Thursday, February 18, 2010

Attention! Race Directors!

I sent this off to the race director of the "Earth Day Challenge Marathon & Half Marathon" in Gambier, OH today.

Dear Mr. Heithaus,

My family and friends are really excited to be making the trip to Ohio in April to run in your race. We’re bringing a group of runners, including 2 young runners, age 9 and 10, who will be competing in the Half Marathon. I say competing, not running or hoping to finish, because these two young fellows find their greatest joy in competing. For them, there is nothing more satisfying than collecting some well-deserved hardware (a medal or trophy) at the end of a gutsy race.

That is why we’re disappointed to see that your race features only a “19 and under” youth age division. To better motivate young runners, we appeal to you to consider adding multiple youth age divisions. Imagine being an outstanding nine-year-old runner, able to beat the majority of the pack at road races, yet competing for awards against teenagers and young adults twice as old and twice as tall. Where's the logic and motivation in that?

Pre-adolescent bodies and physical abilities differ greatly within a narrow range of ages. With the onset of puberty, all sorts of physical disparities occur during the development of young hearts, lungs, muscles, and bones. Most of that biological barrage takes place between the ages of 10 and 14. Incredible differences in height and muscle development are usually obvious as kids gather at the starting line, and age has much to do with those differences. Doesn't it make sense to demonstrate our understanding of these facts by providing more equitable age divisions for youth?

We would ask you to consider adding more youth age divisions for this race (e.g., 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15 and up). I know as race organizers, you are good folks who love runners and running, but may not have considered this issue. What we're talking about here are easy changes to make a good thing better. Money (the cost of additional awards) is sometimes claimed as the rationale for limiting the number of youth age divisions. That argument simply isn't good enough. Where there's a will to reward and motivate young runners, there's a way, and some race directors are making it happen already. Who doesn't enjoy winning an award and applauding those who do? A token ribbon for all runners is wonderful, but some small speedsters take their running very seriously. They deserve something special for getting in shape, running hard, and finishing in front. It's hard to imagine a positive message being conveyed to them as they watch adult top finishers being the only ones recognized at award ceremonies.

As kids get older, there will be many sports and other activities from which to choose. We should begin rewarding kids now in order to encourage them (especially the best of them) to stick with running later. If motivated properly, outstanding young road racers may go on to represent their schools and community’s proudly in cross-country and track. Once that happens, they are more likely to return to the road race scene.

Distance champion Steve Prefontaine once said, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift". Talented young runners will continue striving for their best only if they receive our very best support.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Psyche Wimberly
Leopold Wimberly (age 9)

Nancy Crawford
Ray Crawford
Ty Crawford (age 10)


  1. Well put, I have always believed that we need to encourage our younger runners. If it were a matter of money another option would be to extend the higher end of the age bracket to ten year sections. i.e. 60-69 instead of 60-64 & 65-69...

  2. This is an extremely well written and convincing letter. I completely agree with you and truly hope that the race directors truly consider this important issue.
    Good luck!

  3. I love your letter; I hope it makes race directors think about this more! It's not often that you see age groups younger than 19 but there needs to be! THanks for making the effort!

  4. Great points. I think this is probably an issue which most RDs don't consider. They likely assume kids are there with mom or dad.

    It would be a great help to motivate kids to be more active and these days we can use all of that we can get! If the 70 year old gets credit for showing up then so should the 7 year old. Likely the 7 year old would get more out of an award as well. Thanks for bringing this up. Let's hope it does some good:)

  5. Nice letter! I totally agree with you and hope that you will be able to possibly motivate race directors to consider the possibilities. It would be great to change/add the age groups as well as round up some medals for the youngsters:) Wow, those boys are little studs for wanting to compete in a half marathon....I am impressed:) Good luck!!