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Six-year-old’s marathon sparks controversy on social media

The Crawford family of Bellevue, Ky. has attracted criticism for running Cincinnati's Flying Pig Marathon with their six-year-old in tow

Photo by: Ben Crawford/Facebook

On Sunday at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, Ohio, a family of eight from Bellevue, Ky., all completed the 42.2 km together in eight hours and 35 minutes. Since then, their family marathon outing has sparked controversy online as two of the children are under 12, and one is only six.

The Crawford family at the finish line of the Flying Pig Marathon. Photo: Ben Crawford/Facebook

Ben Crawford‘s Facebook post about his family’s marathon finish sparked criticism over the advisability of allowing his six-year-old son, Rainier, to cover the marathon distance. Many experienced marathoners and coaches, including Lee Troop and Kara Goucher, have weighed in online, stating that six is too young for the marathon.

Most experts advise against heavy training for children, whose bones are still developing. Even at 11, growth plate development is not complete; children who run marathons before puberty may be at risk of future musculoskeletal issues. Also, extreme training may also reduce levels of serum HGH (human growth hormone) and testosterone in children who have not yet gone through puberty. Many commenters question whether, even in the absence of long-term physical effects, so much training at such a young age could possibly lead to a lifelong love of the sport. It’s for these reasons that marathons have rules that entrants must be 18 or older.

Crawford posted that “On the marathon course, Rainier knew they usually hand out Pringles around mile 20. He was struggling physically and wanted to take a break and sit every three minutes. After 7 hours, we finally got to mile 20 and only to find an abandoned table and empty boxes. He was crying and we were moving slow so I told him I’d buy him two sleeves if he kept moving. I had to promise him another sleeve to get him in the family pic at the finish line. Today I paid him off.”

Crawford also has a YouTube channel that includes multiple posts with titles like “6 Year Old Runs 6 Miles–NO PROBLEM” and “5-Year-Old Trains for Marathon.”

In their defence, parents Ben and Kami Crawford say they have never forced their children to run and that Rainier begged to join them at this race. “We gave him a 50/50 chance of completing it and were ready to pull the plug at any moment if he requested it,” Crawford says on his Facebook page. “Yes there were tears, and yes he had a fall but every single member of our family has cried during a marathon.

“We go to great lengths to prioritize our kids’ health and experience of the day over sharing it with anyone else. Communicating these stories is a passion project that we do with our children’s co-operation and permission.”

This isn’t the first time the Crawford family has embarked on what some would see as a questionable challenge for a family with a young child; in 2019, he published a book called 2,000 miles Together: The Story of the Largest Family to Hike the Appalachian Trail. (Rainier was three at the time.)

The Flying Pig Marathon issued the following statement:

“Our marathon takes the safety and security of all participants very seriously. We receive numerous requests for special accommodations each year and carefully evaluate each one. Our goal is to provide a positive race experience for all participants while supporting them along the course. The Flying Pig Marathon was founded on the idea of hosting a world-class road race experience and will always strive to do so.”

The marathon has since removed the race results for Rainer Crawford, but the other results remain up.