Junior runner dilema!! HELP


Im hoping someone can give me some advice here.

My daughter Amy is just 12 years old and has started to show a real interest in distance running, however she also plays football at an elite level (MUFC girls centre of excellence).

 As her training schedule is already quite demanding with training 2 nights a week and matches all over the NW of England on Sats, I am very concerned about her doing too much (not to mention the chasing round i have to do!!).

Whats got me concerned is that on Sunday Amy entered a 5k santa dash in Manchester and finished with a time of 19min.55secs which for a 12 year old I think is very good. Amy was first femail accross the line and only beaten by 10 mail adult runners (over 200 competitiors).  

 She was even shown on skysports news, and I have a screen shot to prove it!

can someone help with the following questions?

Firstly I am thinking that 5k might realistically be too far a competitive run for a 12 year old girl?

Is under 20mins a good time, and is there any web sites that can give me comparisons?

Are there any decent clubs or local races of 3to5k that Amy can give it a go?

Football is obviously her first sport, but if she has a talent i would not like to see it go to waste!!

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.


Mike (concerned parent!!) 



  • UK Athletics ModelThe following is an example of a five stage progression (UK Athletics model) for long term athlete development:
    1. Fundamentals - where the emphasis is on fun, developing basic fitness and general movement skills - training years 1 to 3 and ideally a chronological age of 6 to 13.
    2. Learning to Train - where the emphasis is to learn how to train and develop their general skills - training years 3 to 5 and ideally a chronological age of 10 to 15.
    3. Training to Train - where the emphasis is event(s) specific training - training years 5 to 7 and ideally a chronological age of 13 to 17.
    4. Training to Compete - where the emphasis is to correct weaknesses and develop athletic abilities - training years 7 to 9 and ideally a chronological age of 15 to 19.
    5. Training to Win - where the emphasis is on enhancing performance - training years 10+ and ideally a chronological age of 18+.
    Ages 7 to 11: Avoiding "little league syndrome"

    We hear of football clubs sending scouts to primary school matches, and the "pushy parent" phenomenon - or what the Americans call "little league syndrome" - can appear at a very early stage. But at this age sport is just play, and it does not matter who wins. Children need exercise: they need to develop their bodies and their brains, and the best way of doing this is by having fun at the same time. Exercise also offers a way of learning about the world and how it works. Sport, like life, has its rules, its constraints and its set boundaries. Like life, it tries to be fair but does not always succeed. The child learns the hardest but most valuable lesson of all - that they have limits. The parent has to find out what the child can and cannot do well. They must offer the child lots of opportunities and help them to select the ones which will best help them grow as a person. The "Tiger Woods model" is not a good one to follow, because this involves a parent imposing a regime at an age when the child is not in a position to make a choice. For every success this model produces, there are hundreds of frustrated children who are being blamed for not living up to their parents' expectations. During the primary school years, the child should be encouraged to run, but not forced to do so. A common reason for running is to be like Mum and Dad, and this is fine. If there is a local club, which caters for under 9’s and under 11s, encourage them to go along, as long as the regime there encourages variety and non-specialisation.

    How far should a child run at this age?

    Basically, they can run for as long as they want, as long as it is at their own pace. The biggest danger for modern children, particularly city kids, is lack of exercise, producing a downward spiral where inactivity leads to obesity, which makes them less inclined to do anything. Long runs on tarmac are not a good idea, but there is no reason why they should not go out training for 50 or 60 minutes, as long as this time is broken up. Children have the common sense to slow down or walk when they feel tired.

  • Ages 11 to 13: Resist the urge to specialise At the beginning of secondary school, the child's choices are generally guided by parents and teachers. The urge to specialise in one particular thing must be resisted: all the evidence is that those who keep up a variety of sports up to age 14 are more robust and less fragile than those who specialise early. Early specialisation may bring short-term success, but is that really what you want? At this age there will be a huge difference between early and late developers. The arbitrary nature of the age-group system may lead to immature just-11-year-olds running against over developed 14-year-olds. Coaches and parents must be careful about throwing children into competition before they are ready for it, but they should not avoid competition entirely. People develop by overcoming challenges, and the art of coaching lies in finding the right sort of challenge for each youngster.

     In some ways it is harder to coach the very talented: you can't dangle the carrot of success under their noses, because they have already eaten it. With the majority of kids of this age, the right approach is to encourage team spirit, in a club or a school team. This enables the slower developers to get satisfaction from the team success. The more successful fast developers must be shown that they need the others if they are going to win their match or get a medal in the relay. With some short-term goals ahead of them, training should be done once or twice a week, but integrated with all the other physical activities such as games and school physical education (PE) lessons

    Some of this may help image

  • Blimey, she a natural!  Not knowing the first thing about performance levels at that sort of age (I was rubbish at school) I got curious and looked up some rankings.  Not surprisingly there's no such thing as a UK ranking at 5k for under 13 girls (not on powerof10, anyway), and you have to go up to under-20.

    See where your daughter fits in hereimage

    So it appears as though it is too far for a competitve distance at that age, but I'll defer to more knowledgable folk...

    [edit] Just reminded myself that the old football vs running issue comes up quite a lot in my running club, from what I've heard.  We've got a very good youth section with good connections to local schools etc, and I hear every now and then about very promising young athletes (usually sprinters) who give up on the running because of the lure of training with professional footie clubs.  On the other hand there are some who manage to keep the two going, at least at an early age before things need to get more serious.  Might be worth checking out local clubs who cater well for younger runners, so at least she could get the opportunity to train with other runners.  She's obviously used to 'training' as opposed to running round a field chasing a ball, so would be good to give her the options I suppose.

  • That is an exceptional time, and would put her comfortably in the top few places in most 5k road races. The Power of Ten rankings are for track races rather than road races, but that just makes her time even even better. She may be a good footballer, but with that kind of time she may be an even better runner, and you'll have athletics clubs lining up to help.

    If she wants to run more to see if she likes it, then I'd suggest you look at http://www.parkrun.com. There are currently 4 different parkruns operating in the Manchester area, and they run every Saturday morning at 9am, they're open to all ages, and they're free to enter. All you need to do is a one-off on-line registration before you go to your first race, and then you can simply turn up and run whenever you like at any of the 20+ parkruns that are spread around the country. 

  • I don't think 5k is too far for a 12 year old that plays football so I wouldn't worry about that.

    I'd be trying to get her to try a proper race on a track against some decent opposition of her own age so she can see where she stands against her peers.    I'm not sure how you'd get into those races - if she'd have to be a member of a local athletics club or something - I'm sure someone can advise though.  


  • No advice to offer, but I just wanted to say well done and good luck to Amy with both her running and her football, and how great it is to see young girls getting involved in sports! (Most of the 12 year olds in my husband's class list their main hobby as "shopping". image)
  • I'm pretty sure that 5k is the maximum distance she should be running in competitively for her age.  If she's that good at such a young age it's really probably worth contacting the British Milers Club, and try and see how she gets on in middle distance events such as 800 & 1500m on the track.

    They do organise events for juniors, and she'd probably be in the U15 girls.

    She's old enough (11+) to be competing for a running club in cross country events too (where most of our good middle & long distance lady runners start out)  That would be really worth her while, if she enjoys it, as she would be competing against other U13 girls.

    I'm guessing she'd favour either one or the other with regards to running & football, and the time and effort needed to put into each would make the weaker (or less desirable) option come a very mediocre second.  Still, she really is good, so it's well worth a go with the running - the best thing to do would be to take her to your local running club, get her to do some training with their juniors, and have a talk to one or two of the junior coaches to see what they can do for her.  Then give her a go at some of the shorter local races of 5k and less.  10k is deffo too far, but some clubs do organise junior races on the same day as their main 10k races.

    Please let us know how she gets on - she's going to be one to watch out for if she does get serious with her running. 

    Cross country is definately worth a look out for - if she can compete locally there more than a good chance she could make it to regional or national events

    All the best! image

  • Hi I believe officially yiou should be 14 to do 5k races according to athletics but the aprk runs let anyone join...

    assuming that the distance she ran was accurate it makes it a great time.according to the park runs records the times for girls age 14 under.( anyone under 14 goesinto this catergory becasuse of above statement) then cardiff's fastst has been 20.51.Bushy park in London has had 5 girls go under 20 mins the fastest being 19.16.these arces are all very accuratly measured.......

    with your daughter being only 12 this puts here up there..............have you got a park run around you that you could both go to.this could have her racing without the pressure of a club and if she then enjoys it and realises how good she is she might want to take it further...........also as an unattached runner i would be suprised if you weren't apoproached by a few clubs that could give you advise as to the next move......

    as with all things with kids though its got to be their choice..........

    good luck

  • If it was a 'santa dash', I'd wonder whether it was measured accurately. too.

    Even if it's a bit out, it still looks like your daughter is very fast.

    You say you don't want to see her talent go to waste, but be careful of pushing her, even unitentionally - it does have to be her choice. 

  • There are some very fast kids out there. A 13 year old won a 5 k outright in Glos recently in just over 17 mins......!!!!!!!!!!

    There are a lot of cross-country races about at the moment, who start with 2k races (or it might be 1.5)....from age 9 upwards.

    Have a look at your county athletics association perhaps?

  • 5k doesn't sound a lot but then if I think back to when I was 12 yrs old, half a mile probably seemed like a marathon to me. If she is happy doing that distance and there is good evidence to prove that that distance isn't doing her any harm then let her continue.

    Definitely think she has a natural talent there. She probably realises that she's good but might not understand the career prospects. Without being the pushy parent I would guide and encourage her.  But if she says she's had enough then you don't push it.

  • Hi All

    Many thanks for all the great help and advice!! I really am speachless that you have all took the time to offer guidance.

    I take one particular point on board in that the santa dash could possibly not have been that well measured, but i dont think it would have been that far out as guide.

    I certainly dont want too push her in any particular direction at the moment especially being so much into her football, but Ive already been asked to find her a more serious run so that she can give it a go.!!

    United are very good really and actively encourage all their girls to be active in as many sports as possible. I dont think me at least giving her the opportunity to experience a few race days will do her any harm. She did though do the Great manchester kids run around eastlands in May (I think) of this year she came around 12 or 13 in that from memory , Im not sue of the distance but there were over 300 kids in her category, her result is somewhere on the great run website but i have not been able to find it!! That was definitely her first competitive run of any kind. 

    I have taken Amy out with me a couple of times recently and been left standing over a couple of miles, i had been suspecting for a while that she could possibly make a decent runner if thats what she wanted to do. I am 46 now and been running for around 20 odd years, ive done London once (2003) and many half marathons, 10 milers, 10k etc but now I just do 15/20mile a week to keep in trim. 

    I will have a look around to see what park runs are around and perhaps get her in a couple.

    Again I really do appreciate all your help and guidance, I am obviously comunicating with some very experienced and dedicated runners.

    regards to you all!!


  • Good shout on the cross country races.   My youngest daughter is only a year 3 but she does XC just off her football training and does OK in it.   At her age in our league the races are just over a mile but secondary school they move up to two laps.  

    Might be worth asking around some local running clubs as there are quite a few XC leagues around and some have kids races before hand - as well as a regional XC series of a better standard that caters for kids. 

    She can get away with a pair of astroturf football boots if it's only 2-3 events over the winter.   Definitely think it's the right thing to encourage her if she's got the talent.  

  • No worries Mike - the XC races are good fun too....lots going on. Plus as she is clearly talented, being in with a group of other good kids will be great competition for her. Tends to be quite a high standard at them as there are club honours at stake.

    ASsuming of course you go down that route.

    All the best!

  • Just checked up on our North East U13 girls results for our first xc meeting - the winner finished slightly faster than your daughters 5k pace, but she'd have finished in the top 3. 

    Something like that would definitely give her something to aim for.

  • Jr Schmunks did our local 5k Santa Dash in 31:54.  He's only ten and none of the race organisers could believe he had done two laps of the 2.5k course. 

    He used to go to the local athletics club but, for his age, they were not allowed to 'compete' individually - they have to participate as teams.  He became disheartened at this approach and no longer attends.

    We now go running together once a week instead.

  • D2D - the winner came through in 10:43 (actually 12:03 but she was running from the fast pack and had a 1min 20sec handicap) so for the 1.7 mile course she was running an average 6:18 mile pace

    A 19:55 5k is 6:25 pace, so not that far off

  • Nice image

    As a 14 year old road runner myself i use the "Mini Marathon" Results to compare as it is the largest junior road race in the country. It is 3miles so slightly less than a 5k but her 3 mile pace would get her a top 50 finish in the regional race if she not 14 before april 25th she will remain in the same age group and could come in Top 25 road runners in the country at  her age group.

    give it a look @  http://results-2009.london-marathon.co.uk/index.php?a=mr&o=m&lastname=&firstname=&gender=W&club=&event_id=CRC&age_group=B&start_no=&Submit=show+results+%3E%3E&p=2

    hope i have been helpful.

  • Under UKA Rules, the minimum age for a 5k is 13.
    11 and 12 year olds can run a maximum of 4k on the roads.

    Rather than just doing road races, she would be better joining her local club, and doing cross country events, such as her county cross country champs, as Nick L said in an earlier post.

  • Hi, Again many thanks for all the help.

     I have now been contacted by a chap from Stretford AC, who has asked me to take Amy along to see how she gets on.

    Amy did compete in her school cross country trials this week and has done well, finishing first from her school in the year 8/9 event (she is one of the youngest in year 8), so it does look like she  may be best off doing that for now as well as seeing how she likes the club scene. Looks like I am going to busy though with football monday, wed, Sat, and running Thursday nights!

    Suppose thats what being a parent is all about!



  • With a time of 19:55 for 5k, my advice would be to tell your daughter to pack in the football and do athletics instead.  Ask yourself which is the bigger sport for females, football or athletics?  Yep, athletics.   That's an awesome time for anyone, let alone a 12 year old!  It wouldn't surprise me if, given the right coaching and mental attitude, your daughter could go all the way to the top.  Good luck! image
  • Hi

    I have a daughter, same age (youngest year 8, 12), started track last sunner...we've been through the mill, "know it all coaches" who know nothing and are dangerous, nasty peers, thrust into competition...etc. I've trained her myself for 6 months after yanking her from club training. She's representing the club, county and region. Top 10 Wales 800 without any training, top 10 in Welsh inter-county CC races, etc. Aiming high for track this simmer (target 2:24 800, 5:00 1500). She's training intervals, tempos, reps, etc. for those targets just now and exceeding them. Did a Time Trial on the road few weeks ago, 5:55 mile/min pace on an undulating road in freezing temps.

    I've read tons of literature since last summer. Coe, Lydiard, Daniels. I actively seek advice from everyone knowledgeable and experienced. I sift, compare, talk to my daughter (I have 3 kids actually, all running--the other 2 are 10 and 8), and decide what's best. All 3 kids are constantly improving. 12yr old is racing CC the next 3 weekends--club, Welsh National CC, Welsh National Schools CC--then UK Inter counties in March at Birmingham. All WE want is for her to give her all. She doesn't train specifically for CC, but doing OK.

    I have no problem sharing data, training programs, and passing on what I'd suggest you avoid--e.g., I would read, research, ask, and discard everything from the self-professed guru's. Do not doubt your own ability to know what is best for your daughter. You will always know her better than virtually any coach--that relationship is hugely valuable. BUT DOING IT THIS WAY IS A LOT OF WORK!!!

    Your post reminded me of something from Arthur Lydiard, one of the acknowledged greats of coaching: "I never asked to coach a runner, they asked me." Just a caution.

    Message me here or email me if you want to discuss any of the above.

  • PS: the time trial was 3K
  • I would think the footy training will give her all the speedwork she needs. The danger of joining a club is that she'll be doing even more speedwork. Burnout could be a real possibility.

    I would suggest that any extra running training should be easy, slow jogging - just get the miles in and enjoy the scenary.

    I think the UKA's approach to distances and kids is over-simplistic, short-sighted and based on faulty data analysis. In short, the issue is not how old a kid is but how many years of running they have under their belt.

     If she were my kid I'd encouarge her to do more miles easily while continuing to enjoy the football. I suspect the results may push over to atheletics eventually - everyone likes to be successful.

    Just don't be scared of mileage and distance, but build it slowly, year by year.

  • I have a son in year 7 who started cross country at primary school because I thought it would help his football - better stamina, that kind of thing.  He turned out to be reasonable - nothing outstanding, but enjoyed running.  I looked into the local club, but decided against it as there appeared to be an ethos of 'short term' gain for the club rather than long term gain for the runner.  Instead, he's joined a training group so that he can run a kind of structured programme and run with others (both older and younger than him).  This season he was picked to run cross country at county level and his school team (where he's one of six) won all the autumn inter school races, so not being in a club hasn't closed off his opportunities.  The key for me is that you find what's best for the child long term.

    Btw - I also understand about the being left behind on runs - I can run for longer than him, but not faster!

  • I agree with you about forming friendships JM but if as a parent you disagree with the basic philosophy of the coaches then I suppose the temptation is there to want some kind of input into their training. 

    Another club that is more in line with your thinking is probably a safer bet though.   Or get involved with the club itself and become a coach so you can coach your own kid plus others. 

     Like you imply though for all kids the emphasis has to be on fun and you have to listen to what they want.   Running isn't a career for any but the most talented and as running isn't a skill sport like football so long as they are doing something to keep fit and run around a bit you don't need to be the best at 10-14 to go on and be world class if you have the talent.  

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