Young Long Distance Runners: Physiological and Psychological Characteristics

Dov B. Nudel, Elliott Weinhouse, Irene Hassett, Anita Gurian, Norman Gootman, Shmuel Diamant

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This study presents the physiological and psychological characteristics and the running histories of 16 subjects who began long distance running at age 4-12 years. Running duration was 3-15 years (mean 8.4 ± 3.6 yrs). Seven children completed 41 marathons, seven 30-mile races, and eight 60-mile races. The other nine competed at shorter distances. All trained at 30-105 miles/week. Two stress fractures, one back sprain and one knee injury occurred. Athletes who reported injuries from recollection may have underreported some injuries. At age 15.4 ± 4.2 years bone age was 15.3 ± 2.6 years and height was at 51 ± 26.0 percentile. Athletes had larger left ventricular diastolic diameter, higher max O 2 uptake, and delayed onset of anaerobic metabolism compared to controls. Psychological profile: IQ = 121 ± 11, scholastic grade point average (GPA) (n = 13) was ≤3.0 in four, 3.6-3.9 in four, and 4.0 in five. Cattell 16 personality factor (PF): Seven scored above the 85th percentile on boldness, warmth, conformity, sensitivity, dominance, and high drive with tension. Eight scored above the 93rd percentile for self discipline and emotional stability. Human Figure Drawing showed a distorted body image in seven. Two developed anorexia nervosa, and another girl committed suicide. Thus, high physical fitness and no growth retardation were observed. These runners, however, shared distinct positive and negative personality characteristics. The relatively high incidence of severe psychological disorders possibly suggests a need for psychological screening for young children entering a strenuous training program and for close monitoring for development of psychological problems during the program.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)500-505
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Pediatrics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1989
Externally publishedYes


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