Parents under fire for allowing 6-year-old to run marathon

Two Kentucky parents have come under fire on social media for running a marathon with their 6-year-old son. Kami and Ben Crawford posted on Instagram that their son, Rainier, ran The Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati earlier this month, and mentioned that at mile 20 “he was struggling physically and wanted to take a break and sit every three minutes.”

In the Instagram post, the Crawfords said Rainier “was crying and we were moving slow” so he was promised two sleeves of Pringles chips if he kept going. “I had to promise him another sleeve to get him in the family pic at the finish line. Today I paid him off,” reads the Instagram post, showing Rainier holding Pringles. 

They posted several times about the marathon and have gained widespread attention and many critical comments. The Crawfords, however, are standing by their decision to run the marathon with Rainier and their other kids.

They said their five older kids finished the race an hour ahead of them, then waited at the finish line for their parents and Rainier, and all crossed together at 8 hours and 35 minutes. 

One commenter wrote, “He looks sad & exhausted. I cannot believe what people will do for likes.” 

“This story was disturbing to read. Too young,” another wrote.

After their posts gained widespread attention, the parents claimed that Child Protective Services came to their house unannounced to interview their children after others reported abuse.

In a subsequent post, they defended their decision to run races with their kids, saying in “9 years we have been awarded a total of 53 medals — mostly to the kids,” and that Rainier begged to join them for a marathon. 

They said Rainier did cry during the marathon, but that he fell. They added every other member of their family has also cried during races.

When asked for an interview, the Crawfords sent CBS News an “FAQ” sheet they had written about running a marathon with their 6-year-old. They said since their kids started running, they have seen an increase in their happiness and health. 

They said Rainier was excited for the race and the decision to run was his choice. “Our 6 year old had 2+ adults offering full time monitoring of his health, mood, and safety at all times during a race. His mom has a bachelors in nursing and was a trained registered nurse,” the FAQ sheet reads. “With our average finishing time 8+ hours the marathon was completed at a walking pace.”

They said Rainier was asked several times if he wanted to stop, but it was very clear he wanted to continue. While they did promise their son Pringles, it was because they thought there would be a snack table around mile 20, but there were no chips left when they arrived. 

“I shared this moment on social media because it is one minor tool we use to motivate children and I thought it was a funny story many parents could relate too,” the parents write. “It was in no way meant to be a full race report or summary Rainier’s motivation for running.”

“His crying and moving slow were the result of his emotional disappointment and standard marathon fatigue. He was not interested at all in stopping the marathon for good. His favorite flavor is sour cream and onion,” they said. 

The Crawfords said most of feedback they have received has been very supportive, but that there “is an elite group of runners that are using their large platforms to police running for everyone, citing outdated research, and inbred rhetoric to stop others from enjoying it.”

On May 7, one week after the marathon, the Crawfords also wrote an open letter about letting their kids run marathons, saying their “goal from the beginning has been to make running fun,” and that “as the kids have gotten older the training for the marathons is 100% elective. We have never emphasized competition.”

The Crawfords said they take six to eight hours to complete the marathons and “take playground breaks, walk, and eat and drink whatever we want.”

“Recently our family and parenting practices have come under fire for allowing our kids to run marathons. People have called us negligent, abusive, and ignorant. People claim and cite many credentials from coach, expert, and doctor,” they write, adding that “people have notified government agencies to take our kids from us and used their platforms to shame and coerce us to change our parenting methods.”

In their letter, the parents cited a 2010 study that found out of 310 marathon runners aged 7 to 17 who ran the Twin Cities Marathon over a 26-year time period, only 4 required post-race medical evaluations. “The relative risk of requiring acute race day medical attention was less than, but not statistically different from, adult finishers,” wrote the researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

However, the Cleveland Clinic’s guidance for young runners states that for kids 7 and under, parents should look for short “fun runs” or races between 1 and 2 miles or a 100-yard dash, while 8- to 12-year-old can safely participate in a 5K (3.10 miles). It says older kids, ages 13 to 15, can safely attempt 10Ks (6.2 miles) or a half-marathon (13.1 miles) and 16- to 18-year-olds can run marathons, which typically have a minimum age requirement to begin with. 

This isn’t the first time reports of children running long distances stirred up controversy. In 2013, reports about a 9-year-old from Pennsylvania running a marathon in Antarctica spurred debate. At the time, New Jersey pediatric sports doctor Steve Rice told CBS Philly that people under 18 should not run the physically taxing race.

“That pounding and pounding and pounding, you run the risk of damage to body parts. It just seems like it’s not necessary to be asking a young person to do that. I mean, we have child labor laws; we try to limit what children do because we realize they’re just children,” Rice said.

In 2019, 11-year-old Aiden Jaquez set a record for running a half-marathon in all 50 states over a four and a half years. He ran his first half-marathon at age 6.

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