By Phil Nast April 3, 2012 2:16 pm
Where I live, warm weather has arrived and the roads are dry. Bikers are out and runners, more than just the hardcore who bundle like Ralphie’s kid brother in A Christmas Story to run year round. And lately I see more kids running with their parents. This is cool and a lot more fun than the leaf raking I used to do with my dad. On the other hand, some of the kids look very young, and their youth started me thinking about what effect the stress of running long distances on hard road surfaces might have on developing bodies.
At some time in the past, I read about damage to growth plates in children. Growth plates are located near the end of the long bones of children and young people and are areas of growing tissue. Boys are twice as likely as girls to suffer growth plate injuries. Trauma is the leading cause, but gymnasts (especially girls on the uneven bars), long distance runners, and pitchers are sometimes injured by overuse.
The risk of damaging growth plates in long distance running is what I recalled from my reading. However, as I searched the Internet for supporting evidence I found more questions than consensus. Trauma produces recognizable short-term effects, but overuse produces long-term problems that are harder to identify. Most of what I encountered on the Internet was anecdotal, of the “I ran marathons when I was young and now…” variety. The lack of empirical long-term studies is acknowledged by experts. To complicate the situation, most of us have weathered cycles of contradictory studies. This seems to be the nature of science but is frustrating for anyone trying to do what’s smart. On the other hand, the enthusiasm of promoters can be a form of denial.
So what’s left? Moderation.
On one website I learned about a school/community youth program in St. Louis called the Read, Right & Run Marathon®. K-8 students read 26 books, perform 26 good deeds in the community, and run 26.2 miles over a six-month period. Students need to run an average of a mile a week. The last 1.2 mile run is a culminating activity. For the 2010-2011 school year, 19,000 St Louis students participated. The Go St. Louis website includes FAQs and Resources. The resources page provides information on all three aspects of the program.
The Read, Right & Run Marathon® is a registered event of GO! St. Louis and may not be copied or duplicated in any manner without the written consent of the GO! St. Louis management, however, it provides a good example of an adaptable model that promotes moderate and regular exercise and emphasizes community service and reading.
Here are two other programs that combine reading and exercise:
With the Read and Ride Program at Ward Elementary School in Winston-Salem, N.C., students read books or magazines while pedaling stationary bicycles.