready to run the distance, and even more importantly, am I physically conditioned for the training and race? I strongly recommend that anyone considering a half marathon or further distance checks with their doctor before starting the training.