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Marathon Faces Backlash After 6-Year-Old Finishes Race

The controversy has opened up a heated discussion about children and running.

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Organizers of Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon have come under fire for allowing a 6-year-old boy to run the full race.

After the event, on Sunday, May 1, an Ohio man named Ben Crawford wrote on Instagram that he had completed it alongside his wife and six children, finishing the 26.2 miles in 8 hours 35 minutes. The youngest member of the family is just 6.

“He was struggling physically and wanted to take a break and sit every three minutes,” Crawford wrote online.

On the race’s website, management states that runners must be 18 years or older to compete. In the days following the race, runners, physicians, and parents flooded social media and comments sections to voice their concerns about allowing a child to complete the distance.

Dr. Christopher Bolling, an Ohio-based pediatrician, told a local television station that suggesting young children run a marathon is “not something that we usually recommend.”

“There are certain limitations on certain activities, because they can affect growth,” Bolling said.

There’s a dearth of research on exactly how long-distance running could impact children that young, but coaches and sports federations commonly steer youth away from high-mileage events like marathons. Typical high school cross-country races are five kilometers (3.1 miles) in length. A report on long-term athletic development published by Sport of Life Society, a Canadian nonprofit, suggests that coaches should not encourage marathon training for boys younger than 16.

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Olympic runner Kara Goucher tweeted that parents should prioritize child safety over accomplishments, writing: “A six-year-old does not understand what embracing misery is. A six-year-old who is struggling physically does not realize they have the right to stop and should.”

Olympic runner Lee Troop chastised the race operator for allowing the child to run. “Yes, the parents letting, encouraging, and dragging their 6-year-old through a marathon is bad,” Troop tweeted. “But, it starts with the event and race director who should have said no from the start.”

On Wednesday, race director Iris Simpson Bush penned an open letter to the running community addressing the controversy. Simpson Bush said the marathon allowed the family to complete the event because they had previously participated as “bandit” runners—those who run despite not registering or paying an entry fee.

“The intent was to try to offer protection and support if they were on our course (medical, fluids, and replenishment),” Simpson Bush wrote. “Our decision was intended for some amount of safety and protection for the child. The family finished the race after the formal closure of the race course.”

Fred Dreier writes the What You Missed newsletter for our sister publication Outside, rounding up the latest news in the outdoor world. You can subscribe here.