Well, that’s a big question! And who am I to answer it? I’m neither a doctor nor a trainer. I can use common sense though. I am pretty good at common-sensing.
I happen to know a friend whose child is, for the lack of a better phrase, a very promising,next generation, ironman. He runs 10K trail races all the times, he runs 30k MTB races, he swims long distances and he is only 11 years old. He makes those efforts look, well, effortless. He outruns many grown-ups and trained ones, I might add. He is an outstanding athlete. Should he be considered as a role model for other children? In my opinion, no.
Let’s step back a little bit and talk semantics. What is an ultra? By definition, an ultra-marathon is any race bigger than the classic 42K marathon. A marathon race is considered to be one of the more popular track and field events worldwide and one of the most difficult and demanding ones. So, an ultra tops the scale in difficulty. If anyone googles “Marathon preparation – training – racing” (let alone ultras) they will come up with virtually, millions of articles on training technics, schedules, intervals, food, supplements, water, electrolytes, rest, yoga, strict diets, pace and thousands of other staff that would make a normal person go bananas if they were to consider training for their first marathon without professional help.
So, this person gets psyched and starts training vigorously, for his first marathon. He counts 16 weeks back from the race day and begins a daily program that would insure him a decent finish. He runs at least 40k a week and does a long run every Sunday that varies from 90 to 200 minutes. He has frequent sport massages and does yoga once or twice a week. He takes every precaution not to go down with any kind of illness that would cause him to loose precious training time. He watches and measures everything he eats and takes food supplements to prevent injuries and fatigue. He writes down a race plan and memorizes, over the weeks, all the things he has to remember during the race; when to eat, when to drink, what to drink and how much, what his pace will be etc.
Now, picture this person; and put in his place your son or daughter age 12. Do any of the above actions make sense to you if you consider them being done by your 12 year old child? To me they don’t. For sure, a kid loves track and field training. Especially, if they are among friends. To make them undergo such a demanding procedure like the training for an ultra, would be heartless.
Children’s mentality is a serious if not forbidding drawback in such an endeavour. They love to play and hate rules. They go all out from the very first moment and are too busy having fun than listening to their bodies, telling them when they get tired. They hate schedules and have wild and free spirits. They eat when they are hungry and drink when they are thirsty.
An ultra is, eventually, a race of the mind and not the body. So, to try and make a child grow faster than he/she has to, just to run a race is, at least pointless.